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Without formalities, NC Senate race begins

RALEIGH (AP) ó Voters are still exhaling from the last election and balloons haven’t yet dropped to mark the beginning of the next, but the 2010 North Carolina Senate race has begun in earnest.
Republican North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr has been quietly plotting his political strategy and launching his fundraising efforts, expanding on $1.6 million in campaign cash that he had stocked at the end of March. Meanwhile, Democrats have already started targeting Burr with a vengeance even though they’re still in the early stages of choosing their own candidate for the race.
On Thursday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee posted a Web ad slamming Burr for telling his wife to withdraw as much money as she could from an ATM in the midst of the economic crisis. It’s an anecdote he’s told occasionally when talking about the economy.
“Burr panicked,” the narrator says in a video reminiscent of an eleventh-hour campaign ad. “In times of crisis, we need steady and responsible leaders.”
Burr’s longtime political strategist, Paul Shumaker, said he expects a tough battle exacerbated by Democrats’ push to reach a veto-proof Senate majority. He estimates the race could end up costing some $60 million between the two sides.
Shumaker said Burr will benefit from having seen the Democrats in action last November, when political committees spent heavily to help Kay Hagan defeat Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole and President Barack Obama used a grassroots campaign to become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1976.
“For the 2008 elections, Republicans were ill-prepared,” Shumaker said. “We will not be ill-prepared.”
He said the Burr campaign is focused on building a new strategy for the state ó a strategy he would not detail ó and the official campaign likely won’t begin until the fall.
If last year was any indication, outside groups could play a major role. Led by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, political committees spent more than $10 million on negative ads targeting Dole.
The DSCC has already signaled its intentions to target Burr, naming him to its “Hall of Shame” for his comments about banks. Burr has said he urged his wife on a Friday in the fall to take money out of the ATM each day through the weekend. Democrats accused him of having the mentality that causes runs on banks while Burr said his family simply didn’t have enough cash to spend.
Andy Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, said while voters may not be paying close attention to the Burr race right now, the Democrats are already sowing seeds of doubt about the incumbent. He said that early work paid off in Dole’s case and could be helpful in 2010.
But at the same time, Taylor said other factors will play a bigger role in shaping Burr’s race, such as Obama’s popularity a year from now and the state of the economy.
“Those macro forces are going to go much more important,” he said.

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