The world of full-time politics and campaigns has come to North Carolina. Gone are the days when politicians could take a breather from the campaign trail after they took the oath of office.
Now, in our 24-hour news cycle, hyper-partisan political environment elected officials and candidates have to be running for office constantly. The clearest example of this is our governor, Republican Pat McCrory, and the slate of Democrats who may try to unseat him.
It is only September in 2013, a scant eight months after McCrory was sworn in as governor and more than three years away from the next gubernatorial election, but Democrats are already staking out campaigns to challenge him.
Attorney General Roy Cooper is the most high-profile Democrat said to be considering a challenge to McCrory in 2016. Cooper was a strong opponent of the elections overhaul signed into law by McCrory in August and has recently been more vocal with his opinion on other political issues.
Former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker is another Democrat who has said he is considering the race. If he were to run and win the Democratic nomination, it would pit former mayors of the state’s two biggest cities against each other in the general election.
And two Democrats have already declared their candidacy, former Chapel Hill town councilor James Protzman and former state representative Kenneth Spaulding from Durham.
So why is there so much talk about this race three years before the election?
Well, in the world of modern politics you first need a lot of money to run statewide. And if you don’t already have a statewide network, it can take time to build one as you make your way across the state on the campaign trail. McCrory spent almost $11.2 million in 2012, so any Democrat who wants to pose a viable challenge is going to have to raise some serious money.
McCrory and his supporters are not resting on their laurels, either. Following some less than favorable poll numbers during the summer, McCrory is now appearing in an ad trumpeting his goals for the state. The ad is produced by the Renew North Carolina Foundation, an independent organization supporting the governor.
The ad is another symbol of the perpetual campaign as McCrory and his supporters work to get their message out through paid television ads so far removed from the next election.
The election of 2016 is a lifetime away in politics and no real analysis can be offered about anyone’s electoral chances that far off. But the voters of North Carolina are going to have to get used to never-ending campaigns it seems, especially as we cement our status as a presidential battleground moving forward.
In the meantime, hopefully voters will turn their attention to the actual campaigns being waged this year for municipal races across the state that often suffer from anemic voter turnout. After that, we can focus on what should be a high-profile, competitive race for the U.S. Senate in 2014. And once that’s over, we can start talking about the 2016 governor’s race in earnest.
Until then, voters just need to stay informed and engaged with what’s going on in state government. That way they can confidently cast a ballot for governor when the time finally comes.
Brent Laurenz is the executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, a Raleigh-based nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping citizens fully participate in democracy.