Democrats in North Carolina breathed a sigh of relief when Sen. John Edwards finally backed out of a re-election race that would have taken the back seat to his presidential (or vice presidential) aspirations. His retirement, as it were, opened the door to Erskine Bowles, the former Clinton chief of staff who has already run for the Senate once and lost once to Elizabeth Dole.
Bowles was the state Democratic Party’s pick to run for the seat, in part because it believes Bowles has the personal financial wherewithal and the fundraising connections nationally to make it a competitive race against Republican Rep. Richard Burr, who is raising money for his campaign at a fierce pace.
But where Democrats hoped that Bowles’s presence would scare off others, it now appears that won’t happen. Former state speaker of the House Dan Blue, an African American and one of the most well-known politicians in the Tarheel State, appears to be toying with the idea of challenging Bowles. Again.
Blue lost to Bowles in the Democratic primary for the privilege of challenging and losing to Dole. But where Bowles was buried by Dole across the state, some believe that Blue could actually make a better candidate against a Republican statewide. “Blue could mobilize [the black vote] in a way that Bowles probably didn’t against Dole, and wouldn’t against Burr,” says a Blue supporter in Charlotte. “Bowles didn’t get the African American vote out on election day, and that hurt him. It hurt him because he didn’t show Blue enough respect once he won the primary.”
Bowles high-handed treatment of Blue has already cost him big time in a race that really hasn’t started yet. Traditional Democrat donors and fundraisers have been holding fundraisers for Burr, and this was long before Edwards was out of the race.
“There was a sense that if Edwards was out, then Bowles was going to be the party’s boy,” says a DNC staffer in Washington. “You saw traditional Blue supporters turning to a Republican, and that shows how much animus is out there toward Bowles.”
But Blue has already lost once to Bowles, and one has to wonder where Blue makes up the difference a second time around. Some believe that difference is that if Blue wins the primary, he energizes the black vote, and keeps the Democratic base in line, thus increasing the pool of active Democratic votes. Bowles failed to energize the black vote in the general election, thus dooming any chances he had.
Blue has been coy about his running, saying he is talking to people, and that he will make a decision shortly. But in the influential church community across the state that rallied behind Blue last time, there is no thinking about it. Pastors in traditionally African American churches are calling on Blue to run for the good of the state. Bowles came out badly bruised and weakened after his primary battle in 2002. This time around it could be even tougher. As it stands, Burr has raised millions and leads in just about all of the polls.
Just how desperate is the national Democratic Party for a win? Desperate enough to send both DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe and Democratic lightning rod James Carville to Philadelphia to campaign for embattled Philly Mayor John Street.
Street, who is in a tough race against moderate Republican Sam Katz, remains ahead in the polls, and Democrats don’t feel he can afford to lose. “If we lost Philadelphia, even in an off-year election, it would be devastating to the party’s psyche,” says a DNC fundraiser. “We got beaten up in 2002, McAuliffe is getting hammered for his lack of leadership, our convention in Boston is hemorrhaging money and we’re fighting amongst ourselves over that. To lose that mayoral race would be just be icing on the cake. It would hurt.”
McAuliffe was in Philly around the same time that GOP Golden Boy Rudy Giuliani was in town raising money for Katz, who is fighting an uphill battle for the mayoral chair.
With the exception, perhaps, of the New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles mayoral runs, national parties have rarely played up any role they might take in what is considered basic backyard political races. But McAuliffe is said to sense an urgency to win a race, any race, leading into what could be a bad 2004 season for the party, particularly with the economy showing signs of growth.
THE JOYS OF JESSE
Where’s Leo Rosten when we need him? Thirty-five years ago, long before the Brothers Menendez, in The Joys of Yiddish, he defined “chutzpah” as murdering your parents and then asking the court for mercy because you were an orphan. We may now need another word for Jesse Jackson.
The Rev. appeared this week at a Santa Monica, California rally for striking grocery workers. The problem is, the owner of one of the targeted big chains — grocery tycoon Ron Burkle (big friend of Bill, and the guy Bill stays with when he’s in L.A.) — is the man who gave Jackson mistress Karin Stanford a sweetheart job in Los Angeles when she fled Washington, D.C. after being impregnated and then getting cut off from child support. So is Jesse biting the hand that feeds his illegitimate daughter?
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