RALEIGH, N.C. — Ninety days away from the state primary, there are a lot of hot races on the election ballots. One of the biggest questions is: "Who will take on Gov. Mike Easley?"
Elon University poll
shows Easley, a Democrat, with a huge lead in a big category -- name recognition. That is important when one considers all the names on the Republican side: Patrick Ballantine, Dan Barrett, Bill Cobey, Tim Cook, George Little, Fern Shubert and Richard Vinroot.
Ballantine resigned from his seat in the state Senate on Monday to focus on his effort to unseat Easley.
Having seven candidates to choose from is a good thing for voters, but it is not necessarily good for the Republican party.
The latest poll shows Cobey, a former Congressman, and former Charlotte Mayor Vinroot as the top two candidates, followed by Ballantine. How they campaign against each other now may determine how well the the eventual nominee does in November.
"Hopefully, the seven GOP candidates will be concentrating more on why Mike Easley shouldn't be governor than on beating one another up," said Bill Peaslee, political director of the North Carolina GOP.
That is important because the delayed primary leaves the Republican nominee two months behind schedule in defining their message against Easley. The delay may be even longer than that -- If one candidate does not receive 40 percent of the vote in July, there will be a runoff Aug. 17.
"Whoever is the nominee is going to have to scramble fast to unify the party," Republican strategist Marc Rotterman said. "It's not un-doable, but it is much harder with the primary being moved or delayed."
Ballantine said he is prepared for a 90-day sprint to the finish line. But the other candidates are lacing up their running shoes, too.