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Bowles Preparing For Another Bid

With Sen. John Edwards’ (D-N.C.) presidential bid receiving a boost in recent weeks from an impressive financial showing in the first quarter, unsuccessful 2002 North Carolina Senate nominee Erskine Bowles (D) is quietly preparing for another campaign.

“If Senator Edwards decides not to run for office, Erskine is going to do it,” said Mac McCorkle, a consultant to Bowles’ 2002 bid. “The contingency plan is ready to go.”

Since losing to now-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) 54 percent to 45 percent last November, Bowles has traveled the state, speaking to a variety of interest groups and cultivating his political contacts, according to knowledgeable Democratic sources.

Bowles has also “actively worked to raise money both in-state and out-of-state” for Edwards’ presidential campaign, said one Democratic aide familiar with the situation. Bowles co-hosted a recent event for Edwards in New York City.

Edwards raised an impressive $7.4 million in the first three months of 2003, putting him at the head of a crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates. He also retained $1.4 million in a Senate account.

Bowles’ increased activity, coupled with the growing perception of Edwards’ viability in the presidential race, is fostering a belief in state political circles that the freshman Senator is unlikely to run for re-election, although he is legally allowed to pursue both offices simultaneously.

Edwards has not set any timetable for deciding whether he will run for the Senate again, according to a spokesman.

A potential Bowles candidacy has also reinvigorated national Democrats who have watched Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) quickly consolidate support within his party and post impressive fundraising numbers in the first three months of the year.

“If the seat in North Carolina comes open, we are blessed with a very deep and very talented bench, and we are in a strong position to keep that seat in Democratic hands,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse.

Burr said he was not particularly concerned about whom he might face in 2004.

“The strategy that I have and the challenge that I have is the same regardless of whose name is on the ballot,” Burr said.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Dan Allen added that “having Congressman Burr in North Carolina means this will be a top targeted race for Republicans this cycle.”

“The fact that Democrats have one candidate out campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire and another one waiting in the wings that couldn’t get 45 percent of the vote last cycle shows that they have a lot of problems,” Allen said of the developing contest.

Burr said that “90 percent” of his campaign time is currently devoted to fundraising, an arena in which he has performed well thus far. He boasted more than $2 million in cash at the end of March after raising $438,000 in the first three months of the year.

Bowles’ personal wealth could significantly blunt Burr’s early fundraising edge; in the 2002 race he donated nearly $7 million of his own funds to the race.

Although Bowles was not available for comment, a look at his recent schedule shows that he is moving to shore up the weak spots that may have cost him the last election.

Bowles is focusing his efforts on eastern North Carolina, where he has appeared at several oyster roasts hosted by state Senate President Marc Basnight (D), who also flirted with a Senate bid in ’02, over the past few months.

In the 2002 election, Dole was able to cut into the traditionally Democratic eastern areas, something many political observers argued was the key to her victory.

Populated by conservative Democrats — often referred to as “Jessecrats” for their past support of former Sen. Jesse Helms (R) — Bowles must perform significantly better in the region in order to win statewide, Democrats acknowledge.

Dole won Dare, Carteret and Currituck counties in the coastal portion of the state, carrying 59 percent of the vote.

Bowles is also aggressively courting the black community, most notably by speaking in early February at the anniversary of the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro.

In the previous cycle, Bowles’ September primary victory was somewhat tainted by a delayed endorsement from former state Rep. Dan Blue (D), who came in second.

Blue, who is black, held off on backing Bowles for a month after the primary and then offered his candidacy what was viewed as only lukewarm support.

North Carolina’s population is roughly 22 percent black, according to the 2000 Census.

Blue is also considering another race for Senate. Rep. Bob Etheridge has likewise been mentioned as a candidate and having been elected statewide twice before, he could present an appealing profile for Democrats. Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) is also said to be contemplating the race.

Bowles is not ignoring his Charlotte base in this preliminary stage. He delivered the keynote address at a Planned Parenthood luncheon earlier this month, discussing not only his support for legalized abortion but also weighing in on the ongoing battles over judicial nominations, according to a Democratic source. Later that evening he addressed a group of Mecklenburg County Democrats.

Bowles is also set to be the keynote speaker at a May 11 gathering of the Southern Journalists Roundtable.

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