I think Democrats seriously erred in their strategy for the gubernatorial race by trying to make the election a referendum on Pat McCrory’s ethics and integrity.
At first glance, this isn’t a horrible strategy: after all, Pat McCrory is well-known in the state, and most voters seem to like him. Other than that, he’s not very well-defined, and a candidate’s likeability plays a big role in their ultimate electoral success. So why not tear McCrory down? That way, McCrory becomes “generic Republican” and gives Dalton a better shot.
There’s a couple of reasons why I think this strategy hasn’t worked (and you can tell it hasn’t worked by the polling). First of all, it’s vague. Most of the attacks are on the subject of him being an “unregistered lobbyist”. My thoughts: who cares? I doubt most swing voters would be able to tell you what’s so bad about being an unregistered lobbyist. Yes, they know it’s “bad” but Democrats are basically using a line of attack that’s both vague and for which they have no real evidence … not a winner in my book.
That brings us to the questions of McCrory’s taxes. Democrats saw Obama’s seemingly effective attacks on Romney and wanted to paint McCrory with the same brush. Why haven’t Democrats had the same success with McCrory? Again, it comes down to likeability. McCrory comes across as a likeable guy and not a robot like Romney. Next, Romney’s millionaire background and general evasiveness makes him an easy target for such attacks. Against Romney, they resonate because that’s what shady millionaire CEOs do. I think the average voter really doesn’t care at all about tax returns – unless one of the candidates is a millionaire businessman who is said to have gotten rich by laying people off. Then, the burden of proof is on the candidate to prove that he’s not a tax dodger. McCrory doesn’t come across as exorbitantly wealthy or shady, so he gets a free pass.
So that’s the Democrats’ problem: they’re trying to take down a candidate with high favorability ratings by defining him as someone shady, with issues that aren’t very compelling to begin with. Maybe voters just aren’t tuned in yet but I don’t think that’s going to be a winning strategy for them this year.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.