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Democratic Delegation: North Carolina
By Aron Goetzl
Electoral votes: 14
Chairman: Barbara K. Allen
Hotel: Universal City Hilton and Towers (818) 506-2500
North Carolina is usually not considered a battleground state in presidential elections. Since President Lyndon B. Johnson carried the state in his 1964 landslide, North Carolina has gone Democratic for president only once, when Jimmy Carter of Georgia won it in 1976.
So Tar Heel Democrats are accustomed to tempering their rhetoric when it comes time every four years to assess their presidential nominee's chances in the state. Democrat Bill Clinton came close in 1992 when he was running as a challenger, losing North Carolina to President George Bush by less than 1 percentage point. Clinton, as the incumbent, slipped back to a 49 percent to 44 percent deficit in his 1996 race against Republican Bob Dole.
But this year, North Carolina's 103-member delegation to the Democratic National Convention is cautiously confident. This attitude is inspired by the party's recent upswing in the state - including Democrat John Edwards' upset of Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth in 1998 - and an energetic gubernatorial campaign this year by state Attorney General Mike Easley.
Also stirring the adrenaline of North Carolina Democrats this summer was widespread speculation that Vice President Al Gore, their party's presidential candidate, was considering outgoing Democratic Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. for his vice presidential nominee.
Hunt has been a dominant figure in North Carolina politics for nearly a quarter century: He is this year running up against the state's two-term limit for governors for the second time. He won in 1976 and 1980 for his first tenure and - despite a close but unsuccessful challenge to Republican Sen. Jesse Helms in 1984 - came back to reclaim the state's top job in 1992. He was re-elected in 1996.
Recent polls gave the Republican nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a significant but not commanding lead over Gore in North Carolina. When pollsters added Hunt as the hypothetical Democratic vice presidential pick, Bush's lead in the state virtually disappeared.
"This is going to be a competitive state," said Scott Falmlen, executive director of the state Democratic Party. "Bush probably has the slight advantage. Nobody has any illusions about what the reality is right now. Who knows what the dynamics of the race will be in a few months."
By serving as chair of the convention's platform drafting committee, Hunt will have already played a prominent role in the national Democratic campaign. He is an honorary co-chairman of the North Carolina delegation, along with Edwards.
State Party Chairman Barbara K. Allen will officially lead a North Carolina delegation that is very supportive of Gore and the "New Democrat" agenda that he, Hunt, Clinton and other party centrists have championed during the past decade.
"The majority of the delegation would align themselves with the New Democrats," said state Rep. G. Wayne Goodwin, a second-time delegate from Rockingham. "The successes of Clinton and Gore are due in many respects to the New Democrats who have emerged in the 1990s."
North Carolina Democrats can certainly vouch for the political potency of a unifying and moderate message. In 1996, as Hunt became governor, the Democrats recaptured two U.S. House seats they had lost in the 1994 Republican upsurge. As Edwards was winning the Senate seat in 1998, his party regained control of the state House.
This year's delegation will showcase many of those successful candidates. All five U.S. House Democrats are on the delegate list: Eva Clayton, Bob Etheridge, Mike McIntyre, David E. Price and Melvin Watt. Although Easley is not expected in Los Angeles, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall will join a number of the state's leading black elected officials at the convention, including state Auditor Ralph Campbell, state Sen. Frank W. Ballance Jr. and state Rep. Daniel T. Blue Jr., who was state House Speaker prior to 1994.
Clarence Lightner, who in 1973 became the only African-American ever to serve as mayor of Raleigh, will head to Los Angeles as a strong backer of the vice president. The 78-year-old Lightner will be attending his eighth consecutive convention as a delegate. "The Democrats stress the well-being of all the people in the country, instead of just a select few," he contended.
The delegation will include party activists with diverse backgrounds. "They run the whole spectrum. It's a very good representative group," said Falmlen.
Thirteen of the delegates are supporters of former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, who dropped out of the race long before North Carolina voted on May 2. The Bradley corps includes Raleigh native Ed Turlington, who served as the candidate's deputy campaign manager during the primaries. But Turlington's wife, Marla, who is also a Bradley delegate, said they would be attending the convention to support Gore and the Democratic Party.
NORTH CAROLINA NOTABLES: Term-limited Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., chairman of the convention's platform drafting committee; Sen. John Edwards; state Democratic Party Chairman Barbara K. Allen, the delegation chairman; U.S. Reps. Eva Clayton, Bob Etheridge, Mike McIntyre, David E. Price and Melvin Watt; North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall; state Rep. Daniel T. Blue Jr., a former state House Speaker; state Auditor Ralph Campbell; Ed Turlington, a former aide to Hunt and deputy campaign manager for former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley's presidential campaign; former Raleigh Mayor Clarence Lightner, the only African-American to hold that job.
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