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Erskine Bowles Weighing Bid For NC Governor

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(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Erskine Bowles served as chief of staff in Bill Clinton’s White House, led the prestigious University of North Carolina system and headed a bipartisan commission that recommended tough choices to reduce the U.S. deficit.

The Charlotte investment banker is being asked to consider public service again — this time by fellow Democrats in his home state who want him to run for governor after incumbent Beverly Perdue shocked many last week by announcing she wouldn’t seek re-election.

While two Democrats have already gotten in, other notables are waiting for Bowles to decide in a race that could have implications for a presidential swing state that is hosting the Democratic convention.

“At lot of people are trying to encourage him to run,” said former Lt. Gov. Bob Jordan, who is among those who’ve spoken with Bowles. “He has not decided either way.”

Getting into the gubernatorial race would close a circle for the Bowles family. His father, Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles, ran for governor 40 years ago, only to lose during the 1972 Republican landslide that also sent conservative firebrand Jesse Helms to the U.S. Senate.

Bowles hasn’t made any public statements since Perdue’s decision. He didn’t return a phone call left at his Charlotte home Wednesday, and he didn’t respond to an email.

If Bowles gets in, “he absolutely shakes up the race,” said Jennifer Duffy, a gubernatorial analyst at The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan Washington-based newsletter.

If Bowles won the primary, likely Republican nominee Pat McCrory would face a challenger that arguably North Carolina Republicans respect the most. Bowles could bankroll his campaign easily through his fundraising acumen and self-financing.

Bowles can’t help but think about his father when he’s deciding whether he enjoys being the elder statesman in North Carolina public life more than running for statewide office again.

The elder Bowles told his son to always find ways to serve the public that would add to the proverbial “community woodpile,” and Erskine Bowles’ efforts in politics have partly come out of a sense of duty. After his father died in 1986, he agreed to become Jordan’s finance chairman for his 1988 gubernatorial bid because he said his father would have wanted him to do it.

Bowles has an impressive resume that makes him the most well-known living North Carolina Democrat never to serve in elected office. Bowles ran for the U.S. Senate in both 2002 and 2004, winning the Democratic nomination but losing in the general election — once to Elizabeth Dole and the other time to Richard Burr.

“There are many ways to add to the community woodpile,” Bowles said on the night of his 2004 loss. “Elective office will not be my route, but that does not mean you’ve seen the last of Erskine Bowles.”

He wasn’t the best campaigner, often struggling to translate his deep understanding of national government to everyday people. Referring to his past failures for elected office, Bowles once quipped: “I have empirical data that I was a terrible politician.”

In 2005, he was named the head of the 17-campus UNC system, where he received praise from both sides of the political aisle during his five years at the post. All Republicans in the state Senate endorsed Bowles for the job even before the position was vacant.

A couple days after he announced his retirement from UNC, Bowles stood beside President Barack Obama and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming to head a national commission on how to improve the country’s fiscal health. The panel’s recommendation of tax increases and spending cuts have been praised by many but have made little progress in a divided Congress.

At age 66, Bowles may prefer keeping the role of elder statesman in the party, spending more time with wife Crandall, their adult children and grandchildren, and serving on several corporate boards, including Facebook. He’d also have to move to Raleigh.

“He’s got all of the credentials,” said Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a former political reporter. “Then it becomes first, what does he want to do with his life? Does he want to spend the next four to eight years of his life dealing with all of the ins and outs of state government?”

If he were to run, he’d first have to defeat a Democratic field that currently includes Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and state Rep. Bill Faison, who both had several hundred thousand dollars on hand as of late December. Waiting would be McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor who has $2 million in cash and has planned for a year a repeat bid for governor after narrowly losing to Perdue in 2008.

McCrory wouldn’t comment this week about Bowles but said all of the current or potential Democratic candidates have enabled a negative culture of state government under Perdue or Democratic predecessor Mike Easley.

Democrats are bringing Bowles a sense of anxiety about saving the Executive Mansion and want to counter the influence of the Legislature, which turned Republican in the House and Senate last year for the first time since 1870. Only two Republicans have been North Carolina governor in more than a century.

“If he determines that his leadership can make the difference … I think it will be hard for him to walk away from it,” said D.G. Martin, who ran for Congress in the mid-1980s with fundraising help from Bowles.

The words of Bowles’ father are likely playing a role in any decision.

While not speaking specifically to a gubernatorial bid, Jordan, the former lieutenant governor, recalled: “Erskine has said along the way many times … ‘My daddy would want me to do this.’”
 
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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