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Notebook: Given big loss, what did Walter Dalton do wrong?

In the wake of Democrat Walter Dalton's double-digit loss in the governor's race comes this question: Could he have done anything different to win?

Dome put the question to a few Democratic consultants and political observers. They offer interesting takes on why Dalton never caught fire but mention one recurring theme: he didn't distance himself from the current administration strongly enough. Read below.

David McLennan, political science professor at Peace University: "In some focus groups I have conducted in the last six months, mainly with people who claim to be independent voters, they have expressed what I call 'Democratic fatigue.' I heard these NC voters talk about simply being tired of the Easley and Perdue administrations, the scandals, the standard talk about supporting education, etc. There was a sense among many voters, even those who had previously voted for Easley and/or Perdue that they want something different. Dalton was not different enough to them."

Gary Pearce, Democratic strategist: "I’m not smart enough to know what (Dalton) could have done in the face of all the odds against him.  One alternative was a scorched-earth negative assault on McCrory, but that’s tough without a lot of money.  Some Democrats think he should have distanced himself more forcefully from Perdue and Easley and legislative Democrats, but that’s not Walter’s style.

"Consultants are like ants on a log going down a river.  We think we’re steering.  But it’s the river.  And the river is running against Dalton."

Brad Crone, Democratic strategist: "There are two big reasons Dalton really never caught fire.  Up until late January he was mounting a re-election campaign.  He didn't have the name identification nor did he have the fundraising/organization team in place to mount a statewide race for governor.

"Finally, Walter Dalton has been a loyal Democrat - not showing any major policy breaks with Governor Perdue or the Legislative leadership.  His loyalty allowed McCrory to tie him to Democrat leadership over the past two decades and that brand is having a tough time with unaffiliated voters and white suburban Democrats right now.

"As we move forward, Democrats are going to have to find a campaign message that maintains a strong progressive stance on social issues, but also attracts middle-of-the-road voters on fiscal accountability and growing our business sector."

Chris Cooper, political science professor Western Carolina University: "Other than money, it seems to me that Dalton's biggest Achilles heel was the dissatisfaction with Perdue's administration. Voters tend to connect folks from the same party and it would be difficult for any Democrat to pull this one out. In addition, Perdue declared that she would not seek reelection fairly late in the election cycle, so Dalton did not have the benefit of fundraising and campaigning for as long as McCrory did.  It was a tough road to hoe for Walter Dalton and it's not particularly surprising that he (didn't) to pull this one out."

Michael Bitzer, political science professor at Catawba College: "While he has tried his best, he just didn't have the energy level needed in place to pick up the pieces from the bombshell of Perdue's announcement in January and the general malaise that the party faced (remember the internal power struggle over the harassment charges and party chair David Parker's attempted resignation).  And McCrory has made inroads (I think significant inroads) in traditional conservative Democratic Eastern part of the state, which Dalton doesn't have the roots in due to coming from the mountains."


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