When I was growing up, Saturday nights typically started with the TV show “Hee-Haw.” A regular sketch was “Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me,” something I’m sure many Tar Heel Democrats may be singing in their heads after last week’s bombshell announcement.
Even national commentators and pundits took to the Internet upon Governor Bev Perdue’s announcement, heralding “dark days for N.C. Democrats,” creating a sense of foreboding entering the campaign season: Above average unemployment, Democratic congressional incumbents on the ropes, and now the top Democratic state leader, listed after the “President” and “Straight Ticket” lines on the November ballot, is occupant-less.
Well, when I read the stories last Friday, the morning storms and dark clouds seemed to abate to partly cloudy. Then there was a nice weekend, with temperatures warming up. And the same could be said about the Democrats, especially culminating in a very warm Greensboro ballroom Saturday night at their Sanford-Hunt-Frye Dinner.
First, Thursday’s bomb subsided over the weekend, and out emerged someone many Democrats didn’t recognize at first. Someone willing to pick a fight, who seemed unfettered by the constraints of a scripted speech, someone taking the punch and returning fire. “Who was that woman on the stage? And where has Bev Perdue been for the past three years?” seemed to be the collective response among those gathered in Greensboro.
Democrats could have come out of the Perdue announcement shell-shocked, but it appears that they have taken their lemons and may start making political lemonade. A slew of Democratic governors-in-waiting—too many to name and constantly changing—are “looking at,” “considering,” “engaging in careful thought” about a run for their party’s nomination.
The sugar that helps make lemonade tolerant could be in short supply, however, due the intensity and competitiveness of a Democratic primary fight. And the likelihood that wagons-full of candidates in the top two statewide contests would most likely signal a protracted primary fight into a runoff on June 26.
Sitting like the cat cleaning his teeth with bird feathers, meanwhile, remains the frontrunner in the NC governor’s race: Republican Pat McCrory. Certainly he won’t have “Bev to kick around anymore,” but Pat will be very willing to remind folks of the current occupant in the mansion he seeks.
A potential problem, though, is: Who is he running against? No matter—money, a well-oiled organization, and plenty of name recognition from four years of campaigning makes him a formidable and, at this point, the avowed frontrunner.
The eventual Democratic nominee, free of the baggage of the current incumbent, must have those same attributes of McCrory — major name recognition from Manteo to Murphy, a ready-made organization, and a deep fundraising well to draw from. Several “suspects” easily come to mind—but for all “nominee wannabes,” the next 15 weeks will be a sprint to May 8th rather than a marathon.
As far as Obama’s reelection bid, I’m not convinced that this vacancy poses a Dixie dilemma for him. It could if there’s a bitter primary battle, continued in-fighting when the president comes to party in Charlotte, and a lack of a strong candidate to run alongside him in November. All this is possible—and this year (as we’ve seen in the GOP presidential primary struggle), so to is the opposite.
But the Obama grassroots effort already underway in North Carolina is reminescent of 2008, signaling a repeat performance that helped deliver folks like Perdue into office. Granted, she gained 3,500 more votes than Obama did, but there is something to be said for presidential coattails providing a soft cushion to victory.
There is a lot to do between now and crowning a new combatant to take on McCrory for the chief executive’s spot in November, and that fight will certainly test the Democrat’s resolve for the next few months. But this seems more like a blessing than a bunch of tart lemons. What’s the old saying about North Carolina weather? If you don’t like it, wait 24 hours.
Old North State Democrats just have to make sure another cold front of “gloom, despair, and agony” doesn’t come through into the fall campaign.