In the presidential race, Hillary Clinton has taken some heat lately for running a cautious, 'incumbent' style campaign, as if she already holds the office.
In the North Carolina Lieutenant Governor's race Walter Dalton is doing the same thing.
The most public recent example has been a series of debates and questionnaires that Dalton has eschewed. Take the recent Progressive Democrats of North Carolina forum. Just about anyone involved in North Carolina politics could have told you 12 months ago that the Progressive Dems would endorse Dan Besse. But Pat Smathers and Hampton Dellinger attended the forum and answered the questionnaire anyway, because when you are running for office part of what you do is engage with the electorate, even if the outcome isn't likely to go your way. Walter Dalton? He didn't attend the forum or answer the questionnaire.
A series of six debates on college campuses across the state has been proposed. Dan Besse and Pat Smathers have agreed to participate in all of them and Hampton Dellinger has too, pending some scheduling issues being cleared up. Dalton? He vaguely says he'll debate when the time comes.
Refusing to engage with other candidates or appear at events sponsored by Democratic organizations are the kinds of things you do if you think you're way out ahead of the pack and can get by with just spending a lot of money on tv.
Dalton has to be banking that media attention will be so diverted to the gubernatorial and senate primaries that he will be able to get away with this kind of disengagement without the broader mass of voters becoming aware of it.
It might just work. With the financial resources he has available to him, he will surely finish in the top two.
A key player in this equation is the editorial boards of newspapers across the state. The influence of newspaper endorsements has waned over the years, but they're more likely to be important in a primary where not a lot of attention has been paid to the race. One of the main things the media is supposed to value is open and honest debate. If Dalton does not engage in that over the course of the campaign, he should get raked over the coals when it comes time for influential newspapers to do their endorsements. It could be a difference maker in whether he is able to get away with his incumbent strategy or not.