Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Could North Carolina matter?

A reporter from the Mountains called me this morning and asked if I thought our primary could matter in May.

I do, but the only way it could happen is if Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pretty much alternate winning primaries so much over the next few months that neither can ever really get enough momentum to put the other away. For instance on Super Tuesday, one would have to win New York and the other win California probably. And neither of them could win too many primaries in a row.

This sort of back and forth momentum swing resulted in the last primary contest that was so close that primaries scheduled at the end of the line really mattered. It was the race for the 1976 GOP nomination between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

It looked like Ford was going to run away with it. He won New Hampshire narrowly but went on to take Florida and Illinois by good margins. It looked like Reagan was dead, and presumably his political career along with it.

Then the race came to North Carolina, Reagan pulled off a shocking victory, and stopped Ford's momentum. Reagan went on to win a bunch of states with extremely conservative Republican primary electorates while Ford had success in places where the base was Rockefeller Republicans.

It went to the convention and Ford won, but it sure kept Reagan's political career alive. So depending on your perspective you can bless or curse North Carolina for giving us eight years of Reagan in the White House. Probably never would have happened if he hadn't won our primary.

If Clinton or Obama string together enough wins to gain the kind of momentum John Kerry got in 2004, North Carolina will be irrelevant come May. But this just might be the year things are knotted enough that we matter.

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