There hasn't been an election like this in a long time in North Carolina, maybe ever. Races for president, governor and U.S. Senate are all within the margin of error in most polls. Twenty-five thousand people came to hear Senator Barack Obama speak in the middle of the day in Raleigh Wednesday and Senator John McCain supporters are equally passionate and determined.
Most pundits are predicting that Democrats will have a better night Tuesday than Republicans, though most hedge on forecasting the outcome of the governor's race. Some talking heads cite the state of the economy for most of the Republicans problems, others put most of the blame on the widespread unhappiness with President George W. Bush.
Anything can happen in politics and there is still a week to go, but there is clearly a growing consensus even among Republican political consultants that despite absurd allegations that some politicians are godless or socialists, the more progressive candidates are going to win most of the races.
The General Assembly will be controlled by Democrats and they may take back a Council of State seat or two. If that happens and Barack Obama is elected president and Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue squeaks by, supporters will celebrate long into the night Tuesday and Wednesday will breathe a sigh of relief that all their work and enthusiasm was worth it.
Let's hope the sighing doesn't last long. The real work for progressive policy advocates and other people who care about improving North Carolina doesn't end on Tuesday, it begins on Wednesday. Elections by themselves do not change public policy or expand health care or fix the mental health system. The state budget will face the same shortfall Wednesday as it does today and it is likely to get bigger before the next governor and General Assembly are sworn in.
The 30,000-kid-long waiting list for a child care subsidy is not going away on its own and affordable housing will not magically appear next week for the 600,000 households in the state who face a housing crisis. The misguided sentencing policies that have filled our prisons with nonviolent offenders and disproportionately incarcerated Black males will continue in our courts.
A vote on Tuesday doesn't stop the housing foreclosures scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Prosecutors will still seek the death penalty in a capital punishment system marred by racial bias. Gay men and lesbians will still face discrimination and there will still be no law to protect gay teenagers from bullying at school.
Political fundraisers will still be on the DOT Board and the big money special interests will still be planning their conversations with lawmakers they helped elect. The lobbyists for the realtors and the homebuilders and tobacco industry will still be registered. So will the folks who patrol the legislative halls for Citizens for Higher Education and Figure Eight land owners who want to overturn an important environmental law to protect their beachfront mansions.
Republicans and Democrats have tried to claim the mantle of change in this election. It is one of the few things they agree on, that the public is demanding change. Tuesday represents the first part of that change. Wednesday the second part begins, holding people who are elected to their promises and demanding a change of policies, not just of politicians.
The special interests are not going away and they have a history of persuading politicians to support their agenda or at least persuading enough of them to stop progressive policy initiatives that are long overdue. The status quo does not move easily.
There is still plenty of work for both sides to do before the polls close Tuesday night. The election is not over by any means. But it's worth remembering that regardless of who wins when the votes are counted, the demands for change must begin again.