I’ve been thinking about John Edwards a lot lately as I author the John Edwards Trial Blog for ABC 11 News.  And the more I think about Edwards the more I think about Chapelboro’s own D.G. Martin.  
Before he became a media star, D.G. was a rising political star.  And to my mind, D.G. winning the 1998 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate instead of John Edwards is the most compelling counterfactual (i.e. what didn’t happen but could have) in modern North Carolina politics.  Here is why: ’98 proved to be a strong Democratic year and there is good reason to believe D.G. would have defeated the vulnerable Republican incumbent Lauch Faircloth just as Edwards did.
While Edwards began gunning for national office almost immediately upon being sworn in in 1999 (vigorously seeking, for example, to be Al Gore’s Vice Presidential running mate in 2000), Martin almost assuredly would have been satisfied working his way up the Senate leadership ladder.  He could have had tough reelections in ’04 and ‘10 but the presumption of wins aided by all the advantages of incumbency is a quite plausible one.  If so, a U.S. Senator D.G. Martin today could be one of the two or three most powerful members of the majority party in the upper chamber, possibly even Senate Majority Leader.  With all the powers that attach to Senate seniority, such a role would be a big, big deal for Martin …and for North Carolina.
Of course, if it were Edwards vs. Martin in a statewide election today, D.G. would win in a landslide.  D.G.’s victory would be fueled in no small part by voter appreciation for all the meaningful works he’s done since the ’98 defeat: invaluable service to the University of North Carolina (including NCCU and UNC Pembroke); distinguished journalism in print, via T.V., and on the radio; and innumerable other good (and uncompensated) deeds for his community and state.  It is the reality of all that post-election beneficence by D.G. that makes the actual outcome of the 1998 primary race easier (somewhat) to stomach.