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North Carolina - Democrats

07
Here’re the three tartest comments I heard about the Ellmers-Aiken debate.
 
“He has the silliest pompadour since Jim Hunt.”
 
“She was catty.”
 
“The person on stage most qualified to serve in Congress was David Crabtree.”

 

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03
When the media covers a scandal involving a politician, the coverage can be as big an issue as the politician. Take two stories this week – one national and one in-state.
 
The state Senate race in Fayetteville between incumbent Wesley Meredith and challenger Billy Richardson blew up over allegations that Meredith and his ex-wife fraudulently obtained government welfare benefits for their son 18 years ago.
 
The national story goes back 26 years to the sex scandal that sank Gary Hart’s presidential campaign.
 
The common thread is how the media did or didn’t cover the scandals – and what the media should and shouldn’t do.
 
Documents involving Meredith were “shopped around” – as several stories said – for a couple of weeks. But no newspaper or TV station bit. Then Richardson held a press conference, released the documents and called on Meredith to explain. Even then, at least one newspaper was still debating late in the day whether to run the story. It did.
 
The national story is over how in 1988 the Miami Herald staked out Hart’s townhouse in Washington after getting a tip that Hart was having a tryst with a young woman. Matt Bai wrote in The New York Times recently that the story marked the point in time when the mainstream political media went tabloid – and changed political coverage forever, for better or worse.
 
At Politico today, Tom Fiedler, the then-Herald reporter who confronted Hart and wrote the original story, defended it. At issue, Fiedler wrote, is “the existential question of the news media’s role in a presidential campaign. Simply put, what exactly does the public expect the news media to do? I think the voting public expects the news media to provide them with the factual information they need to cast an informed ballot.
 
“That factual information can mean different things for different voters. Some voters might want the media to report a candidate’s positions on the economy, abortion, civil rights, immigration, gun safety and so on. They care little about the candidate’s personal beliefs or behavior. But some voters—indeed, the great majority of voters—are more interested in who the candidate is. This is the much-discussed character issue. It goes to the essence of the candidate; it’s about authenticity, empathy, integrity, fairness and more. Issues change, and with them the candidate’s positions. But character doesn’t change, at least not much. For a journalist to withhold information that more fully reveals the character of a candidate would, in my opinion, be a sin of omission.”

Here, Senator Meredith has relied so far on the time-honored, knee-jerk political response – Richardson is smearing him, the allegations are beneath him and he doesn’t have to explain anything.
 
Wrong.
 
As Carter said in today’s Fayetteville Observer, "You can't shuffle it under the rug.”
 
And reporters and editors in North Carolina – no less than the national media – will have to decide whether to be the rug or the window. 

 

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02
How toxic is the Republican brand in Wake County? Just listen to Republican politicians.
 
Gary Pendleton (House 49) boasts of his “Democrat (sic) friends.” (Note: Democrats hate it when Republicans use “Democrat” as an adjective. It’s “Democratic.”)
 
Tom Murry (House 41) says he’s “independent” and “stood up to his own party.”
 
You have to listen to John Alexander’s (Senate 15) wife, because he stands mute in his TV ad. She says, “I’m a Democrat; he’s not.” (“Don’t even say that word!!”)
 
It appears that familiarity with the legislature has bred contempt.
 
Then there is this from Gerry Cohen (@gercohen on Twitter), the respected retired legislative counsel:
 
“Something is afoot in Wake County. Comparing the 3 month July through September period, 2010 saw 8,585 new voters, by party Democratic 33.9%, Republican 26.2%, Unaffiliated 38.8%, Libertarian 1.1%.
 
“2014 has seen 15,344 new voters (a 78% increase from 2010), by party Democratic 30.8%, Republican 18.0%, Unaffiliated 50.3%, Libertarian 0.9%. The 18% GOP number for 2014 resembles an Orange or Durham County statistic.
 
“In 2010, Blacks made up 19.3% of the new voters during that period, this year it is 25.0%.”

 

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01
Yes, there’s still five weeks to go. Yes, anything can happen. But the story of this race is likely to be that Thom Tillis lost it when he stayed Speaker in this year’s legislative session.
 
Apparently Tillis stayed on so he could raise money. But he didn’t, and he’s at a big financial disadvantage now. A lot of donors weren’t sure it was legal to give during the session.
 
The session spread more legislative poison on Tillis. The Republican War on Teachers is dragging down every one of their candidates, especially Tillis. And Senator Hagan was smart enough and aggressive enough to wrap it around his neck early.
 
Nobody believes there was a 7 percent pay raise, least of all teachers.
 
Give Hagan and her team credit. They raised a lot of money, and they painted Tillis into a corner he can’t seem to escape. And how they have hundreds of well-trained, well-organized field staffers working across the state.
 
Final lesson: Democrats can play the independent expenditure game just as well as Republicans. Republicans are learning that there are some rich – and angry – Democrats. 

 

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26
Maybe Thom Tillis should give Civitas’ pollster math lessons.
 
Thursday morning, Civitas put out this release: “Democrat Tom Bradshaw leads Republican John Alexander by 16 percentage points in the NC Senate District 15 race, according to a new Civitas Flash Poll….” The poll, conducted last Monday and Tuesday, showed Bradshaw ahead 52-36 percent.
 
A few hours later, Civitas put out what it called “a corrected version of today’s flash poll on the candidates in NC Senate District 15.” It showed Bradshaw ahead by 10 points, 46-36.
 
I haven’t checked this morning. Maybe they have Tom behind by now.
 
One suspects the “correction” came after Civitas got an angry call from the Republican Senate campaign committee: Fix this – or else.
 
For the record, I’m working for Tom Bradshaw’s campaign. He’s a friend of 40-plus years and one of the finest people and leaders I’ve ever known.
 
Also for the record, we pay no attention to Civitas’ numbers. It’s probably a setup, anyway, so they can claim in a couple of weeks that Alexander “is closing the gap” or “has drawn dead even.”
 
There’s only one Civitas number I’m sure of: their credibility. It’s zero.

 

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25
Give Governor McCrory credit for proposing something big and bold, a $1 billion transportation bond issue. It sounds like a stimulus program, but that would be the kiss of death in the Republican legislature. He may find himself needing some Democratic allies.
 
He and Secretary Tata will have to answer a lot of questions: how to pay for it, can the state afford it and, of course, why these specific projects?
 
Like every Governor, McCrory promised to take politics out of transportation decisions. Here’s the definition of “politics”: a road somebody else wants. And the definition of “real need”: a road you want.
 
Speaking of needs, why was there no mention of I-95? It’s the most congested, dangerous major road in the state.
 
How can the state seriously pursue a large auto manufacturer without upgrading I-95? The first thing a big plant like that needs, especially if it’s near Rocky Mount, is access up and down the East Coast.
 
Let’s get on with it. Start your engines, warm up the road graders and load up the dump trucks.

 

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19
Carter and I were on News14’s Capital Tonight this week, talking with Tim Boyum about debates today and the Hunt-Helms debates 30 years ago. You can watch our segment here.
 
Tim was struck by how free-flowing and wide-open the 1984 debates were. As we talked with him, we realized that we had happened onto a format that gave voters more insight and information than debates do today.
 
For some reason, debates now are dictated by the clock: “Here’s the question and you have 60 seconds to answer.” Then: “You have 30 seconds to comment on that answer.”
 
Then the media complains because the candidates gave canned 30-second and 60-second responses consisting mostly of talking points and recitals of their TV ads.
 
Well, duh.
 
The format that the Helms and Hunt campaigns negotiated – not entirely to the liking of the broadcasters, by the way – provided for a lot more depth, back-and-forth and give-and-take.
 
Somebody will always object: “But what if one candidate goes on for five minutes?”
 
Believe me, nobody will go on for five minutes on television. And if they did, they would be committing political suicide.
 
So throw away the stopwatches. Let ‘em debate.

 

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17
The Old Wise Leader (OWL) chuckled over coffee about Republicans’ voter-suppression drive: “They should beware the Law of Unintended Consequences.”
 
I enjoy talking with OWL. He reads a lot, and he thinks.
 
Two things caught his eye: The story about Senator Berger’s voter-confusion ad and a mailing that a friend got. The mailer read: “Important Voter Registration Information Inside.” Inside is a “North Carolina Voter Registration Application.” The headline says, “Register to vote today!” It tells you to fill out the form and mail it in the pre-addressed envelope to the State Board of Elections. (“Postage will be paid by addressee.”)
 
Here’s the odd part. It came from an outfit called the “Americans for Prosperity Foundation.” And it went to a voter who not only is already registered, but also is a regular, long-time voter. A Democrat.
 
“I smell a rat,” OWL said. “Looks to me like they’re messing with Democratic voters’ minds.” Then he chuckled, “But the rats may be walking into a trap.”
 
How so? “Well, folks don’t like rats messing with their right to vote. And they might just decide to teach the rats a lesson – on Election Day.”

 

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15
More telling than Kay Hagan’s overall lead in the polls may be her overwhelming lead with women.
 
According to a Rasmussen Poll last week, Hagan leads Thom Tillis by six points, 45-39. But then it gets confusing. The poll said Hagan leads among women by 21 points, while Tillis leads among men by nine points.
 
Say again? If the vote splits 50-50 between men and women, and Hagan leads with women by 21 and trails by men by nine, isn’t she then ahead by 12?
 
Unless Rasmussen assumes that a whole lot more men will vote than women.
 
If that assumption is wrong, and if women turn out heavily, Tillis is – as the fellow Down East once said – “Toast. T-O-S-T, toast.”

 

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08
A TAPster unimpressed by the Hagan-Tillis debate says, “If you want to see a real debate, watch Jim Hunt debate Jesse Helms in 1984. That was like Ali and Frazier.”
 
Ah, take me back to those thrilling days 30 years ago. Here’s a link so you can watch two heavyweight champs. (This is the first debate, which I liked best because Hunt did best in it.)
 
Hunt caught Helms flat-footed. Carter said later the Helms campaign underestimated Hunt. They thought he would be a pushover. And Helms didn’t want to look mean. Hunt started punching Helms in the nose in the first minute and never let up.
 
In three later debates, Helms gave as good as he got. Watching clips now, I’m reminded how smart and tough they both were – and how much they truly disliked each other. I’m reminded of the tension in the rooms where just the TV crew and a few staff members were allowed. I remember thinking: I’m glad I’m not the one who has to stand up there.
 
Carter and I first met negotiating the rules of the debates. We were the junior partners in the room; Tom Ellis represented Helms and Phil Carlton, Hunt. We met under the auspices of the N.C. Broadcasters Association.
 
Our meetings started in a climate of mutual hostility and suspicion. But after a couple of sessions, an odd dynamic emerged. The two campaigns realized that we were more in tune with each other than with the broadcasters on the format we wanted. So we asked the broadcasters’ representatives to step out of the room. We quickly settled on a format that let the two men go at each other freely without a lot of rules, time limits and moderator-posturing. We told the broadcasters: take it or leave it. They weren’t happy, but they took it.
 
Hunt prepared like a boxer in training. He went through sparring sessions with Harrison Hickman, a native North Carolinian with an uncanny ability to ape Helms’ voice and style. Hunt had some rough spots during the prep, but he worked hard and did his homework, as always. He was ready when the debates began July 29, 1984.
 
After four debates, the candidates, their campaigns and the voters were worn out. But nobody could say we didn’t give them their money’s worth.

 

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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. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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