In part to keep a 1994 pledge "to serve no more than 10 years in the U.S. House if elected," Rep. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has taken steps towards a serious Senate bid, although his possible opponent, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., has not yet announced his own intentions.
Burr, who announced in February that he will not seek re-election to his 5th District House seat, plans to kick off fundraising efforts at the end of this month with the help of White House adviser Karl Rove--a sign that widespread Republican support may be secured.
"Burr's got [the support of] the White House, and he'll have the party," said Ted Arrington, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. "The White House controls the party organization pretty well, though they may deny that."
Arrington added that Burr, a Republican, probably has several million dollars remaining from previous campaigns, and may also receive financial backing from "the usual suspects": big business, insurance companies and various conservative interest groups including the National Rifle Association.
In a press release announcing Burr's exploratory committee, the congressman said his top priority will continue to be ensuring that the government is responsive and accountable to constituents, as he has done in the past.
"I have tried to serve as a model of constituent service to the people of the 5th District," Burr said. "I have played a role in cutting wasteful government spending, lowering the tax burden on all Americans and strengthening our nation's public health system against threats of bioterrorism."
Should Burr succeed in the primaries, many are wondering if Edwards is the opponent he will face in the general election.
"Edwards has got to let the Democratic party know this fall [whether he will run or not]," Arrington said. The only problem is that concrete signs as to how Edwards will fare in his bid for the presidency will not emerge until the spring.
"He's even more moderate than Sen. John Kerry, [D-M.A.]," Arrington added, referring to another big Democratic contender for the presidency. "That indicates he's keeping his options back home open."
Although Edwards may be running to the center in the Democratic presidential primary, some North Carolina voters view him as not moderate enough.
"He's running to the left in his primary, and his poll numbers are already dropping in North Carolina," said Jonathan Jordan, spokesperson for the North Carolina Republican Party.
However, Edwards may not be Burr's only possible Democratic opponent.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced Thursday that Erskine Bowles, who ran against current Sen. Elizabeth Dole, D-N.C., in the 2002 election, is preparing for another Senate campaign.
"If Senator Edwards decides not to run for office, [Bowles] is going to do it," said Mac McCorkle, a consultant to Bowles' 2002 bid.
In the case that Bowles runs, Burr will most likely have the advantage, assuming that President George W. Bush's approval rating is "doing well," Arrington said. However, Arrington referred to a Burr-Edwards race as more unpredictable and largely determined by Bush's popularity.
If Burr is elected Senator, Arrington predicted that he will stick with the party line, describing Burr as a moderate Republican who is conservative enough not to antagonize people who supported former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., but whose style "will go over well with suburban voters who are the base of the Republican party."
However, he said Burr may have difficulties choosing a position on the issue of trade-although the state manufacturing and furniture industries have been hit hard by international free trade, Arrington said Burr may want to side with the Republican party since they are much more allied with free trade than the Democratic party.
Arrington added that the president will give Burr significant leeway, at least when making speeches, but that Burr will probably stick with the party.
"It's very much the case that when the vote is needed for trade, the [party] vote is there," Arrington said.
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