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Pundits Debate if Clinton Connection Helps, Hurts Bowles

Former Clinton aide Erskine Bowles says the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted him to seek the Senate seat.

Political pundits are offering differing views on what effect two years in the Clinton White House will have on UNC graduate Erskine Bowles' chances of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Bowles, former White House chief of staff, announced Wednesday that he will seek the seat of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C.

Bowles joins fellow Democrats Rep. Dan Blue, D-Wake, and N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall in the race.

Republicans running for the seat include former presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole, retired physician and educator Ada Fisher and former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot.

Bowles served in the Clinton White House from December 1996 to November 1998. He is now vice chairman of the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

Earlier in the year, Bowles announced he would not run for the Senate. But in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in which he lost a close friend, Bowles said he had a change of heart.

"Over the last few weeks, each of us has had to re-examine how we can best serve our state, our nation and our fellow men and women," Bowles stated in a Wednesday press release. "I will be running for the opportunity of serving my state and country."

Ferrel Guillory, director of UNC's Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life, said Bowles must first demonstrate to North Carolinians that he can handle a large statewide campaign. "He has the skills to tackle issues, but he has never campaigned," Guillory said. "He has to go out there and prove himself."

Bowles has never run a campaign of any size, but Guillory pointed out that neither had Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., before he won a Senate seat in 1998.

N.C. Democratic Party Chairwoman Barbara Allen also said she doesn't think a lack of campaign experience will be a problem for Bowles.

"I don't think it'll hurt him," Allen said. "Edwards has taught a lot about running campaigns."

Guillory said Bowles has both strengths and weaknesses compared to Edwards. "Bowles has the extra benefit of showing he can work with national issues," he said. "However, (he) doesn't have the television personality of Edwards or (Bill) Clinton."

Although some has said he does not have Clinton's charisma, Bowles has worked closely with the former president -- a connection that could either hurt or help his chances.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will make foreign policy a key issue in the 2002 political races, Guillory said, adding that Bowles' experience in the White House will give him an advantage in the race.

"He has to deal with foreign policy issues and knows people familiar with the situation," he said.

But having ties to Clinton also has negative ramifications, said Republican Party Chairman Bill Cobey.

In last year's presidential election, George W. Bush received 56 percent of the vote in North Carolina, 373,000 more votes than Al Gore.

The vote margin by which Bush won North Carolina was the second highest in the nation, ranking only behind Bush's home state of Texas.

Cobey said the 2000 presidential vote margin proves North Carolinians do not approve of candidates associated with Clinton. "Gore suffered from his affiliation, and you are accountable for those who you work with," Cobey said.

"Bowles is in Clinton's shadow, and that's not a shadow to be in in North Carolina."

 

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The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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