Democrats need to get hopping on Burr Senate race

U.S. Senator Richard Burr, center, talks to members prior to a speaking engagement for the Kannapolis Rotary Club in April.
U.S. Senator Richard Burr, center, talks to members prior to a speaking engagement for the Kannapolis Rotary Club in April. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Washington publication The Hill embarrassed itself this week with a story on North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race. It read like a press release from Democrats. That might be because it was based on a press release from Democrats.

The sunny picture it painted for Democrats in their bid to oust Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr ignores one massive problem: They don’t have a strong candidate. Actually, they don’t have any candidate.

The party’s most electable prospective candidates keep announcing that they won’t run. Former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan was the party’s greatest hope (which is saying something), but she announced last month that she would not run. Former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, now the U.S. secretary of transportation, was high on Democrats’ wish list, but he has indicated he’ll sit it out.

State Sen. Josh Stein, who is expected to run for attorney general, said this week he won’t run for Burr’s seat. State Treasurer Janet Cowell says she’s running for re-election. UNC system President Tom Ross is believed to be not interested.

That leaves people like state Sen. Dan Blue, hardly a household name, and former U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler. They are fine people, but hardly a roster that gives Democrats reason to trumpet their chances. Combine Burr’s revelation this week that he has nearly $4 million sitting in the bank with polls last week showing Burr with solid leads over all six Democrats tested, and you have the Republican incumbent in a surprisingly comfortable position.

It’s only July 2015, you might say. But these days, challengers don’t have time to waste. They need organization and money to knock off a two-term incumbent. Then-House Speaker Thom Tillis was already a declared candidate at this point in the 2014 election cycle.

This week’s memo from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that The Hill touted made some valid points: North Carolina is a true swing state, and Burr is not well-known. With a strong candidate, Democrats could ride presidential-race turnout to a Senate victory.

Without one? The 2016 race might look a lot like Burr’s easy stroll to re-election over Elaine Marshall in 2010. The clock ticks on. -- Taylor Batten

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