Far from over: The election season is just beginning

by DG Martin

Now that the 2006 election is over, is it too early to start on 2008?

For most North Carolinians, the answer is “no.” They have had enough politics for a while. They are ready to get back to a regular diet of TV ads that feature medicines to cure their ailments instead of the recent depressing barrage of negative political ads.

Not for the prospective candidates for governor of North Carolina. For some of them, the 2008 race has already begun.

Popular Gov. Mike Easley is not eligible to run again. So both major political parties can look forward to contested primaries and a wide-open election.

And they may see some interesting competition from candidates from other parties. Duke University political science professor Michael Munger has already announced his candidacy for the Libertarian Party’s nomination. His first task is to collect about 100,000 signatures necessary to get that party on the ballot for 2008.

Meanwhile, the Democrats already have two experienced statewide office holders who are almost certain to be candidates. Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and Treasurer Richard Moore have been raising money and soliciting support for months. Their initial successes undoubtedly contributed to Attorney General Roy Cooper’s decision to forego the governor’s race in 2008 and concentrate his efforts on reelection to his current office.

Both Perdue and Moore are popular in Democratic circles. As a result, some regulars are delaying making final commitments to either of them. But for the same reason it will be difficult for other candidates to gain traction. However, Rep. Bill Faison, who is completing his first term in the House, is ambitious, energetic and wealthy enough to be a possibility. Otherwise, Moore and Perdue may have the Democratic primary to themselves.

On the Republican side, it is a different story. None of the statewide Republican elected officials has moved in the direction of running for governor so far. When Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry added her photograph to her department’s certificates in every elevator in the state, some people thought she was preparing for a campaign for higher office. But she, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and Auditor Les Merritt seem to be happy preparing for reelection campaigns for their current offices.

With no statewide elected officials in the race so far, the Republican nomination is wide open. Among those being mentioned recently as possible candidates are Salisbury lawyer Bill Graham and state Senator Fred Smith from Johnston County.

Although Graham has not served in elective office, he has built his name recognition across the state by funding and appearing in radio and television ads against gas tax increases and illegal aliens. His good television appearance and the deep pockets he gained as a successful trial lawyer have led some to call him the “Republican John Edwards.”

Graham’s initial success in gaining statewide name recognition must be frustrating to potential candidates like Fred Smith, who has worked in the trenches of state and local government for years. But Smith is a successful businessman who has his own deep pockets as well as the kind of tenacity that could make him a winner.

From the Charlotte area, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, state Senator Robert Pittinger and former gubernatorial candidate Richard Vinroot are possibilities. McCrory is a cheerful and enthusiastic campaigner. His experience in dealing with the challenges of the state’s largest city could give him an appeal in an increasingly urban state. Like Fred Smith, Pittinger would bring experience in state government. Although losing his prior campaigns for governor, Vinroot has a statewide network, name recognition and the kind of campaign experience that some of the other Republican candidates lack.

So does Patrick Ballantine, who defeated Vinroot in the 2004 Republican primary. Other such possibilities are former Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. and former Justice Bob Orr, each of whom has a continuing interest in the future of the state.

There are other potential candidates, and there will be even more. For instance, both Sue Myrick and Robin Hayes, currently in the US Congress, could be tempted to turn back to state politics should they lose some of the power they have enjoyed as members of the majority.

Is the election season over? No, it’s just beginning.