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North Carolina - Democrats

15
Democrats in Washington are squabbling about torture, a $1.1 trillion budget bill and regulations on Wall Street and big banks. Democrats in North Carolina are squabbling about – I kid you not – Charles Brantley Aycock.
 
Specifically, the squabble is in part over whether the wife of a descendant of North Carolina’s governor from 1901 to 1905 should be state Democratic Party chairman in 2015.
 
Aycock was both a racist and a pro-education (for whites) governor. For years, the state party had an annual Vance-Aycock weekend in Asheville, since renamed the Western Gala because of Aycock’s racial policies. One of his modern-day descendants apparently opposed the name change, feeling that the good Aycock did should outweigh the bad. For this heresy, some Democrats believe that said descendant’s wife, Patsy Keever, should not be party chair.
 
As a long-time Democratic activist asked this weekend, “If my great-grandfather was a horse thief, do I have to leave the party?”
 
This would be of great concern. If it mattered. But, in today’s world of creative campaign financing and myriad political committees, the state party doesn’t matter.
 
In fact, this squabble is a good thing. It gives the people who fight about things like this something meaningless to tear each other apart over. Which frees up everybody else to get about the work of winning elections in 2014.
 
Next up: Given their records on slavery, do we rename Jefferson-Jackson Day? This should keep the Goodwin House busy through November 2016.

 

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11
I dropped in on a wise old Democrat who has been through the political wars, winning more than he lost. I found him undaunted by 2014 and fired up for 2016.
 
He chided me for chiding Senator Hagan for chiding President Obama over the November results: “You were too tough on her. The President should be talking up the economy. We all should be talking up the economy. A lot of good things are happening, and we need to stand up and tell people.”
 
Yes, he said, it was a tough year for Democrats. “But we did a hell of a lot better than any other state.” If the same candidates had run the same campaigns in 2016, he said, “We would have won three or four state Senate seats and even more state House seats.”
 
He’s optimistic about the races for President, US Senate, Governor and the legislature in 2016. He knows how easily Republicans can overreach and wear out their welcome. He believes Democrats will field strong candidates and run strong campaigns.
 
Most of all, he had a clear message for Democrats who are tempted to mope and mourn: “I want to see some fire in your eyes.”

 

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05
You know it was a bad story when somebody says at breakfast, “Did Senator Hagan know she was being quoted when she said that about Obama?”
 
We don’t know. But we do know that Hagan’s interview with a McClatchy reporter threw gas on a fire burning in the Democratic Party – and probably burned her in the process.
 
The story began: “President Barack Obama could have done more to help Senate Democrats in last month’s elections if he’d spoken out about the nation’s healthy economy and its positive impact on middle-class families, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina said Wednesday in her first interview since her narrow defeat.”
 
It left Hagan looking like a losing Super Bowl quarterback who gives a locker-room interview and blames the loss on the coach’s lousy game plan.
 
Right or wrong, that’s not the note you want to hit – or the taste you want to leave on your way out.
 
As one prominent Democrat said on social media, “There are many reasons for Senator Hagan's loss. But if I am to lose, I would like it to be because of the principles I embrace rather than assigning it the lack of someone else's intervention or action.”
 
Of course, plenty of Democrats are quietly, or not so quietly, blaming Obama for her loss and losses all across the country. Others blame Hagan for “distancing” herself from the President.
 
Said one: “It would've been fascinating to have seen what would have happened if just ONE Democratic Senate candidate had whole-heartedly ran on Obama's record - which, in reality, is pretty damn good, especially considering where the country and the economy were when he took office. Once again, Democrats let the Republican propaganda machine define the issues for them.”
 
While not in response to Hagan’s interview, another person summed up this viewpoint: “Instead of running away from Obama I think we should of done the opposite. If we had we would definitely not lost Colorado and maybe not even North Carolina since Hagan only lost by 50,000 votes. If Obama had made the immigration speech before the election we would of had the turnout we needed.”
 
Another Democrat offered this: “One of the things I heard earlier this year from business people was that Hagan had reneged on promises she made to support certain legislation and changes in regulation. Her problem was that her support did not square with the administration’s position and they were putting pressure on her since they were pouring so much money into her campaign.
 
“I can’t tell if her change of position led to loss of votes but it certainly put her in the Obama corner with nowhere to turn.  It’s interesting to me that she didn’t inform the Obama people that she had the right to have her own opinion, and that Obama needed her more in the Senate than she needed his money. But he should invest in her anyway since she is way better than the alternative. Well, Obama now has the alternative several times over.”
 
It’s time to recall the wisdom of one of North Carolina’s greatest political minds, Bert Bennett: “When you win, everything you did was right. When you lose, everything you did was wrong.”

 

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04
Senator Kay Hagan ran a strong campaign, but her post-defeat critique of President Obama is weak.
 
Hagan told McClatchy’s Renee Schoof that Obama hurt Senate Democrats by not trumpeting the economy more loudly: “The president hasn’t used the bully pulpit to get that message out in a way that resonates with people. And I think that’s an issue that the Democrats should not cede.”
 
Her statement opens Hagan up to the counter-criticism that some Democrats already are making: She should have embraced Obama rather than distancing herself.
 
Neither argument is convincing.
 
Hagan’s campaign leaders probably would tell you that Obama’s job ratings were the main drag on her candidacy and that embracing him would have been akin to strapping on an anvil and jumping in the deep end.
 
Conversely, Hagan’s criticism ignores the reality that cheerleading a la Ronald Reagan is foreign to the President’s cool, cerebral style. Plus, would voters have bought it if he had tried to sell it?
 
Yes, as the Senator noted, gas prices are low; the stock market is at an all-time high and jobs continue to grow, far different from when she and Obama took office in 2009.
 
The problem for Democrats is that far too many voters – nearly all of them white and middle-class or working-class and many of them presumably Democratic-friendly women and young people – don’t see Democrats as the party of prosperity. They see a party that cares passionately about the poor and about minorities, but they ask: What about me?
 
Yes, they also see Republicans as the party of the rich. But maybe they think they too will get rich, or just richer, with Republicans.
 
Yes, race is part of this. But race doesn’t explain all of it.
 
Democrats must face the unpleasant fact that, since the history-making election of Obama (and Hagan) in 2008, the party has suffered defeat after defeat in three straight elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, governorships and state legislatures.
 
And be clear: To describe the “White Critique” above is not to praise it, embrace it or agree with it. Just recognize it as a fact, a fact the party can either ignore or confront.
 
That is the choice ahead in 2016.

 

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02
A TAPster points out that my blog yesterday about Young Dems didn’t take note that two young Dems (“young” being broadly defined as younger than me) already are making their mark in statewide office.
 
I wrote that Senator Josh Stein could be “the first in his class” of young Democrats to be elected to statewide office. My apologies to 40-somethings Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and Treasurer Janet Cowell!
 
Also of note, Goodwin was the first Young Democrats of North Carolina President elected to the legislature in decades, perhaps the first elected to the legislature while still serving as YDNC President, and the first former YDNC officer elected to statewide public office since Elaine Marshall.
 
Making this correction allows me to make a point: Nothing solves a party’s problems faster than recruiting, developing and encouraging good candidates. Nothing prolongs the problems more than a conflict between generations – e.g., “those old fossils need to get out of the way” or “those young whippersnappers need to wait their turn.”
 
Old heads and new faces can make a powerful combination.

 

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24
One thing Democrats did right this year was push education onto the public agenda. But will it last? And the key question: Where do they take it now?
 
The Hagan campaign came close largely because they almost turned a United States Senate race into a school board election.
 
The same thing was true in many legislative races. Republicans who were running scared campaigned like Democrats, promising to improve the public schools and even to raise teacher pay to the national average.
 
One path for Democrats now will be to see whether Republicans keep that promise in what looks like a legislative session that will be dominated by a shortfall in revenues
 
But Democrats should be wary of falling into a trap that equates more money with better education.
 
Republicans are learning how to push back against the charge that they “cut $500 million from education.” And, if you Google that charge, you’ll find a series of fact checks that challenge its veracity.
 
Given their ideological preference for vouchers and charter schools, Republicans are not likely to appropriate much more money for the schools. Their position is more likely to be: “We’re spending more money than ever before on the schools, but they’re not getting better. We have to do something different.”
 
Democrats better figure out how to overcome that argument.
 
Same with the universities. Democrats can’t just criticize budget “cuts” – more accurately, cuts in per-pupil spending – when Republicans are already rolling out their riposte: “North Carolina spends more on its universities per pupil than all but three other states.”
 
I saw this movie in the 1990s with Governor Hunt. It’s why he didn’t just say: “Let’s raise teacher pay to the national average.” He also, always, said: “And let’s raise standards for teachers, students and schools.”
 
To win in 2016, Democrats will again have to propose more than more money.

 

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20
Governor McCrory’s political instinct is right, but his choice of battlefield is puzzling.
 
The Governor seems to understand that the best way to get reelected is to pick a fight with the legislature. Governors are always more popular than legislatures. McCrory’s approval ratings are twice as high as this legislature.
 
But why not fight over something the public cares about? Nobody cares which politician appoints the coal ash commission.
 
And McCrory brings a glass jaw to this fight. As Senator Berger put it a while back: “The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer.”
 
“Former employer”! Yikes! Sounds like something a Democrat would say.
 
Or will say next year.

 

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14
Some two-score years ago, I started going to the National Governors Association winter meetings in Washington. These were at the time great bipartisan policy wonk-fests, three days of earnest discussions about issues, ideas and innovations, with plenty of after-hours barroom political gossip.
 
Three young governors stood out at the time (during the day sessions, at least; none of them drank): Jerry Brown, Bill Clinton and Jim Hunt.
 
So I was struck this year when Jerry Brown was elected to his fourth term as Governor of California, Bill Clinton campaigned gleefully across the country in anticipation of Hillary’s presidential run, and Jim Hunt was the most-sought after Democratic headliner across North Carolina.
 
All three have graduated from ambitious young men to senior statesmen, admired for what they did in office, emulated as political icons and still in demand.
 
What did they have – and still have?
 
First is a zest for politics. They live it and breathe it. They’ll stop only when their hearts stop beating. And they love it not just for the game, but for what you can do for people through politics.
 
Second is an innate gut feeling for what moves people, what people care about and what people want from their leaders. Hunt and Clinton always shared a human warmth; Brown was California Zen cool, but then he got a wife and a dog and became almost human.
 
Finally, they’re all smart, and they never stop learning. They read voraciously, vacuum up ideas and information, and think.
 
For any aspiring young pol who wants to be a four-term Governor, a President or at least a much-admired senior statesman in four decades, you’ve got your road map.

 

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10
After last Tuesday, Democrats need a psychiatrist as much as a political strategist.
 
Here’s helpful advice from my old friend and pollster extraordinaire Harrison Hickman, titled Top 10 Least Helpful Democratic Excuses.” Harrison, an NC native and CEO of Hickman Analytics, Inc. in Washington, says, “To learn from our landslide defeat, Democrats should avoid excuses that divert attention from the tasks required to prepare for the next round of elections.” Among his 10 examples:
 
"’All hope is lost.’ Party fundraising emails may say so, but it's not. Ask anyone who went through 1984, 1994, and 2010. Elections are cyclical, and we need to be ready for the next opportunities by learning from our mistakes and moving forward.”
 
"’If only ... [fill in the blank].’ In a wipeout of this magnitude, no one factor would have changed the outcome. A multitude of factors were at play, including many completely beyond the control of the campaigns wrecked by the wave.”
 
"’There's nothing we could have done.’ Actually there are plenty of things we could have done, but most of them should have happened months or years ago. Maybe nothing tactical in the closing month would have changed the outcome, but better messaging and performance leading up to it could have helped. Besides, this type of thinking is self-destructive and presents a horrible image to the audience we most need to convince. Voters who expect courage and performance from their leaders are not going to cast their lot with a party of defeatists.”
 
"’It's all about race.’ Racial attitudes are part of it, but they are not the only reason we lost badly. If we want voters to put us in charge of their government, understand that they expect performance. We simply have not delivered in ways that meet their needs and expectations.”
 
And lastly: "’But so-and-so said ....’ Here's a dirty little secret. With some notable exceptions, most of the people opining about what went wrong and what needs to change are no longer paid to run or advise major campaigns -- if they ever were. You know more about these things than so-and-so does, and you have a helluva lot more at stake in coming up with the right answers. So do it.”
 
Dr. Pearce’s Rx: Take all 10 to heart. 

 

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06
“Anybody who says they knew this was coming – Democrat or Republican, pundit or pollster – is lying,” a veteran campaign operative said Wednesday
 
The polls all missed it. Close races turned into routs. Narrow Democratic wins turned into Republican wins. Turnout models missed the mark, Early-voting hype was misleading.
 
Tillis consultant Paul Shumaker did tell donors last week that internal polls showed Tillis had caught up with Hagan.
 
The instant analysis that it was an anti-Obama vote. But why did it turn so suddenly at the end, when Obama had been the focus of Republican campaigns all year?
 
A theory: A combination of factors – in-state, national and international – came together in late October to exacerbate anti-Obama feeling, energize Republicans and swing most undecided voters to Tillis and the Republicans. Including gay marriage, ISIS, Ebola and the Hagan-stimulus issue, with “stimulus” being a code word for “Obama.”
 
A useful perspective came from a smart young field operative who, unlike many of us, spent a lot of time this year talking to real voters, especially undecided voters. Those voters have very little interest in politics, he noted. Consequently, “they don’t know the legislative candidates, they don’t follow the legislature, they don’t know much about Tillis and Hagan, they don’t know who holds the House or Senate. They know two big things: They’re not happy with the economy and the way things are going, and they know Obama is President.”

 

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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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