Moonstruck

Patrick Ballantine didn’t know what hit him. It was our Mover and Shaker of the Year: He smelled blood.
By Larry Talbot
Even a man who’s pure in heart and says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright

It was an old gypsy who said that. Or maybe an old Cajun — James Carville — but definitely somebody scary, eerie and adept at the occult arts. And though it’s true that the full moon fell five days before Nov. 2, by then it was all over.

Few could have foreseen the change that came over the governor as the election approached. Most of his first term, he had seemed uncomfortable in his skin, moping around the mansion, going about his official duties without really relishing them. It was as if running the state wasn’t something he could sink his teeth into. But come the election, Mike Easley was ready to howl.

He’s the hairy-handed Dem who ran amok in Stem
Lately he’s been crashing cars in Concord
Better stay away from that
He’ll rip your lungs out, Pat
I’d like to meet his mailer
— apologies to the late, lamented Warren Zevon

Politics, they say, is a blood sport, and Easley quickly ran down his prey. His ferocity — not to mention his slashing use of the powers of incumbency — made his friends shake their heads in amazement and his foes shudder in terror. Poor Patrick Ballantine never had a chance. In this race, the young, attractive GOP challenger was as hapless as a lass lost on a fog-shrouded moor. Every time he made a move, the governor pounced, ripping him a new one.

It was a strange contrast to the campaign conducted by his party’s national ticket. John Kerry lurched from issue to issue like Frankenstein’s monster harried by torch-toting villagers. John Edwards, meanwhile, was the Invisible Man, fading into the background until nothing was left but his smile, about as substantial as the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. Werewolves don’t run in packs, and this one wisely decided to keep his distance: He treated John/John as warily as he would a couple of kids playing with a gun loaded with silver bullets.

So powerful was Easley’s romp that there was talk on one cable channel that he was the type of candidate the Democrats need to run for president in 2008. No, the person making that comment wasn’t Wolf Blitzer. But the program did appear on the Fox News network.