Democrats in the South: give me a break

What’s your initial reaction to the left picture?

The guy in the blue shirt on the left is Erskine Bowles, the Democratic candidate for the NC Senate seat. Yes, yes, he’s an incredible wonk, apparently a master of policy issues - but he’s repulsive, and has the charisma of a dead fish.

It’s embarassing that he’s the best the Democrats can do in the South. Then again, I guess if I look at the GOP candidates in California, I feel better.

Erskine Bowles. :?

He lost to Elizabeth Dole in 2002, a year in which Bush stumped hard here for her in NC as a replacement for the retiring slimeball, race-baiting Jesse Helms. Helms had support in the state’s rural areas for his protectionist trade policies and…errr…his continued “states rights” agenda. I’ll let all you with Fox News/GOP decoder rings figure out what that means.

Despite the Bush popularity in 2002, Bowles didn’t do all that bad in a decidedly Red state, running for a seat left by the most recognized conservative politician in the state. The split was 54-45 in that race. What killed him was how he did in urban areas. Let’s look at the results from the following counties:

Wake (Raleigh) - Lost 55-44.
Durham (Durham) - Won big ( 64-35 ), but lack of real GOTV hurt him a bit here-there was low turnout and he could have made up ground here.
Mecklenburg (Charlotte) - Couldn’t even take the most populous urban district in the state. Lost 50-49.
Forsyth (Winston-Salem ) - Beaten 54-45.
Guliford (Greensboro) - 50-49 to Bowles.

Terrible performance in the urban areas. Inexcusable for a democratic candidate looking to win in the “moderate south” (NC is not a Deep South state like Alabama or Mississippi).

A big key to Dems winning here in NC is these urban areas: swing voters in their suburbs and a strong GOTV campaign in cities. You win the swing voters here with a “morally moderate” agenda with populist-leaning economic positions, and a good dose of charm. Democrats have the inside track on the latter (you hear the term “fair trade” instead of “free trade” from Dems a lot lately, and they certainly have the edge with respect to deficits now), but they’ll have to go on record against gay marriage or get gay-baited relentlessly by the GOP PAC ads, and take other more pro-conservative stances on social issues.

Charm is what is missing in the Bowles campaign, and to be honest he’ll have to borrow it from elsewhere-he just doesn’t have it. The best thing that can happen for him is for John Edwards to get the veep spot for Kerry-Edwards is now very popular in the state after his primary campaign for President and he can really help Bowles get some good visibility if Edwards stumps a bit here and gets wide press because of being on the ticket. Edwards will still carry a lot of weight without a nomination to VP, but it won’t be as much media attention in that scenario. Bowles shouldn’t be afraid to ask longtime friend Bill Clinton to come out and stump/fundraise a bit here. He’s still very popular with white suburbanites (who credit him with 90s prosperity) and minorities, which is the two constituencies he has to reach out to the most. Lastly, Democratic Governer Mike Easley, cruising his way to re-election on the tail of his great budget turn-around here in the state, will also be a real asset to Bowles (the statehouse will go back to D in 2004 after a 60-60 split in 2002 thanks in large part to the recent GOP meltdown, so he doesn’t have to stump there).

His opponent, Richard Burr, is the Rebpublican congressman from the 5th NC district, which includes Winston-Salem. Virtually hand-picked by Rove to run for the open seat, his challenge is to prove that he can win back jobs to NC while still supporting the president, who many blame for the accelerated erosion of the state’s manufacturing base, which has really gone into freefall over the last three years (similar issues are why the Inez Tenebaum, seen to the right in Jason’s pics, is making a real play in SC, which has been hit even harder than NC has). He’s got a real challenge-he has to win on economics because he won’t be able to flank Bowles on moral issues, and has to distance himself from the president’s economic agenda or get destroyed over the outsourcing issue-all while still pandering to the President’s well-Hannitized base on security/war issues, where Burr will need a strong plan from the President to keep support from NC’s large military resident population.

Fundraising will split about even. Both candidates will have their own intra-party issues-Bowles, much like recently elected Stephanie Herseth, will have to distance himself from highly energized groups like MoveOn, NDN, and DFA, while Burr has to deal with a NC GOP broken from recent intense internal power struggles and localized collapses of leadership.

The race though should still go to Bowles provided he leverages the popularity of the people around him, especially John Edwards (who would win NC outright if he was the Dem presidental candidate, according to recent polls). His campaign resonated extremely well with NC and shouldn’t be left idle on the shelf in Bowles’ campaign.