Burr's 'gut' proves right in Senate race

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Just before 11 p.m. on election night, a sea of Rep. Richard Burr’s (R-N.C.) political supporters stood around sipping glasses of white wine and munching on finger sandwiches anxiously waiting for Fox News to tell them what they wanted to hear.

Somewhat suddenly, an eruption of applause revved up the crowd of more than 400 people gathered at the Bridger Field House at Wake Forest University’s Groves Stadium.

It was official — with more than 89 percent of the state’s 2,769 precincts reporting, Burr had defeated Democrat Erskine Bowles, 52 percent to 47 percent, and would be North Carolina’s next senator.

In a split second, the mood of the entire room had changed from what felt like an average election-night cocktail party to a full-blown victory celebration. The night was alive with excitement, patriotism and pride for the Tar Heel State as, just five minutes earlier, a supporter had led the crowd in “God Bless America.”

At 11:15, Burr — who had spent the earlier part of the evening in a holding room at his campaign headquarters down the street — was introduced by his wife, Brooke, and made his way up to the stage to the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.”

Though he remained poised and collected throughout his acceptance speech, the congressman could not hide his excitement and at times resembled a giddy school kid.

Burr spent the first five minutes of his 20-minute speech graciously recognizing all who had helped him get to this point, saying, “Today is a special day for me. I want to thank everyone who worked for my candidacy and made tonight a special night.”

He first acknowledged and hugged former Sen. Jim Broyhill (R-N.C.) and Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C). Speaking of Dole, Burr said, “Soon I will have the honor of referring to her as the senior senator from North Carolina.”

Earlier in the evening, Dole told The Hill she could not wait to welcome Burr to the Senate.

“Together we are going to push through tax relief, put an end to the obstructionist tactics within Congress but, most importantly, we are going to keep fighting this war on terror,” Dole said.

Burr went on to thank several retired politicians, such as former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), before thanking his family.

“For those of you who don’t know — my wife, Brooke, has a full-time career,” Burr said. “She set that aside to go on the campaign trail with me, and for that I am eternally grateful.”

Burr’s family played a prominent role in the congressman’s campaign.

“Richard is my best friend,” said the congressman’s father, David Burr, a retired Presbyterian minister.

“Someone once asked me how I knew my son would be up to the task of serving on the Select Intelligence Committee in Congress,” Dr. Burr said. “I responded: ‘Because not only can Richard can keep a secret, he can keep a secret in seven different languages.’”

Burr struck an emotional chord with his backers, some of whom even grew teary-eyed, when he thanked his sister Debbie May, who is a breast-cancer survivor and the subject of one of Burr’s ads. In the final weeks of the Senate race, Bowles attacked Burr for voting against bills that would have funded breast-cancer research. Burr countered with the TV spot highlighting his sister.

“Do you think Erskine regrets that ad now?” Burr said.

Burr was careful not to overlook his large campaign staff and volunteers, saying they had won because of their spending discipline when pitted against a candidate of such tremendous personal wealth.

Bowles spent nearly $4 million of his own money on the race.

Burr wrapped things up by quoting a Bible verse and recited an anecdote from his days on the Wake Forest University football team. “Someone once told me, ‘When you play, play hard and when you work, you don’t play at all,’” Burr said.

By midnight, the blue and silver helium balloons began to deflate and the crowd was tapering off. Burr reflected on the whole experience and paused when asked if he felt overwhelmed.

“Today has been the culmination of a long, long campaign, and I was confident all along,” Burr said. “I was sitting in my office watching the results come in, and they were exactly the margins we’d predicted. It just goes to show a candidate’s gut is more accurate than a scientific poll.”