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A powerful new Modern Science has crept into the world of political campaigns: The Mega-Database – where thirty-something whizzes and mathematicians collect data from the four corners of the digital universe to figure out what voters (and especially Independent voters) have on their minds.

The other day sitting in a meeting, when one of the whizzes mentioned Hillary, I said, At the end of the day, I just don’t see how she wins – and a mathematician sitting across the table began thumping charts filled with ‘segmentation clusters’ and ‘data points’ and erupted, Oh no. You’re wrong. Look at this and this and this – they’ll vote for Hillary in a heartbeat.

It sounded like heresy but I’m an old grey-haired Republican and to most of my friends Hillary’s Bill redux (without Bubba’s redneck streak). She’s been around so long her story’s just plain worn out. But watching that young mathematician thumping those numbers Hillary took on a different visage.

To swing voters Hillary’s not Bubba she’s a woman who looks and talks a lot like their mothers and grandmothers. She doesn’t rant. Or harangue. She’s successful. And responsible. And looking at her through their eyes her foibles faded into the shadows and suddenly – compared to Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz or Rand Paul – Hillary became a powerful candidate for President.

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Could it be that losing Volvo to South Carolina had nothing to do with the Republican vs. Republican battle over incentives vs. tax cuts?

Could it be that North Carolina is doomed to NEVER get an automotive plant?

Could it be that North Carolina lost out because of its long-running war with the company that provides the aluminum for a lot of cars?

Namely, Alcoa.

That’s the contention of critics of the state’s long-running lawsuit against Alcoa over river rights.

Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican who represents Stanly and Montgomery counties, asked: “What automaker would want to locate here when they see NC’s treatment of one of its global partner(s)?”

Alcoa says a lot of car-makers, especially the high-end luxury models, use aluminum because it’s fuel-efficient and safe, crumpling on impact rather than spearing drivers and riders.

Maybe all the money spent on lawyers attacking Alcoa should have been spent on incentives attracting Volvo.


Posted in: General
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Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether Bad Bob Rucho is a Bull Moose or a bull in a china closet but there’s no doubt he sincerely loathes tax loopholes so it’s a shame in his enthusiasm to gore a corporate ‘incentive’ he crossed the line.

When a bill landed in Rucho’s committee to kibosh a Solar Energy incentive an odd thing happened: A Senator (who opposed the kibosh) asked for a recorded vote but Senator Rucho said No, called for a voice vote, and ruled his side had won – even though, according to the newspaper, it sounded like he’d lost.

In a Democracy there’re lines a fellow can’t cross and railroading votes is one of them – because even your friends don’t agree when you say, I’ve got the power – and to hell with counting the votes.

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There are about 100 million reasons why Kay Hagan may be Democrats’ Senate candidate again next year. You see, $100 million is what the race cost last year. And it’s hard to imagine another candidate playing in that league.

In a National Journal story, an anonymous Hagan donor from North Carolina made an apt seasonal analogy: “There’s a big drop off after Hagan. She’s got major-league stuff, and after that, we unfortunately have a bullpen full of double-A arms.”

Consultant Brad Crone put it more bluntly and not anonymously: “If she doesn’t run, we don’t have anybody.”

The Journal reports that, “Democratic power brokers, including Chuck Schumer, are coaxing Hagan to run in 2016. And not just because they like her. Hagan might be the greatest chance the party has to reclaim that Senate seat, riding a wave that some strategists think will be in Democrats’ favor thanks to Hillary Clinton sitting atop the national ticket and luring voters to the polls.”

The so-called double-A arms would include two state Senators who have been mentioned as candidates, Dan Blue and Jeff Jackson. One is older and one is new. One is white and one is black. Both are great potential candidates. But neither has raised major-league money before.

It’s striking how little talk there has been about the Democratic candidate. Burr is vulnerable. He’s never had a tough race – elected to the House in 1994 (GOP landslide), elected to the Senate in 2004 (Bush, war) and reelected in 2010 (say no more).

In a bad year for Democrats last year, Hagan came closer to winning than her counterparts across the nation and the South. She’s a good candidate and she ran a strong campaign. Next year should be a better year.

Her situation today reminds me of Jim Hunt in 1986. He had just done through the bloody and bruising 1984 Armageddon with Jesse Helms. He was beat up, and his team was worn out. (Including me.) He passed on another race, one he might still have won.

But politics is different 30 years later. Wounds heal faster. Everything moves faster.

The big question is whether Hagan has the internal fire it took to come so close last year – and will take to do it again.




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Back when Democrats ran the legislature, Republicans swore that things would be different if they ever were in charge. No more high-handed rulings, no more procedural shenanigans and no more bosses using their gavels to ram through favored legislation.

So much for that, says Boss Bob Rucho.

Back when a Democrat was Governor, Pat McCrory said the Governor shouldn’t appoint his or her fundraisers to the DOT board. As Bruce Siceloff reported in the N&O, candidate McCrory called for the elimination of “any fundraising for those currently on Department of Transportation boards, university boards and ABC boards.”

He said: “We should not give the appearance that someone gets an appointment because they’ve raised thousands upon thousands of dollars for a particular candidate. And there’s no doubt that that’s been the norm in state government for decades.”

So much for that, the Governor says as he appoints his campaign fundraisers to the DOT board.

Apparently, part of being a conservative is upholding long-standing political traditions.


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Liberal Democrats are rejoicing at the discovery of kindred spirits within the North Carolina Republican Party. Join us, comrades! Together we can make a New World.

The revelation comes courtesy of conservative super-donor Bob Luddy, who attacked House Republicans for their “liberal” budget. Apparently some of them believe the state should invest money in education and health care instead of more tax cuts for rich people and corporations. What heresy.

Luddy and other conservatives also are mad about “Big Solar.” “Solar” sounds like “Solyndra,” which sounds like “Obama,” which is all they need to know.

The Civitas Institute, which Luddy chairs, also launched a pointedly personal attack on the “Gang of 5” House members for their love of Big Solar.

Now, attacking legislators is fair game. But Civitas went too far when it attacked Republican consultants and lobbyists by name. Some things should be out of bounds in politics!

Besides, what has our system come to when $25,000 can’t buy one lousy house of the General Assembly?


Posted in: General
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MCOs (Managed Care Companies) are a species of corporate locust but a cohort of silver-tongued Super PAC Managers and I.E. Campaign Managers are hard at work to convince legislators MCOs can heal by touch and walk on water – and save the state a billion dollars on Medicaid.

But here’re two facts from the General Assembly’s own Fiscal Research staff: In 2011, state Medicaid spent $3.8 billion and this year it’s spending $3.7 billion, a decrease of $100 million;—compare that to what pro-MCO groups are telling legislators: In one email the Carolina Partnership for Reform (CPR) told legislators state Medicaid spending has soared by $1.2 billion. In another email, it said Medicaid overspent its budget by $5 billion.

Here’s another example: In a third email, CPR said state Medicaid spent $3.4 billion in 2013. In a fourth, it told legislators Medicaid spent $4.5 billion the same year.

What MCO supporters are doing isn’t subtle or obscure: They’re trying to fool people into believing Medicaid spending is soaring, wildly out of control – and MCOs are the cure.

Not long ago the-powers-that-be-in-Raleigh decided to ‘privatize’ I-77 leading to Charlotte by turning it into a toll road. It sounded like a fine idea. Until later, when legislators learned the state had given the toll road builders a non-compete that said the state wouldn’t expand a major highway leading into Charlotte for fifty years – unless it paid the toll road owners first.

MCOs are this year’s I-77 toll road and political magicians promising they’ll save the state a billion dollars is pure hoodoo.

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John Fennebresque is the political equivalent of Nepal. He sits squarely astride the two giant, grinding tectonic plates of North Carolina’s political world as he leads the UNC Board of Governors’ search for a new President.

This demands leadership skills, political skills and communications skills. And Fennebresque didn’t exactly get off to a great start on the public stage. He admits his performance at a January news conference announcing President Tom Ross’ departure was “a fiasco.” He never explained why Ross was asked to leave, so everybody assumed it was politics, a Republican board wanting a Republican hire.

Yesterday’s N&O editorial headline summed up where that leaves Fennebresque: “UNC board chair must hire well after botched firing of Ross.” It began, “It might have been one of the worst public appearances by an official in the history of North Carolina.”

Judging from Pam Kelley’s excellent Charlotte Observer profile, Fennebresque’s instinct appears to be to seek a solution somewhere in the middle. But what are the odds he can please both the Republican red-hots and the Chapel Hill lefties?

He described himself as a “moderate Republican.” The description sums up his dilemma, because it’s a formula for making everybody mad. Republicans distrust moderate Republicans, Democrats dislike all Republicans and Independents dislike both parties

Fennebresque is no dummy. You don’t get to be vice chairman of McGuire Woods by being a dummy. But this is high-stakes politics. It’s a decision that will have far-reaching consequences for the university system and the state. The media spotlight will be hot and unforgiving. The political pressures will be about a 10 on the Richter scale. And the board’s choice naturally will be compared to Tom Ross, Erskine Bowles and the sainted Bill Friday.

Good luck.

Fennebresque may be due some sympathy. But the only sympathy in politics is between symbolism and syphilis in the dictionary.


Posted in: General
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A TAPster has an elegant solution to two problems facing our nation today:

“Why don’t we take all the biker gangs from Waco and ship them to Iraq with their bikes to take on ISIS. If they win we win. If they lose we win. It can’t get any better than that.”


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When you’ve been in politics some 40 years, as Carter and I have, you’ve heard a few great speeches and many bad ones. And written some of both (we like to think). Which must be why the N&O’s John Drescher turned to us for his column on “what makes a good speech.”

John was reacting to a great speech at a Triangle YMCA by football-player-turned-farmer Jason Brown and an awful one by physician Paul Farmer at Duke’s commencement. John wrote, “Farmer spoke for about 40 minutes. It seemed longer.”

Well, there’s your problem. Nobody gives a good 40-minute speech. Of course, there is an exception that proves the rule: Bill Clinton.

Carter and I reviewed the basics: brevity, clarity, knowing your audience and talking to them, not reading at them. Carter had a real insight into what distinguishes a great speaker: an authentic voice. “It’s an ephemeral thing to describe. Reagan had a voice that was all him. When you hear one, you know it. Churchill was the same way. A great speaker has a voice like a writer does.”

Asked to name the three best speakers among North Carolinians, Carter named Senator Jesse Helms, Billy Graham and Ira David Wood. My three were Governor Jim Hunt (you can tell who we worked for), Jim Valvano and Betty McCain.

Why McCain? Because she had the single best line ever in a commencement speech, to my daughter’s graduating class at St. Mary’s: “You think this is a small school? The high school I went to was so small we had to use the same car for driver’s ed and sex ed.”


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Carter & Gary
Carter Wrenn
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The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
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