Program Report: Mac McCorkle

Pundit Says NC Politics Hard to Figure Out

He’s a seasoned political consultant turned Duke associate professor who pairs impressive professional chops with the candid admission that figuring out how North Carolina will behave politically “is a daunting task.”

In fact, Pope “Mac” McCorkle of the Sanford School of Public Policy traced the state’s baffling political ethos to a declaration by Thomas Jefferson’s that North Carolina’s “political mind is mysterious to us.” A NYT bestseller by two Harvard academics, How Democracies Die, includes a proposition that the United States may lapse into paralyzed politics and “be like North Carolina,” McCorkle said. A recent piece in The New York Times Magazine asked in its headline whether North Carolina “is the future” of U.S. politics.

Today, the state is paralyzed politically – witness the embarrassing birth of HB2 and its untidy cleanup. In the recent past, North Carolina has been a fickle battleground of no durable loyalty to either major party. Think Helms, Edwards, Dole, Hagan. Think Barber in Raleigh, and five consecutive Democratic gubernatorial wins as the Southeast, Virginia excepted, moved largely Republican.

“You have these flips that are very hard to make sense of,” McCorkle said.

But making sense of all of this is part of McCorkle’s job as director of graduate studies at the Sanford School, where he has spent his last six years in academia. Informing his work is more than a little front-line wisdom attained over the years through Democratic campaign consulting in 28 states, plus platinum academic credentials.

“North Carolina is up for grabs in many respects,” McCorkle said. But in his view the future may not divide as easily along stark urban and rural lines as much of conventional wisdom around Tar Heel politics holds.

The state’s population centers of Charlotte and Wake County, metropolitan homes to millions by statistical definition, McCorkle said, are not “core urban” in their dependability to deliver Democratic votes despite their metro classifications. Adjacent counties that qualify each area as big offset downtown Democratic votes with GOP votes.  “You have a fight in areas that are metropolitan but not urban,” McCorkle said.

The core cities are surrounded in counties that are “countrypolitan,” he said, “not rural, not left behind,” but areas where state Democrats would be well advised to deploy their time, talent and energies.

State Democrats, he said, should think of themselves as underdogs mindful of history in the coming election, even if indications are that a wave election in favor of Democrats is in the works nationally. When Ronald Reagan swept the nation in 1980, McCorkle recalled, North Carolina stayed resolutely Democrat at the state level.

Stay tuned in 2018. And our thanks to Mac McCorkle for speaking.

Mr. McCorkle was introduced by his friend and neighbor, Rotarian Rob Everett.

(Submitted by Mark Lazenby)

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