The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

February 8, 2012

And the nominees aren’t

Wednesday, February 7, 2012 — RALEIGH – It might have made a nice Hollywood movie.

Consider the script, rooted in themes of redemption and renewal: A man watches his father fall short of his ultimate goal, his fortunes altered by changing political winds. The son goes on to live a life of accomplishment, but also suffers failures similar to those of the father. Finally, after vowing not to subject himself to the possibility of another failure before an unsympathetic public, an unexpected opportunity arises to fill the exact role that his father once sought. The public recognizes its mistakes and embraces the son. The circle is complete.

The son, of course, is Erksine Bowles – investment banker, former White House chief of staff, past UNC system president, twice-defeated U.S. Senate candidate, and not-to-be Democratic gubernatorial candidate. His father was Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles, who in 1972 became the first Democrat to lose a governor’s race in North Carolina since Reconstruction.

After Gov. Beverly Perdue announced that she wouldn’t seek a second term, Bowles’ name became a big part of the conversation regarding potential replacements on the Democratic ticket.

Among many establishment Democrats, he was the preferred candidate, someone whose credentials would present a substantial challenge for the expected Republican nominee, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

When days went by without a Bowles announcement, most insiders assumed that he was strongly considering entering the race.

On Thursday, he admitted as much, but his decision was no.

In politics, voters and not script writers decide how the story ends.

Bowles understood that there were no guarantees, that he would face a tough, mean and costly race against a GOP candidate who is now well-known across the state and has shown fund-raising prowess.

Bowles had some advantages, though. His term as UNC system president had provided more exposure around the state, and in a role where his smarts and image as the nerdy policy won’t became endearing and not off-putting.

It also provided up-close evidence – here, in this state – that Bowles was more than capable of overseeing an unwieldy bureaucracy filled with conflicting agendas and hard-to-control constituencies. In other words, he spent time in the perfect training ground for the state’s top political job.

But his record and background aren’t unassailable.

He is an investment banker, and as a whole, they are about as popular these days as congressmen, lawyers and journalists.

Bowles also served as co-chair of the federal deficit-reduction commission formed by President Obama. In that role, some have praised him for helping craft a realistic (though now orphaned) plan to put the country on a financially sustainable path.

But the plan is also a record, not so different from a voting record in Congress. Proposals like raising the Social Security retirement age could have been used to bat him about the head.

So, as strong a candidate as Erskine Bowles might have been, he probably wouldn’t have looked like a good-guy, Tom Hanks character by the beginning of November.

Election campaigns rarely resemble feel-good movies.

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