With Washington more unpopular than ever, suggesting we cancel the 2012 congressional elections is not an idea voters will embrace. Yet that's exact what Gov. Bev Perdue did when addressing the Rotary Club of Cary, N.C., this week.
"I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that."
The words spread like wildfire, leading the Drudge Report and receiving significant airplay on both the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh radio programs.
Predictably, this lead to the "just kidding" defense.
"Governor Perdue was obviously using hyperbole to highlight what we can all agree is a serious problem: Washington politicians who focus on their own election instead of what's best for the people they serve," said a Perdue spokesperson, hoping to reassure anyone who had not actually heard the comments.
The audio, however, gives no impression that Perdue was joking, or, as Perdue herself later claimed, "sarcastic." As the Charlotte Observer noted, "her tone was level and she asked others to support her on the idea." One neither hears laughter, nor applause (voters tend to take their constitutionally-protected right to hold politicians accountable at the ballot box rather seriously).
Were this a one-off comment, the Perdue team could chalk it up to an errant comment with no real political impact.
This isn't the first time Perdue has forced her team to make bizarre explanations. In mid-April, when the state was hit with massive storms that necessitated the declaration of a state of emergency, the governor went missing. Perdue, her staff explained, was out of town for a "family obligation." The next day, however, the story changed. Perdue, her staff then claimed, was in Kentucky to visit Gov. Steve Beshear and attend the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, a popular thoroughbred horse race—only to deny the following day that Perdue had attended the race.
Confused? So were North Carolina voters and the media.
"Perdue's spokespeople still don't agree on where Governor was Saturday during storm," headlined a WWAY-TV story asking, "why the governor's communications staff seemed so unorganized Saturday when most of the state knew these deadly storms were headed our way at least two days in advance." (While the governor's office feels it has moved on from the controversy, North Carolina Republicans believe there may be another horse-shoe to drop.)
And if there have been problems for what Perdue (and staff) has said, so, too, has Perdue found herself in hot water for things she hasn't said.
Perdue has refused to state a position on an amendment to the state constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage and civil unions, despite her involvement in moving the vote from the November elections to the May primaries.
And despite the aggressive efforts of a revitalized North Carolina Republican Party, Perdue refuses to weigh in on the National Labor Relations Board blocking Boeing Co. from shifting jobs to a nonunion plant in South Carolina, an important issue regionally and one that former North Carolina Democratic Party Chair David Young declared in the Charlotte Observer, "Yes, NLRB-Boeing Hurts N.C."
With labor unions already riled over the 2012 Democratic National Convention being held in the right-to-work state, perhaps Perdue does not want to anger them further. But Perdue's record on jobs may-be what most threatens hers.
Since she took office in January, 2009, unemployment in North Carolina has increased from 9.2 percent to 10.4 percent last month—a loss of more than 137,000 jobs in the state.
Voter reaction has been harsh. A High Point University poll released this week shows Governor Perdue with 37 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval—effectively wiping out the small bump she received from her response to Hurricane Irene—despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans, as of Wednesday, by 775,459 registered voters.
As the poll shows, voter dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama, who narrowly carried the Tar Heel State in 2008, is at critical mass with 53 percent of respondents disapproving of his job performance. In other words, Perdue, who doesn't have much to run on herself, can't depend on long coattails.
Traditionally, state elections have favored Democrats; North Carolina Republicans have not elected a governor since 1988. But with voter anger—and unemployment—mounting, unforced errors such as the constantly changing Kentucky alibi and this week's comments only cement Perdue's position as the most endangered incumbent governor in the nation.
Perhaps, then, it's no wonder Perdue suggested suspending elections—and what should surprise us is that Perdue wasn't talking about her own.