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North Carolina - Democrats

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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05
Candidates and their advisers spend a lot of time during debate prep thinking about how to address their opponent, so it was no happenstance that Tillis called Hagan “Kay” and she called him “Speaker Tillis.”
 
Tillis didn’t want to give her the benefit of incumbency, so he took the risk of looking sexist and offending women voters, as Laura Leslie noted on WRAL.
 
Senator Hagan wasn’t being “respectful,” as her partisans suggested. She wanted to tie Tillis as closely as possible to the legislature and what it did on education. Tillis knows he has that problem, so he and the Republicans are pushing back as hard as they can on teacher pay raises. But they’re not getting any reinforcement from teachers.
 
Reporters and viewers clearly were frustrated by all the canned lines and talking points, but what the candidates said still tells a revealing story about the hidden forces behind this election.
 
In other Senate races across the country, President Obama’s ever-falling job ratings are hurting Democrats. But in North Carolina, Senator Hagan has an even more unpopular villain to attack (hard as that is to imagine). That’s the legislature, and that’s why he’s “Speaker Tillis.”

 

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04
The Senate race is all about sex. It is Supportive Mommy against Stern Daddy.
 
And the debate may make me amend my rule about how the most comfortable, confident and commanding person in the room always wins: Except when it’s a man against a woman and his “commanding” slips over into “condescending.”
 
Thom Tillis stood for the over-50 white male view of the world: It’s a tough place. I made it and so can you. Put on your big boy pants, get to work and don’t expect any damn handouts.
 
Kay Hagan replied: It is a tough world, big boy, but it’s a lot tougher than when you came up. And sometimes people need a hand.
 
He said: Business will do the right thing and solve our problems if government gets out of the way.
 
She said: Business is great, but it won’t always do the right thing, and that’s why we need government.
 
But what they said wasn’t the story. That was canned, rehearsed and predictable, as all the recaps noted. The story was how Tillis said it, calling her “Kay,” as in, “Kay’s math just doesn’t add up” and “she obviously didn’t read the budget.”
 
How many women thought: “It hate it when men talk to me that way”?
 
These psychological undertones make it hard for the media and pundits to deliver an instant analysis of a debate’s impact. People writing and talking on deadline focus on facts, substance and talking points. It’s hard – and it’s tricky – to gauge emotional reactions. Those take days to take hold in a campaign.
 
You can’t analyze the debate – or the race – without looking through the lens of the fundamental social, cultural and political divide in America today. Republicans target of old white men who are angry about the way things are going. Democrats target women and young men who are angry at the old white men.
 
The old white men took over in 2010. Now there’s a reaction building. The old white men are outnumbered, and their days are numbered. 

 

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03
Several reporters have called to explore “what’s at stake” in tonight’s U.S. Senate debate and “what Hagan and Tillis have to do.”
 
Well, the answer is a lot simpler than we make it sometimes in politics.
 
The media will bravely try to focus on substance and whether either candidate “said something new.” (The candidates and their respective camps certainly hope not.)
 
The partisans will see what they want to see, unless their own candidate either shines or stumbles. And you can always tell, not matter how brave the front.
 
A lot of the back-and-forth tonight will go over most viewers’ heads. Experienced legislators like Tillis and Hagan especially have a bad habit of lapsing into mind-numbing policy and process talk.
 
Here are the two best ways to judge who won and who lost.
 
First, make it a drinking game (two or more participants required): One takes a drink every time Tillis talks about Obama. The other takes a drink every time Hagan talks about the legislature’s cuts to education. Whoever ends up drunkest, that candidate won. (You can also do this by yourself, taking a drink each time each candidate scores. This will ensure you don’t remember a thing from the debate.)
 
The second way: Turn off the sound and just watch. See if one candidate or the other looks more confident, comfortable and in command. That is the winner.

 

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29
WRAL’s Mark Binker says the claim that Senator Kay Hagan votes with President Obama 95 percent of the time is “something of karmic payback for Hagan, who benefited from a similar claim leveled against then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2008.”
 
There is a little-noted back story to the Dole ad: It wasn’t really about voting percentages. It was about age. And it was a devastatingly clever attack on Dole.
 
At the time, serious-minded fact-checkers focused on whether the ad, sponsored by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was correct when it said Dole ranked 93rd in effectiveness in the Senate and voted with George Bush 92 percent of the time.
 
But watch the ad (it’s in Binker’s story) and listen to the two old codgers rocking on the porch. One says, “I’m telling you, Liddy Dole is 93.” The other replies, “I heard she’s 92.” At the end, one asks, “What happened to the Liddy Dole we knew?” The other says, “She’s just not a go-getter like you and me.”
 
The subtle but powerful message: Liddy Dole is too old. Her time has passed.
 
Now, a direct hit on her age (she was 72 in 2008) would have backfired. But the sly hit worked.
 
So don’t expect the 95 percent hit on Hagan by Tillis’ campaign to work like the 2008 ad did. For one thing, voters suspect – as Binker’s fact check shows – that the 95 percent includes a lot of minor votes.
 
Hagan and her allies have run a brilliant campaign so far. They’ve portrayed her as a moderate (“just right, just like North Carolina”) and they’ve painted Thom Tillis into a box with an unpopular legislature in Raleigh.
 
This attack won’t change that.

 

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27
When the pollster asked voters, Who should pay for the coal ash cleanup, Duke Energy or consumers? the answer came back loud and clear: Voters had no doubt. Almost to a man they said Duke Energy.
 
Now that didn’t mean that was the right – or fair – answer.
 
But it did mean any legislator who disagreed was going to have to give voters a good practical or theological or economic or political reason that changed their minds because, otherwise, the moment he said he wanted consumers to pay for the clean-up (in the form of higher electric bills) he’d be committing the political equivalent of walking in front of a firing squad.
 
The Republicans decided not to give voters a reason to change their minds – and the Democrats didn’t need too.
 
Because the moment Duke Energy called for higher electric bills, whether Roy Cooper and Company saw that as corporate wolves preying on hapless sheep or whether they, more practically, asked themselves, Who do we want to stick with the bill – six million voters or one corporation – they immediately rolled out a law saying Duke should pay every penny. And, a month later, when Duke reported a $600 million quarterly profit it looked like the Democrats were standing on solid ground.
 
The Republicans headed down a different track. They didn’t say they wanted six million voters to pay for the coal ash cleanup but they did kill the Democrats’ law dead in its tracks – then passed a law of their own saying Duke Energy couldn’t ask the Utilities Commission for a rate increase for four months  (until January 15) which created two problems.
 
First, a voter who didn’t want his electric bill raised now didn’t want it raised after January 15 either. Second, the Democrats had given voters an unequivocal no rate increase pledge while the Republicans had said let’s wait until after the election and see.
 
I reckon that makes it all but certain before long we’re going to see ads saying Republicans sided with Duke Energy – and then Republicans are going to need to give voters a darn good reason why it’s necessary or right or fair for them to pay to clean up the coal ash ponds. Beyond that, in November, when voters troop to the polls there may be just one question left: Which do they dislike more? Obama? Or paying $10 billion more in electric bills?
 

 

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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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