|Edwards Is Finding It Difficult to Shift G.O.P. Trend at Home|
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
ith the fanfare of a concert tour, Senator John Edwards plans to return home to North Carolina today to cast an early ballot and attend a rally in his honor, accompanied by the rocker Jon Bon Jovi and thousands of supporters.
But if the polls are any indication, the voters of his state would sooner welcome President Bush than Mr. Edwards, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.
Despite warnings by Mr. Edwards during the primary season that it would be an enormous mistake to ignore the South and his promises to "beat President Bush in my backyard,'' North Carolina seems to be falling in line with the rest of the South in the Bush column.
The Kerry campaign is not advertising in the state, having shifted much of its television money since mid-August to swing states in the Midwest and West, and political analysts in North Carolina said Mr. Edwards would have faced a tough hurdle even at the top of the ticket.
North Carolina has not voted for a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976. That reflects the larger shift that has taken place across the South in the past four decades, from reliably Democratic to solidly Republican in presidential elections.
Jack Fleer, a professor emeritus of political science at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, said Republicans had captured the region largely because its voters see the Republicans as kin on social and cultural issues, including opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, and because it has large numbers of military personnel who view the party as stronger on defense.
Hastings Wyman, editor of the nonpartisan Southern Political Report, predicted that Mr. Edwards would have faced a difficult challenge had he decided to run for re-election instead of announcing his retirement after one term to run for president.
Mr. Edwards, who defeated a one-term Republican incumbent in 1998 by five percentage points in a hard-fought race, has also suffered because of the perception among North Carolinians that his presidential ambitions have come at the expense of serving his constituents, Professor Freer said.
As the vice-presidential nominee Mr. Edwards has visited the state 10 times - this will be his fourth campaign trip since Labor Day. The latest Mason-Dixon poll, conducted Oct. 18-19, showed Mr. Bush leading 51 percent to 43 percent among 625 likely voters, with a margin of error of four percentage points.
Al Gore lost the state by 13 percentage points in 2000, but some Democrats had initially hoped that Mr. Edwards just might pull the state for Mr. Kerry.
Ed Turlington, North Carolina chairman for the Kerry campaign, points out that the polls are tighter than in 2000 and suggests that Democratic efforts to register new voters and increase turnout mean the state is not entirely a lost cause. "I'm not going to try to sell you that we're even,'' Mr. Turlington said. "But I think we're in the single-digit range, and if we have a surge and the turnout it could be a good result.''
Republicans expressed delight that Mr. Edwards would spend time and resources in North Carolina instead of true swing states. "We welcome them to spend as much time and resources as they can there,'' said Reed Dickens, a spokesman for the Bush campaign. The Kerry campaign's difficulty in North Carolina is all the more striking because Mr. Edwards repeatedly promoted his Southern credentials during the primary season and promised to carry his own state. One of his standard lines was: "Too many times, the Democrats ignore the South. We can't do that, because historically we've never elected a Democrat president without winning at least five Southern states.''
But earlier this year Mr. Kerry himself noted at Dartmouth College that it was possible to win the presidency without the old South. "Everybody always makes the mistake of looking South,'' Mr. Kerry said. "Al Gore proved he could have been president of the United States without winning one Southern state, including his own.''