Campaigns end abruptly. One day you’re going 90 miles an hour, 12 hours a day, seven days a week. All of a sudden Tuesday night it’s over. On Wednesday you bask in the glory if you won or bathe in your friends’ condolences and reassurances if you lost.
Then BAM! The exhausted and spent winners wake up to stories about how hard it will be for them to govern. The exhausted and spent losers face days, weeks and months of depression, regrets and finger-pointing. Winners start writing inaugural speeches, budgets and legislation. Losers polish their resumes.
So here follows my post-election tradition of riding down from the hills after the battle to honor the winners and shoot the wounded.
Winner: North Carolina. Appropriately, we are the last state not colored red or blue in the national electoral maps. After years of sitting out both the primaries and November, we were the belle of the media ball. We put Obama over the top in May. We became the biggest target in the South – 16 electoral votes next time! – for Democrats. And the biggest must-win state for Republicans.
Winners: North Carolina political consultants in both parties. See above.
Winners: Democrats. We have the White House and Congress. In North Carolina we won the governor’s race the fifth time in a row. We elected a Senator in a presidential year for the first time in 40 years. We picked up a congressional seat. We held our majorities in the House and Senate. But Republicans need not worry. With all that responsibility to govern, we’ll find a way to screw it up and give you an opening in 2010.
Winner and Loser: The end of racial politics. Yes, we elected a black President. The nation has come a long way. But look at the polarization: In North Carolina some 97 percent of African-Americans voted for Obama. Only 36 percent of whites did. That’s a 60-point gap.
Winners: Richard Burr and Roy Cooper. Burr’s team lost, but he got plenty of attention and national campaign experience. He can start dreaming of national office. And Cooper was the top vote-getter in the state. Will they square off for Senate in two years?
Winner and Loser: Kay Hagan. She’s a new star in Washington. Now she must balance the demands of Chuck Shumer and Harry Reid against the politics of North Carolina. Remember that Dole lost because she voted with her party 92 – or was it 93? – percent of the time.
Loser: Elizabeth Dole. It’s bad enough to lose. But she also soiled her reputation with a last-minute ad that even Republicans repudiated.
Winner and Loser: Bev Perdue. She’s the first woman Governor. But she inherits a $2 billion budget shortfall – and widespread doubts about her. She needs her “Fresh Start.”
Winner: Big money. Once again, campaigns with cash cashed in. Witness Obama. Perdue outspent McCrory 3-to-1. Chuck Schumer’s DSCC spent $11 million compared to about $5 million each for Hagan and Dole. Unions bought new clout in the N.C. Democratic Party. Notable exception: Lt. Governor-elect Walter Dalton got outspent nearly 2-to-1. But won thanks to the most maddening and effective ad of the campaign.
Winner: The Ground Game. For years to come everyone will study and try to copy what the Obama campaign did. Grassroots politics is back!
Winner: New Media. All you wanna-be candidates and consultants better get with texting, Twitter and Facebook.
Winners and Losers: TV and radio stations. The campaign made them recession-proof. Until Tuesday. Who is buying time now?
Winners: Women. Want to hold statewide office in North Carolina? Odds are you better be female. Eight of 15 Court of Appeals judges are women. Five of eight Council of State members are women. Sorry, guys.
Winners: Fairs and elevators. Why did Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler and Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry survive the Democratic tide? Troxler put his name all over the State Fair. Berry put hers in every elevator in the state.
Losers: Nonpartisan judicial campaigns. Running for judge is like playing the lottery. Being a woman helps. Having a good name – say, Sam Ervin IV – helps. Being confused with another judge – Bob Hunter – helps. But just being a good judge and running TV ads with big names like Burley Mitchell and Betty McCain didn’t help John Arrowood.
Winners: Pollsters. Most of them got it right – nationally and statewide.
Losers: Prognosticators who missed the Democratic tide. I was late to the party. But I got it right at the end. At least I never predicted that Democrats would lose the State Senate.
Winners, again: Marc Basnight and Joe Hackney. Call the question, boys.
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