From up Asheville way, the Scrutiny Hooligans are already predicting that loyal Blue Dog Dem and WNC favorite, Heath Shuler, will be the challenger to Richard Burr for the open Senate seat in 2010.
Although not the favorite of most Progressives in North Carolina, Heath is widely acknowledge for having heavily fortified coffers and, if Gordon is to be believed, none other than former President Bill Clinton will be hosting a fundraiser for Heath in Raleigh a week from Monday (after the President Clinton delivers an address at N.C. State). Roy Cooper and Richard Moore, justifiably, have been getting most of the attention from early internet speculation concerning the race, but should they be worried about Shuler as a formidable candidate?
Financial strength aside, Shuler's more conservative views on most social issues play well to Dems in both the Western and Eastern parts of the state. Obviously, he can't win an outright Senate seat without some substantial margins in the metro areas, but having the ability to negate a lot of Burr's potential gains in the more rural areas could give him a strategic advantage. And, assuming that 2010 will not be all sunshine and roses in the NC business sector, Shuler will have to formulate a strong economic growth platform, insisten on helping those suffering with job loss and/or seeing their companies ship jobs overseas. It should be interesting to watch how he votes on both the immediate and future spending bills in Congress. He maintains a very fiscally conservative streak, but if his votes are percieved as not helping middle class workers in North Carolina, that could create some ammunition in the Democratic primaries, especially against Cooper, who can wait for several months and formulate his policies, adjusting them to the economic impact right here at home.
Regardless, Shuler has the name, money and base to make a strong charge for both the Dem nomination and Burr's seat. Can Shuler loosen his conservative stances and appeal to some the progressives that dot the Mecklenberg and Wake county metro areas? It will be a telling sign of just how "blue" NC has become when, presumably, Shuler, Cooper and Moore start campaigning.