RALEIGH — In the days running up to the election, Republicans may need to be on guard for a twist of fate.
By most accounts, the GOP is set for a successful election night. Polls put Republicans ahead in races up and down the ballot. In the state Senate, GOP leaders are already figuring out who is going to be in charge of what. In the state House, Democrats are coming to terms with the fact that they could lose their majority, something few believed possible earlier in the year.
But as strange as it may seem, the GOP could actually be too well-positioned in the run-up to the election.
So far, their top-of-the-ticket candidate, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, has been able to run away and hide from Democratic challenger Elaine Marshall. A running average of poll results on realclearpolitics.com puts Burr 15 percentage points ahead. The race has generated all the excitement of a lecture on the anatomy of an amoeba.
Without any excitement at the top of the ticket, will all those angry, invigorated Republicans materialize on Election Day? What about independents, who are said to be breaking two-to-one in favor of Republican candidates this time around?
Marshall simply hasn’t had the campaign cash needed to mount an effective campaign against an incumbent like Burr.
The first debate between the two could have made a fussy newborn sleep for three days straight. The second, with Libertarian Mike Beitler along to spice up the affair, was a bit more interesting.
Marshall and Beitler tag-teamed Burr, beating up on the incumbent over his support of the financial industry bailout legislation and painting him as a Washington insider.
Being the old salesman that he is, Burr deftly deflected the verbal jabs. He said the initial bailout “saved the economy” and that he voted against release of the second half of the $700 billion. He explained his second vote by saying that he didn’t want the government to take ownership stakes in banks.
But even if this televised debate was lively, it was probably only seen by a fraction of voters in the state.
Burr and Marshall — without Beitler — will go at each other one more time before the election. The rest will be stump speeches and TV ads.
It’s possible this latest debate could mark a turning point in which the race heats up. Maybe what dollars Marshall has been able to hoard final make their way to the airwaves.
Burr would probably prefer that didn’t happen, that he coast to victory without much fuss.
In this odd election season, that result may not be in the best interest of his Republican friends down the ballot.
A dull race at the top of the ticket isn’t the formula for success as you move lower. For the GOP to maximize its opportunities to take seats in the state legislature, it needs voter interest and energy.
So far, this U.S. Senate race isn’t doing too well on that front.
Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.