Local Politics

Tight Race Between Obama and Clinton Could Impact State Races

Posted February 11, 2008 6:59 p.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2008 10:01 p.m. EST

— North Carolina took its first official step toward the November election with the opening of candidate filing Monday. Candidates filed paperwork when elections officials statewide began accepting applications at noon Monday for the 2008 ballot.

The candidates file based on party affiliations, but these days, you can't count only on members of your own party.

The state has 5.6 million people registered to vote and 1.1 million of those are unaffiliated. That means 20 percent of voters are a virtual wild card in a two-party system. 

Their impact in the tight race between U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois for the Democratic nomination could affect Democrats in state races as well.

If Obama and Clinton continue to run neck and neck, the state's May 6 primary could help determine the winner.

“Well for political junkies, it's great. It's like the circus coming to town,” said Gary Pearce, a Democratic consultant who worked with former presidential candidate John Edwards during his 1998 Senate campaign.

Pearce said more attention on Obama and Clinton, means more attention on the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore

High turnouts in the Democrat primary could force Perdue and Moore to reach a wider audience.

“For the governor's race, this is something the professionals don't want to deal with. It's a nightmare. You want to control everything you can," Pearce said.

North Carolina's primary is open. Those 1.1 million unaffiliated voters are allowed to vote in either the Republican or Democrat primary, and state election officials said a close national race could spark historic highs in voter turnout.

“We could have as much participation as in the general election,” said Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections.

Campaign officials for Moore and Perdue said they are strategizing about ways to reach unaffiliated voters.

High-ranking state lawmakers and election officials said more interest is good for the electoral process.

“I believe it's healthy and good for North Carolina if it would be recognized,” said Senate President Marc Basnight, D-Dare.

The year “2008 is going to be a year to remember in elections,” Bartlett said.

“The fact is, nobody knows. Nobody can predict. One thing we know this election year, is that every prediction is wrong, including this one, probably,” Pearce said.

If the race between Clinton and Obama seems decided by May, however,  voter turnout will fizzle.

The number of unaffiliated voters is growing in the state. It soared from 5 to 6 percent in the 1980s to the current 20 percent.