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06
 
Since Election Night the pundits on Fox and CNN and MSNBC have been furiously pontificating, the Democrats declaring, Well, it’s not really all that bad, and Republicans arguing back the Democrats got drubbed and voters repudiated Obama.  
 
But what really happened was a typical odd-year election.
 
President Obama hasn’t ended the recession so Democrats (who thought Obama would heal all our ills by now) are in a bit of a funk. Independents are disappointed too but don’t have the impediment of party loyalty – so they went a step further and gave the President a kick in the pants. And Republicans just naturally are outraged and marched to the polls in droves.
 
So just like Reagan and Clinton before him Obama lost an odd-year election – but, remember, both Reagan and Clinton came back to win reelection handedly in 1984 and 1996.
 
The victories in Virginia and New Jersey are welcome news for Republicans after a long dry season – but hardly signs the time has come to write President Obama’s political obituary.
 
The most interesting race of the night was New York’s 23rd Congressional District – where a Democrat won a seat that’s been Republican since Ulysses Grant was President.
 
Two battles see-sawed back and forth during the race: One between Republicans and the other, at the end of the election, between Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman and Democrat Bill Owens.
 
The Republican inner-party fight was battle royal with an odd mixture of ideology and hardball New York politics.
 
Usually in New York the Republican and Conservative Parties work hand-in-glove and endorse the same candidate – but this time the Republican establishment in Washington ran rough-shod over the Conservative Party and hand-picked a liberal Republican, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, no conservative could support.
 
The Washington Republicans essentially presented New York Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long with a fait de accompli and dared him to cross them – and Long sent them a message right back by recruiting a Conservative Party candidate.
 
No doubt Long knew – and hoped – his party’s nominee could win. But no doubt he also knew even if Doug Hoffman lost it could mean defeat for the liberal Republican. Long was practicing New York hardball politics and his message was direct and simple. He was saying, Alright, let’s see if you can win a three way race and, I reckon, if you can’t next time you’ll think twice before sandbagging conservatives in New York.
 
The Conservative Party won its battle with the Washington Republican Establishment hands down, crushing the NRCC’s candidate so decisively she collapsed and withdrew before the end of the race.
 
So, even before Election Day, Long had accomplished his goal. He’d more than accomplished it: For the first time since pre-Reagan days there was an open breach between conservatives and Republicans in Washington.
 
Then two days before the election Dede Scozzafava played a little bare-knuckled New York politics of her own: She endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, the Democrat, sending conservatives the same message they’d sent her 8 weeks earlier: I may not win but I can keep you from winning.
 
And it looks like her endorsement had teeth: Owens won Scozzafava’s home county 2 to 1 and won the election.
 
Measured in ads run and dollars raised Democrats also out fought both Republicans and Conservatives hands down. As soon as Owens announced the Democrats put an effective campaign on tracks and proceeded to out-spend the other candidates from the opening bell to the closing gun.
 
By comparison, the Washington Republicans miscalculated, picked a weak candidate, stumbled charging out of the chute, never got back on their feet and, in the end, their campaign collapsed.
 
The Conservative Party faced a harder task. Unlike the Republicans or Democrats they didn’t start the race with political war chests bulging with cash – they were flat broke and had to build a national fundraising campaign overnight. The fact that they succeeded in eight weeks is a minor miracle. They also had a credibility hurdle to clear: They had to convince voters a third party candidate had a real chance to win and that a vote for Doug Hoffman wouldn’t be wasted.
 
They accomplished both goals – but then Scozzafava threw them her curveball.
 
Winners and losers?
 
Well, clearly the Democrats picked up a Republican seat. But count Mike Long a winner too – it’ll probably be a long time before Washington Republicans pick another fight with the New York Conservative Party
 
And the big losers: Washington Republicans. They picked a weak candidate, ran an even weaker campaign and, then, their candidate endorsed Bill Owens and handed Democrats a Republican seat – and another vote for Nancy Pelosi in Congress.
 

 

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06
Governor Perdue didn’t need this flap about dangerous killers being let out of prison.
 
She’s done everything she can think of to protect herself politically – even saying she’ll go to jail before she lets them out.
 
That’s going a bit far, but it tells you how worried her team is.
 
Republicans have been treating the issue like an early Christmas present. She should have known this was coming, they harrumph.
 
Here’s what she should say: The Supreme Court that ordered these prisoners released has a 4-3 Republican majority.

 

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05

Ole Tony ‘the Fixer’ Rand is hanging up his spurs and retiring from the legislature and it’s created quite a buzz in Raleigh. It’s like the Pope retiring. But what’s got everyone befuddled, the big question everyone’s asking is, Why on earth does Tony – at 70 years old – want to be Head of the Paroles Commission?

The reason may be simple: It’s the one place Tony Rand may be able to do one last favor for Mike Easley.

 

 

 

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05
Democrats who didn’t panic after Tuesday’s election might panic over Tony Rand leaving.
 
They can see the dominoes falling. Martin Nesbitt replaces Rand as majority leader. The campaign machine that Rand and Marc Basnight built sputters. Republicans win a Senate majority in 2010. Nesbitt becomes minority leader.
 
Raleigh is abuzz with conspiracy theories about Rand. But the answer may be simple.
 
There’s always a young lion hungry to challenge the old lion and become leader of the pack.
 
Not many old lions are smart enough to go out on top.
 
Say what you want, Rand and Basnight ran one of the most successful political operations in the history of North Carolina politics. 
 
They kept Democrats in the majority when other Southern legislatures were going Republican.  They survived the Republican landslide in 1994. 
 
With Rand leaving – whatever the reason – we’re not likely to see anything like it again.

 

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05
One thing I appreciate about Jim Hunt is that he still drives Republicans crazy.
 
I see that – and enjoy it – in their comments on my blog.
 
Now comes Tom Fetzer. With a straight face, he blames everything that’s wrong in Raleigh today with Jim Hunt passing succession 32 years ago.
 
Let’s see. Because of succession, Mike Easley arranged a $175,000 job for his wife at N.C.State.
 
Tom, I’ll grant you that Hunt had a huge impact on North Carolina. But you’re going to give him a big head if you give him credit for everything.

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04
Democrats got a thumping in Virginia and New Jersey. But they don’t need to take a long walk off a short pier yet.
 
Republicans will be whooping that the party’s over for Obama.
 
With any luck, they’ll proceed on that assumption – and wreck their chances of a real comeback in 2010 and 2012.
 
Maybe the right-wingers will decapitate Charlie Crist next. I hope so, because he’s one Republican who could beat Obama. (See the New York-23 congressional district for what I mean.)
 
Actually, Tuesday’s results demonstrate Obama’s strength, not weakness.
 
He’s the only Democrat who can generate enthusiasm among minority voters and young voters.
 
The Democrats were saddled with sad-sack candidates – almost as bad as that Karzai guy in Afghanistan.
 
Bob McDonnell was an attractive candidate with a positive message. Creigh Deeds tried to beat him by spotlighting a master’s thesis McDonnell wrote 20 years ago.
 
And Jon Corzine? Any man who rides along New Jersey freeways at 90 miles an hour without a seat belt obviously doesn’t have enough sense to be governor.
 
On top of all that, liberals were whining – and sitting on the sidelines – because almost 10 months have gone by and Obama hasn’t led them to the Promised Land.
 
This election, unlike last year, Republicans owned the intensity factor.
 
Let that be a lesson, Democrats.

 

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03
Mark Johnson noted in Under the Dome that - counting her 2000 campaign – Bev Perdue had five communications directors as lieutenant governor.
 
Now David Kochman is leaving that job in the governor’s office.
 
The problem isn’t the staff.
 
It’s that – after a dozen years in the legislature, eight years as lieutenant governor, a campaign for governor and 10 months in office – no one knows what Perdue stands for.
 
Even Mike Easley had the lottery, More At Four and Learn And Earn.
 
Perdue doesn’t have a single rhyme.
 
Maybe Pearse Edwards, her new senior advisor for communications and policy, can fix this mess.
 
If she has another staff shakeup instead, she could become the first one-term governor since succession passed in 1977.

 

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02
 
A lot of my Democratic friends and a fair amount of the media were raving last week about how cool and unflappable Mike Easley was at his hearing before the State Board of Elections;---but how many times can a fellow fall for the same con job?
 
Sergeant Shultz was German and pedantic while Governor Easley’s Irish and charming but their story’s the same, I know nuth-tink.
 
McQueen Campbell, the Governor told the Board, is a nice young man – but the Governor has no idea on earth why Campbell would send a bill to Easley’s campaign to pay for $11,000 in repairs to Easley’s house.
 
Nor did the Governor – who personally asked McQueen to make the repairs – ever give a second thought about whether Campbell was paid at all. He was, the Governor explained, too frantically busy worrying about passing the lottery (and making furniture in the basement of the Governor’s mansion) to fret over an $11,000 bill and figured someone would handle it.
 
As for all the free airplane flights Campbell gave the Governor, well, the Governor says without blushing his campaign paid for everything it was billed and Campbell was an imbecile for not sending more bills.
 
Now, whoever heard of a businessman who was so inept he didn’t know how to send an invoice? When a businessman doesn’t ask a politician to pay for $100,000 in airplane flights, what’s your guess about what’s going on – is it bungling or hanky-panky?
 
Finally, the Governor told the Board he just doesn’t like to get involved in his campaigns or his political fundraising because the whole thing just goes against how his mamma brought him up to be humble and self-effacing. Governor Easley is fifty-nine; over the last 27 years he’s run for office every four years and raised over twenty million dollars – while being uninvolved in his campaigns.
 
This is pure farce.
 
I remember back in 2000 when Mike Easley ran for Governor the first time – back then Attorney General Easley took hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money and used it to pay what he called ‘public service announcements’ – which did very little to combat consumer fraud but did give his campaign a huge boost at taxpayers’ expense. Would someone who’d do that hesitate to take a free vacation and a free plane flight from folks who wanted a state permit for a beach front development?
 
At the end of the day Easley’s lawyer wound up the hearing by arguing since it was perfectly legal (under elections laws) for Easley’s campaign to pay for the repairs to his house, McQueen Campbell’s claim Easley told him to bill $11,000 in repairs to his campaign as airplane flights was hooey. But he side-stepped the broader legal issue: Many of the people giving money to Easley’s campaign were state contractors and lobbyists and political appointees. Easley’s lawyer is saying it’s fine for them to give money to Easley’s campaign and for the campaign to turn around and give the money to Easley. So why not just have the lobbyists write checks directly to the Governor, personally, when they want a permit to build a boat ramp at a development and cut out the middle man? Would that be legal?
 
Mike Easley’s given us an example of what’s wrong with government and the Democrats, from the current Governor to the Attorney General to the folks who labor in the Democratic Party vineyards, aren’t doing one thing about it – instead they’re marveling at how cool and unflappable Easley is.
 

 

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02
Jack Betts wrote Sunday about the contrast between Mike Easley being grilled by the Board of Elections and Jim Hunt breaking ground for the new Hunt Library:
 
“It was hard not to draw comparisons between Hunt's visionary rhetoric and Easley's labored accounts about the past.”
 
What accounts for the difference? Why did Hunt end up being celebrated and Easley – and John Edwards, too – castigated?
 
I have a theory.
 
Hunt’s rise was far different from Easley’s and Edwards’s. Hunt worked his way up through campus politics, Young Democrats and the state Democratic Party. He organized college students for Terry Sanford in 1960 and Rich Preyer in 1964. He spent two years as national college director of the national Democratic Party under JFK. By the time he was elected governor in 1976, he had spent almost 10 years travelling across the state, meeting people face to face and building a statewide organization.
 
He earned people’s trust in a way Easley and Edwards never did.
 
Edwards had $6 million to spend putting himself on TV. And he was good on TV. So was Easley, and Easley had a way of getting his friends to do the dirty work like raising money. He avoided Hunt’s style of personal campaigning.
 
Easley and Edwards never had to pass the test of being sized up by a tag-team of Sanford’s old keys, conservatives who had supported Dan Moore, black leaders like Ben Ruffin, teacher leaders like John I. Wilson, activist women like Angie Elkins, business leaders like John Medlin…and on and on.
 
If Easley and Edwards had, they might have learned something. Or we might have learned something more about them.
 
Unfortunately, the politics of the future looks more like the politics of Easley and Edwards than the politics of Jim Hunt.
 

 

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30
Ferrel Guillory – political expert extraordinaire and director of the Program on Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill – offers a good perspective to my question (see below) about coordinated campaigns.
 
He cites an article by two of his students about the 2004 coordinated campaign.
 
Ferrel notes: “As you know, Jim Hunt used to be criticized for running his own campaigns, not coordinating, sucking all of the oxygen (funding)….Now Easley and co. are being chastised for coordinating.”
 
After all, isn't it better to have candidates linked to their political parties, and parties vigorous enough to build coalitions and hold candidates accountable?

 

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