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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dueling Endorsements in the Tar Heel State?

This morning, in a move that surprised pretty much everyone who follows NC politics, Gov. Mike Easley endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton. Easley has held statewide office for 16 years, he is a superdelegate, and he remains one of the the most well-known politicians in North Carolina.
But he’s not the most popular state government employee — not by a long shot. That honor belongs to Roy Williams — the men’s basketball coach at the University of North Carolina.
And this morning, while Gov. Easley was talking up Sen. Clinton, Ol’ Roy took Barack Obama on a tour of the Dean Dome and then organized a little scrimmage where the Illinois senator got to shoot some hoops with a whole bunch of current and former Tar Heels.
While Obama plays a lot of pick up basketball (and has some actual ties to the game — his brother-in-law is the head coach at Oregon State), the Heels proved to be a stiffer set of competition from what he sees in his normal game. He only took three shots (including one over National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough) and missed them all. Still, Coach Williams encouraged his team to involve Obama, at one point yelling, “You’ve got the future president of the United States wide open.”
There are, of course, pictures and video and multiple multi-page threads about the scrimmage on the Inside Carolina message boards.
In many outlets Easley’s endorsement is competing with (and in some cases losing to) all this coverage. In North Carolina, I think you have to call today’s media cycle a draw. Because in all the stories and discussion, it seems like just about everyone has highlighted the “future president” sound bite from Roy.
This allows me moment for some basketball history. Though this might sound silly, the Carolina/Duke rivalry is deeply tangled up in politics. Roy William’s legendary mentor, Dean Smith, is a famous champion of Democrats and progressive causes. He integrated the UNC basketball team, and then helped to integrate the city of Chapel Hill. He is an outspoken critic of the death penalty and a contributor to Democratic candidates. His counterpart at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, is a prominent Republican who once got into a spot of trouble for organizing a fund raiser for then-senate candidate Elizabeth Dole on Duke’s campus. Roy has never been a public campaigner in the same way that Smith is, but to many people, the event with Obama this morning sure sounded like an endorsement.
If that’s how most North Carolinians end up taking it, it’ll help Obama in the state.

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