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Here’s one reason it looks like Donald Trump may cause Republicans heartburn this fall: 30% of the voters in North Carolina almost always vote for the Republican candidate and 35% almost always vote Democratic.

Conservative Rural Democrats are the first (and smallest) group of swing voters and they’re a blessing to Republicans. They’re only around 5% of the electorate but more often than not Conservative Democrats vote for Republican candidates who’re more conservative and that seems to be holding up in the polls this year – rural Conservative Democrats are voting for Pat McCrory and Richard Burr and their votes level the playing field between Republicans and Democrats, giving each around 35% of the vote.

From there the election hinges on Independents who break into two groups: Rural Independents and Suburban Independents.

Now Independents generally dislike both parties but Rural Independents, politically and culturally, tend to be more Conservative; however, there’re also fewer Rural Independents than Suburban Independents and that’s where this election gets dicey for Republicans because Donald Trump is phenomenally unpopular in the suburbs – which puts Hillary Clinton in position to carry the state’s biggest counties by larger margins than Barack Obama ever did.

There’re dozens of Republican candidates running in those counties, and Donald Trump’s unpopularity in the suburbs spells trouble for each of them.  

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Maybe it’s just an odd coincidence but two ‘Independent’ candidates are running and two more are on the cusp of qualifying to run and every one of them is in a ‘safe’ Republican district.

House Majority Leader Mike Hager already has an Independent opponent (with no Democrat in the race) and Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger is on the cusp of having an Independent opponent.

Let’s look at Senator Berger’s district – where party registration is:

            Republican     36%

            Democrat        41%

            Independent  22%

That’s a 5% partisan edge against Senator Berger but that’s misleading because a substantial number of the small town rural Democrats in Berger’s District are Conservatives who usually vote for Republican candidates and that shift turns a 5 point disadvantage in party registration into a 5 point (or more) advantage based on voting behavior.

And that’s how redistricting helps Senator Berger win reelection – roughly 40% of the voters in his District usually vote for Republicans while roughly 35% usually vote for Democrats.

So where does Senator Berger land if he ends up with an Independent opponent? I have a friend who, two years ago, ran for reelection against an Independent. Here’s the dilemma he faced at the beginning of his campaign:

The voters who usually voted for a Democrat where voting for the Independent against the Republican.

The conservative Democrats who usually voted for a Republican were undecided.

And the Independents – who had a hearty dislike for both parties – leaned toward the Independent.

So having an Independent opponent lands Phil Berger in a much different and tougher race.  

The Democrats may have figured out a best way to turn an election in a ‘safe’ Republican District into a competitive race: Don’t run a Democrat – support an Independent.

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Senator Richard Burr’s campaign has a rare decorum: There’s been no name calling, no finger pointing and no rants which has to appeal to voters who’re fed up with politics.

But sometimes your friends, meaning to be helpful, can land you in a soup.

One night last election (in 2014) as I was sitting in bed an ad came on TV filled with black and white photos and music straight out of a Dracula movie with a woman’s anxious voice saying, Robin Hudson took the side of convicted child molesters.

Now I didn’t have much empathy for Robin Hudson but before you convince me one of Gary’s Democratic brethren supports child molesters you’re going to have to show me more proof than unflattering black and white photos.

The ad backfired.

And Robin Hudson was reelected.

The other morning as I was sitting at the kitchen counter another ad with black and white photos and Dracula music came on TV and this time a woman’s voice said, Deciding between protecting NC families or helping conceal child molesters, Deborah Ross sided with sex offenders…

I expect the Political Masterminds up at the National Republican Senate Committee (which is running this ad) figured they were helping Richard Burr by torpedoing Deborah Ross but after what happened in Robin Hudson’s race you’d think they’d have thought, Black and white photos aren’t going to cut the mustard – if we say Deborah Ross sides with sex offenders and don’t show the proof the ad will backfire.

But some folks never learn.

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As Governor Hunt spoke about Barbara Buchanan during her memorial service this month, something he said took me back many years. And reminded me of a lesson that Barbara taught by example.

Barbara was Hunt’s administrative assistant through his four years as Lieutenant Governor, first eight years as Governor, eight years in a law firm and then much of his final two terms.

The Governor mentioned, among other things, Barbara’s endless patience with people who called or came to the Governor’s Office in hopes of seeing him, talking to him or at least getting a message to him.

No matter who it was, a friend or a stranger, a powerful legislator or a nervous citizen, Barbara treated them all with kindness.

She was, as the Governor said, “nice.” As Pastor Nancy Petty said, “a true Southern lady.”

Back then, I was a hard-charging, 20-something press secretary. I remembered how I felt when Barbara was squeezing someone in to see the Governor “just for a minute.” Or get them on the phone with him.

I was impatient. Why waste time on that? We’ve got big things to do, with pressing deadlines.

Now I realize that what Barbara was doing was more important than what I was doing.

She was making sure that somebody got heard and got some attention from their Governor.

She was being nice. Something you don’t find much in politics today.

Thank you, Barbara.


Posted in: General
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I turned on Fox News and there was Donald Trump arms waving at a rally giving a vintage broadside. I thought, This is getting old.

Two polls last week showed Trump trailing Hillary Clinton by 9 points and 12 points nationally. Another poll showed Trump’s Unfavorable rating rising to 70%: And here in North Carolina a poll in May had Trump trailing by 7.

Donald Trump’s slip may only be a blip, a momentary drop to be followed by a bounce after Trump’s popularity hits the floor. But it may be when it comes to unpopularity Trump is about to find himself stuck in the mud at the bottom of the lake for the rest of the election.

It’s been forty years since a Democratic Presidential candidate carried North Carolina by 9 points. If that’s about to happen again, let’s hope folks see the wisdom of electing a lot of Republicans to the House and Senate as a check and balance to Hillary in the White House.

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Back during the Presidential Primary Donald Trump would go on a tear and give the Washington Insiders hell and watching him was enjoyable – but, now, watching Donald Trump berating Pocahontas the way he berated Lyin’ Ted and Little Marco is like watching the same TV program over and over again. 

I guess Trump would say, I outsmarted all the pundits in the primary. And I’m doing it again now.

And, who knows, he may be right.

But, still, it’s starting to feel like watching re-runs.  

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When George Holding took his final poll on the Wednesday before the election he led Renee Ellmers by almost 30 points. Then, three days later, on Saturday Donald Trump jumped into the primary with both feet – and endorsed Ellmers.

In a way Trump’s move was a surprise: Ellmers had initially supported John Kasich and, since switching sides, she’d done more to use Trump to help herself (by telling voters her support of Trump proved she was an Outsider) than she’d done to help Trump.

Donald Trump, they say, is an astute dealmaker but in this case it appears Renee Ellmers was the Master-of-the-Deal. She got Trump’s help to defeat Holding – while Trump gained nothing.

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Since the election reporters have been writing stories explaining why George Holding won and Renee Ellmers lost – one of the first to weigh in was the News and Observer saying Ellmers lost because powerful conservative groups decided to make an example of her.

The Club for Growth alone, the N&O reported, “spent nearly $790,000 opposing Ellmers this election cycle.”

Unfortunately, that statement was both correct and misleading.

The Club for Growth did spend $790,000 – but in two separate elections: One in Ellmers’ old district and one in her new district. More to the point, Ellmers, herself, wasn’t penniless. She raised enough money to reach voters with her message.  

So why did she lose?

When Ellmers launched her campaign she came out swinging, saying George Holding had opposed the military – an attack George answered by explaining that for Renee to claim he opposed the U.S. Army because he’d voted against Obama’s Omnibus Budget Deal was silly.

Voters heard Ellmers’ attack, heard Holding’s answer, and decided Ellmers was trying to fool them to get reelected and that she was no Conservative. What undid Renee Ellmers wasn’t outside groups’ money – or her lack of money. It was her own message.

But you won’t read that in the newspapers – instead like an urban legend the News and Observer’s story took wing: Other reporters read it, repeated it, printed it in their own newspapers in their own words – and a myth was born.

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I imagine it happened this way: After the Republican Leaders in Congress went down to the White House and made the ‘Omnibus Budget Deal’ with President Obama they then called a caucus of Republican Congressmen to get the votes to pass it.

The Leaders explained to the rows of Congressmen how the deal was not perfect policy but it was good policy and, good or bad, it was the best deal they were going to get – then in the next breath they got down to brass tacks: Politics. Because the question most of the Congressmen sitting in the room were asking themselves was: If I vote for this deal is it going to make it harder or easier for me to get reelected?

One of the Leaders then summoned ‘The Mastermind’ – the political savant who was second to no one in Washington when it came to winning elections – to the front of the room and without mincing words he told the Congressman two hard facts.

You say you voted for this Budget Deal to raise military spending to fight ISIS, he explained. Then you accuse your opponent of not supporting the military.

No doubt he said it with absolute conviction but, whether he believed it or not, his goal wasn’t to give the Congressmen a safe road to reelection – it was to get the Leaders the votes they needed and when he was finished he’d done that.  

A few months later, apparently without bothering to figure out whether the Mastermind had spoken the truth or not, Congresswoman Renee Ellmers put his logic to the test: As soon as she launched her reelection campaign she fired both barrels at George Holding saying, ‘He voted against our military.’

Ellmers then made two more attacks straight out of the Mastermind’s playbook – by telling voters ‘George Holding had voted against building highways’ and ‘George Holding voted against farmers.’

And, at that point, according to the best political wisdom in Washington, George Holding should have been kaput.  

But it didn’t turn out that way.

George’s campaign took five polls and each told part of the story: When George explained that he had voted against Obama’s ‘Omnibus Budget Deal’ not because he opposed funding the U.S. Army, but because Obama’s Deal had also increased non-military spending by $40 billion – his support didn’t diminish. It grew.

When he explained that the ‘Highway Bill’ Renee was attacking him for opposing also funded the Export Import Bank which provided subsidies to international corporations that could cost taxpayers billions – his support didn’t diminish. It grew.

And when he explained he had voted against what Renee called the ‘Farm Bill’ because 80% of the spending in the bill (or $756 billion) had gone to pay for Food Stamps – his support grew a third time.

George’s third poll showed 65% of the Republicans had concluded Ellmers was trying to fool them to get reelected – the Washington Mastermind’s strategy had backfired and all but sunk Renee Ellmers.


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We’re witnessing an historic falling-out between the two wings that have given flight to the Republican Party since 1968: the Racists and the Elitists.

Since Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy that year, the Elitists have been able to signal and dog-whistle the Racists enough to keep them inside the tent without offending too many Americans.

But now Donald Trump is shouting instead of dog-whistling. He has roused the Racists by attacking Obama, immigrants and Muslims. He has unapologetically crowned himself the Great White Hope.

Trump is forcing the Elitists – the Paul Ryans, the Pat McCrorys and the Richard Burrs – to show their true colors, if you will. Do they countenance Trump’s attacks, or denounce them? Do they say it disqualifies him for the Presidency, or will they keep twisting themselves into word knots trying to justify their moral cowardice?

The Elitists really aren’t racist, by and large. All they care about is protecting the super-rich and their businesses from taxes and regulations. And, at their owners’ behest, they are deeply committed to uprooting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education and any other 20th Century idea that made the United States a great middle-class nation.

The Racists have gone along because the Elitists promised to keep You-Know-Who in their place.

Now, You-Know-Who are determined to be full partners in America.

I t is, as Ronald Reagan said at another crossroads for Republicans, “a time for choosing.”


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Carter & Gary
Carter Wrenn
Gary Pearce
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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