Polls Show Burr, Bowles Neck and Neck After Tobacco Buyout

The rollout has propelled Burr into a draw with his Democratic opponent and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.

Bowles, a Charlotte businessman who led the race by more than eight percentage points going into August and September, now maintains only a one-point lead over Burr, the Associated Press reported.

“I think we are now ahead,” Burr told the AP. “We clearly have the advantage.”

A recent Mason Dixon Polling and Research survey showed Bowles leading 45 percent to 44 percent over Burr.

The turnaround in a race that has pitted Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff against the Bush administration’s hand-picked choice for the North Carolina Senate seat came after a series of late placed ads released by Burr linking Bowles to policies unpopular with many Tarheel voters.

One ad labels Bowles as “Clinton’s chief negotiator,” on the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade bill many say has contributed to the decline of the state’s manufacturing, furniture and tobacco industries.

“Wrong on NAFTA, wrong on China, Erskine Bowles is just wrong and he’s hiding the truth just like Bill Clinton,” the ad states.

A second ad claims Bowles voted for legislation reducing troops and cutting military spending under the Clinton Administration, “while al-Qaida terrorists declared war on America.”

Burr’s advance has also been aided by a new bill passed by Congress on Oct. 11 that could infuse nearly $4 billion into North Carolina’s economy.

The legislation, which provides a $10 billion payout to the state’s tobacco farmers over the next nine years, is part of a massive corporate tax reduction bill. The bill is seen as a victory for tobacco farmers.

Though Burr is not a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, the committee that authored the bill, Republican lawmakers invited him to help negotiate the final version of it, providing him the opportunity to claim a role in the legislation.

Bowles has also asserted a part in the bill’s passage. According to his campaign, he spent time in Washington lobbying Democratic senators to vote for the bill. He has claimed credit for 14 of the 23 senators he met with voting for the buyout, according to the Charlotte Observer.

“For anyone who doesn’t believe that Erskine Bowles played a major part in what happened, it’s very, very evident that he did,” Jerry West, past President of the North Carolina Tobacco Growers Association, told the Observer.

Citing Bowles’ narrow lead over Burr in the latest polls, Bowles’ former communications director Brad Woodhouse said the race has always been tight.

“We always knew it was going to be close,” he said. “The state is very split in partisan terms.”