Gizzi on Politics 2/20/12

North Carolina Situation Changing Quickly 

In the two weeks since Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue announced her surprise decision not to run again, there have been several major developments in North Carolina that occurred very quickly.

Erskine Bowles, past president of the University of North Carolina and White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, had been thought the Democrats’ best hope of holding onto the statehouse.  But Bowles decided last week not to run.  Also taking themselves out of consideration for the Democratic gubernatorial primary were U.S. Representatives Heath Shuler (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 30.67%) and Brad Miller (lifetime ACU rating: 4.67%), both of whom recently announced they are retiring from Congress.  

With Tar Heel State Democrats now down to their “B Team,” most polls show former Charlotte Mayor and certain Republican nominee Pat McCrory defeating all of them among likely voters by at least 10 to 15 percentage points statewide.

GOP Fight Brews With Myrick Out

In still another surprise, Republican Rep. Sue Myrick announced that she, too, is stepping down.  Since 1994, the former Charlotte mayor has held the 9th District seat—a Republican bastion for 60 unbroken years.  Myrick’s (lifetime ACU rating: 94.82%) exodus comes in the same year that her son, architectural firm executive Dan Forest, is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.  

With the Republican congressional primary considered tantamount to election, a GOP scramble is beginning for the open House district.  The early conservative favorite is former State Sen. Robert Pittenger, a past candidate for lieutenant governor who has been a financial backer of virtually all major conservative candidates in the state.  Pittnenger is also a former board member of the Jesse Helms Center Foundation and recently hosted an event for the center at his home featuring Sen. Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.)

The other major candidate and someone who is rumored to have Myrick’s backing is former Mecklenberg County Sheriff and present County Commissioner Jim Pendergraph, who changed from Democrat to Republican when he ran for the county commission.  Although he gets high marks for his tough stand on illegal immigration, Pendergraph may find that his past as a Democrat and a contributor to Democrats works against him in the May 8 GOP primary.  

Uproar in Arizona 6th

With the decision of six-term Rep. Jeff Flake to seek the Republican nomination for the seat of retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) this year, it was widely assumed that Flake’s successor would be his predecessor in the Grand Canyon State’s 6th District, former three-term Rep. Matt Salmon, who relinquished the seat in 2000 to honor his term-limit pledge and is now seeking a comeback in the August GOP primary.

After all, Salmon was well-known from his nearly-successful race for governor in 2002 against Democrat Janet Napolitano (now secretary of Homeland Security) and for his stint as state party chairman.  Moreover, because of his widespread contacts in Phoenix and Washington, the former congressman was expected to raise the most money in the four-candidate GOP primary that is considered very likely to choose the new representative.

“So I guess I’m fortunate this primary is not being held in Washington, D.C,” said Salmon’s leading opponent, state House Speaker Kirk Adams.  But, in recent weeks, the race has inarguably become much tighter and, in fact, it is more accurate to say Adams is Salmon’s “lone” opponent rather than his “leading” opponent, since two of the original four contenders have recently quit the primary.  

What makes him a superior choice to Salmon, I asked state legislator Adams, recalling that the former congressman compiled a solid voting record (lifetime ACU rating: 94%) during his years in Congress?  

“It is a lot different to compile a conservative record during calm and prosperous times than to advance a conservative agenda during very uncertain times,” Adams responded.  He was referring to his own record as speaker, to which post he was elected at age 35, after one term in the state house, by deposing sitting Speaker and fellow Republican Tim Weyers.  Recalling how Arizona was wracked with a $3.4 billion budget deficit, Adams pointed out that he oversaw passage of the state’s largest-ever tax decrease, which included a 35% reduction in corporate taxes.  In addition, he noted, “we passed a 30% across-the-board cut in spending and we reformed the public pension system.  And today, three years later, our state has a $5. 7 million surplus.”

Now 39, small businessman Adams says his background offers a sharp contrast to opponent Salmon’s.  Says Adams, “Salmon has worked as a lobbyist in Washington or Phoenix for 12 years.  And like other people in that business, he has contributed money to Democratic House members, among them Ed Pastor [Ariz.] and Joe Baca [Calif.]., both of whom faced good Tea Party-backed Republican opponents in 2009-10.”

Salmon remains well-known from his past years in office and leadership in the Republican Party.  But it is now clear that his return to the House seat he once held is in no way, shape, or form a “slam dunk.”