Thursday, May 22, 2008

Those Down-Easters

For years, folks outside the I-95 corridor of North Carolina (basically anything west of Raleigh) have lamented the fact that North Carolina politics seem to sway the way of the down-east voter: those conservative, rural counties that were home to the Jessecrats from the early 1970s until 2002. But not only did the down-east crowd hold the power of votes, but also of the candidates. Current Governor Mike Easley and Lt. Governor, and now Democratic Gubernatorial nominee, Bev Perdue come from the hallowed ground of downeast. What's a non-downeaster to do? Well, we'll find out with Charlotte Mayor, and Republican Gubernatorial candidate, Pat McCrory. And we seem to have an early indication.

The News & Observer is reporting today that Mayor McCrory has named a "crew chief" for eastern North Carolina. While McCrory's strength will be in his home base, he will definitely need to break into the I-95 corridor this November to have a shot at the Governor's Mansion.

Looking at both Perdue's and McCrory's primary election wins, the attached two maps shows a possible reason why McCrory is naming a coordinator early in the campaign. The first map shows McCrory's county percentages in four categories: less than 45% within the county, 45-50%, 50-55%, and over 55% of the vote. As expected, McCrory's strongest counties were in the Charlotte media market. From Richmond and Montgomery through Mecklenburg up through Alexander and Caldwell counties, the name recognition and exposure that McCrory has received solidifies where Republicans traditionally do well: up the I-77 corridor and its surrounding counties.

Taking the same look at Perdue's strongest counties reveals a different story and electoral base. While she did well in several metropolitan counties, particularly along the I-85/40 corridors, it's the sea of dark counties with Perdue gaining over 55% of the vote in them that shows the continuing strength of Democratic governors and wanna-be governors using the downeast vote as a critical component.

While North Carolina elections are dominated by 14 to 15 counties (the major metropolitan counties and their surrounding areas deliver over 50% of the vote) out of 100 counties in the state, the battleground still lies down east. Both candidates will probably be looking at the cities and the I-95 rural counties to deliver their November victory.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Lurking Out There: Dole vs. Hagan

With all the concentration that Tar Heel voters got with the Democratic presidential primary and the other contested primaries (the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries and other key Council of State races), little attention was paid to the U.S. Senate primaries. But now that we have the candidates down, some folks are beginning to wonder, what might happen with the Dole-Hagan U.S. Senate race?

The national landscape continues to look dismissal for the GOP, particularly when it comes to congressional races. On the U.S. House side of the Hill, watch the 8th Congressional race between long-time incumbent Robin Hayes, Republican, and second-time challenger Larry Kissell, Democrat. With all the attention that went to the N.C. 11th Congressional District in 2006 mid-term between Republican incumbent Charles Taylor and the winner Democrat Heath Shuler, the 8th district race went virtually unnoticed. But several weeks prior to the 2006 mid-term, an Elon Poll came out with Hayes in a very dangerous position: even though he rated high with "confidence" by respondents, he had a low-approval rating for a sitting incumbent (46% either approved or strongly approved). The end result from 2006: Kissell, running an under-funded but strong grass-roots campaign, came within 300+ votes of unsitting Hayes.

The key lesson from my studies of congressional campaigns: for sitting incumbents, you want your approval ratings in the 60s to ensure a chance at re-election.

Which brings us to Dole: in a February 2008 poll by Elon, barely 50% (50.7, to be exact) expressed approval of her work as a U.S. senator for the state, with 54.7% expressing satisfaction with her work. See the key lesson above--and this may indicate a race that is flying under the radar in terms of competitiveness.

If the DSCC (the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) decides to view the Tar Heel state as one that could be competitive with a solid nominee in Hagan (see recent some polls), we could have three very interesting state-wide battles going on at the presidential, gubernatorial, and U.S. senate levels in North Carolina.

Granted, with her extremely high name recognition level, abilities to raise money, and what appears to be her recognition of what might be a tough fight (see an article in the News & Observer), Dole has opportunities to boast her level. But going into what trends as an ugly year for congressional Republicans (the recent loss of three U.S. House seats to Democrats, two of which were in the deep South, in special elections), the undercurrent of resentment and discontent may take its toll on incumbents who would normally coast to an easy re-election bid.