I end my columnular look back at the election with a look ahead. You can read the whole thing after the jump.
Looking back at the election
By Edward Cone
News & Record
Kay Hagan will be North Carolina's first-ever U.S. senator from Greensboro. She joins Winston-Salem's Richard Burr in the Senate, giving the Triad an unprecedented one-two punch in national affairs. The Piedmont fared less well in the gubernatorial race, as eastern North Carolina's Bev Perdue extended Charlotte's losing streak by beating Pat McCrory.
Hagan will be North Carolina's second female senator -- she defeated the first, Elizabeth Dole -- while Perdue becomes our first female governor. Combined with the election of Barack Obama and the inclusion of Sarah Palin on the GOP ticket, it's tempting to update the old song and say the times they have a-changed.
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Dole's "Godless" ad was a desperation play that backfired. It was offensive not just for impugning Hagan's faith, but for introducing a religious test of sorts into the race, and also making it seem like atheism is a hanging offense. Like the McCain campaign's attempt to smear a respected professor, Rashid Khalidi, in order to frighten Jewish voters, it showed that maybe the times they haven't a-changed all that much -- at least for some political strategists.
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Guilford County, where Sarah Palin made her infamous remarks about real Americans who live in pro-America parts of the country, gave almost 59 percent of its votes to Barack Obama. I guess Obama is pretty popular with real, pro-America Americans. Obama's narrow victory in North Carolina was no landslide, but it sort of feels like one.
I've been going back and forth for some time with Thomas Schaller, the author of a book called "Whistling Past Dixie," which argues that Democrats should write off the South to focus on the Midwest and mountain West. Schaller was right that those areas are promising, and right again that the Democrats should not position themselves as GOP-lite, but I told him all along that Virginia and North Carolina are ripe for turning. That doesn't mean a permanent realignment is at hand. Obama and the Democrats will have to earn that in the years ahead.
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Several North Carolina Libertarians, including gubernatorial candidate Mike Munger and U.S. Senate hopeful Christopher Cole, did what they set out to do: Get enough votes to keep the party on the ballot next time around in key races. In the past, the Libertarian Party has had to spend most of its time and money just getting to the starting line, and it will be interesting to see if a viable third party can emerge now that a more stable structure is in place. Running smart folks like Munger, who disavows the "libertopian" extremes, is probably a good way to start.
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We need to rethink the way we select our judges in North Carolina. When a widely respected, highly competent incumbent like Robbie Hassell gets thumped at the polls, and a qualified candidate like Robert Enochs loses to an opponent who was disciplined this summer for failing to do her job, something is out of whack. It may be that winners Avery Crump and Angela Foster will be fine judges, but most voters just don't have enough information to make an informed choice in judicial races, and judges are rightly limited in the extent of their campaigning.
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Repeat after me: Guilford County will not vote for a sales tax increase. And Greensboro won't vote for the much-needed renovation of the War Memorial Auditorium, at least as marketed to date. Maybe that project needs a privately led campaign to raise awareness and money, so that any future bond request will have momentum.
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Questions about the value of field organizing have been answered decisively. As veteran campaign strategist Gary Pearce wrote last week at his blog, Talking About Politics, "I've been skeptical about the vaunted Obama ground game. But now I believe it's real." Evidence that high turnout involved more than enthusiasm for the candidates came in the early-voting totals; getting people to the polls early was an explicit goal of the Obama campaign, and the numbers were impressive. As one local Republican candidate told me, many races were over before Election Day.
Obama's Internet-enabled machine was just one aspect of what turned out to be the first real Internet campaign. Looking for a single, Nixon-Kennedy debate moment to define that shift misses the fundamental nature of the medium. Instead, this was the year that the net absorbed all forms of media, creating an always-on source of Jon Stewart clips, newspaper articles, YouTube videos and polling data that people could view, edit or create, and share at will.
What Obama does with this new kind of political power could be a defining element of his administration.
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What went wrong for McCain? Lots of things. He was yoked from the start to a grossly unpopular administration and identified in particular with two Bush albatrosses, the Iraq war and the bum economy; he was an older man running against an exciting younger man, the past against the future; he was out-organized by a mile; and his vice presidential pick fired up parts of the GOP base but turned off the rest of the country.
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I walked outside on Wednesday morning and felt for a moment like I was entering a new world. There was a sense that a grim era in our country's history was behind us and excitement that my children live in a country that has jettisoned a portion of its historical baggage. So what do I expect from the Obama administration? I expect to be frustrated and disappointed by the failings of human beings and human systems, and to see slow progress at best against the very large problems we face as a country. That's life in the real world, even a real world that seems a little brighter now than it did before Tuesday night.
© News & Record 2008