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With help from Andy Griffith, the pro-business, conservative Democrats prevail in the state's most powerful offices

High noon in Mayberry 

The big winner in the state-level North Carolina elections: State Senate President Marc Basnight, the Manteo Democrat and good friend of Andy Griffith. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bev Perdue—who’ll be a gooood governor, Griffith assures us—is a cog in Basnight’s Senate caucus machinery, as is U.S. Senate nominee Kay Hagan, as is Lieutenant Governor nominee Walter Dalton.

The biggest loser? Gov. Mike Easley, who unaccountably threw in with Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama just when Obama was pulling away from her in North Carolina. It’s probably only coincidence that Clinton’s collapse began with Easley’s endorsement. But the tepid applause for Easley at Friday night’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Raleigh, even from the Clinton cohort, and the lusty boos that greeted him from Obama’s side, testify to how little regard he’s held in by the Democratic faithful.

Progressive Democrats also lost a great chance to elect one of their own to high state office when they split their votes and allowed Dalton to defeat Durham attorney Hampton Dellinger in the lieutenant governor primary. Dalton won outright with 45 percent. Dellinger, his only real competition, was second with 34 percent. But Dellinger was forced to share progressive votes with Winston-Salem Councilman Dan Besse, the environmental community’s favorite, who ran fourth with just 7 percent, and to some extent with populist Canton Mayor Pat Smathers, who ran well in the western part of the state and came in third with 14 percent.

Thus, the top Democratic nominees are all conservative, pro-business Democrats in the Basnight mold: Perdue, Hagan, Dalton.

Progressive Democrats did prevail in a number of down-ballot races. Most prominent, state Sen. Janet Cowell of Raleigh won a surprisingly easy victory over Buncombe County Commissioner David Young in the primary for state treasurer. (Incumbent Treasurer Richard Moore was thumped by Perdue in the Democratic gubernatorial race).

Among those celebrating with Cowell at Mitch’s Tavern last night: actor Jim Sullivan of Cary, who was the “fat cat” in Cowell’s TV spot, the guy who laughed so outrageously while puffing on his cigar at the thought of his great influence in state politics. A long-time Cowell supporter, Sullivan is past president of the N.C. State University Theater Endowment Fund and was recently featured on an Indy cover with the troupe from Burning Coal Theater.

Cowell was one of the few Democrats to strike such an unmistakably anti-establishment note in her campaign, and that spot was aimed directly at women voters, who generally account for 55 percent to 60 percent of the Democratic primary turnout.

Sullivan demurred: “It was designed to appeal to all the voters,” he said, smiling ever so slightly.

If there was any good news for the Republicans in Tuesday’s results, it was that they managed to nominate their strongest possible gubernatorial candidate, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a centrist type who defeated conservative state Sen. Fred Smith of Johnston County with 46 percent of the vote to Smith’s 37 percent. Bill Graham, Bob Orr and Elbie Powers trailed with 9 percent, 7 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

McCrory and incumbent U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole will give the GOP a formidable 1-2 punch on the ballot this fall underneath presidential nominee John McCain. But GOP turnout was dismal: Just 505,000 votes were cast in the Republican gubernatorial primary, one-third of the 1.5 million cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Much of that is due to the tough Obama-Clinton battle, of course. Still, GOP turnout was roughly one-quarter of 1.9 million registered Republicans statewide, while Democratic turnout was more than 60 percent of 2.6 million registered Democrats.

No breakdown was available on how many of the 1.2 million unaffiliated voters cast ballots in the respective parties’ primaries.

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