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15
The other morning when I turned on the television one of the networks was swooning over Mrs. Obama and praising her to high heavens, comparing her to Jackie Kennedy, showing her wearing a Shari and boogie-luing with a group of Indian children.
 
Then ole Obama himself got up and started dancing too and I’ll be darned if I can figure out what the President is thinking:  We just survived an election that was a pure cry of pain and as soon as it’s over the next time we see the President he’s on the other side of the world in India, holding a press conference and looking like he’d eaten a sour persimmon and hadn’t gotten over a case of indigestion.
 
When I go home,’ he told the Indians plaintively, ‘I want to tell folks India is helping us create 50,000 jobs.’
 
Later, at another press conference he announced India is going to buy ten transport planes from the U.S. and mumbled over and over, ‘That’s going to create twenty thousand jobs.  Twenty thousand American jobs.  Twenty two thousand new jobs.’ He looked like a deer caught in head lights.
 
After Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton and John McCain I thought for all his smoothness and suaveness beneath the surface he was one pretty tough character. But, now, after taking one electoral body blow he’s turned it into an automaton mumbling over and over, I’ve created twenty two thousand jobs.
 
Maybe the President’s fighting spirit is going to kick in once he gets home but over in India he looked more like a wobbly-legged boxer than Rocky bent on making a comeback.

 

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15
WOWW: Where Obama Went Wrong
 
So here’s my theory, keeping in mind that when you’re a hammer, everything is a nail. I’m a political media guy, so I see a political-media answer.
 
Yes, Obama should have done a better job explaining what he was doing.
 
Yes, he made a mistake letting Pelosi, Reid and a Democratic Congress take the wheel. He should have set the agenda more clearly, instead of letting them do it.
 
But his biggest failure was letting Republicans off the hook.
 
He should have spent two years not just fixing the country’s economic problems, but fixing the blame.
 
He should have relentlessly repeated this mantra: “George Bush and the Republicans got us in this mess. They inherited a budget surplus and turned it into a record deficit. They let Wall Street gamble away our money and nearly wreck the economy. It took them eight years, and it’s going to take us a while to dig out.  But here’s what we’re doing….”
 
And to anyone who whines about the “blame game”: Give me a break. Ronald Reagan spent eight years blaming Jimmy Carter.

 

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14
The smoke hasn’t cleared from the last election and Governor Perdue’s already off and running in the next one which, if you think about it, makes pretty good sense because we’ve never had a Governor more unpopular than Beverly Perdue.
 
After lagging for two years, this fall Governor Perdue’s popularity hit rock bottom: She never had any support to speak of from Republicans, she’s collapsed worse than Obama with Independents and her fellow Democrats are split – a third support her, a third don’t and a third have no opinion one way or another (which a pollster will tell you is a polite way for a voter to say they don’t approve of how the Governor’s doing her job.)
 
Part of the Governor’s problem, no doubt, is the economy but part is, well, there’s just something about Beverly Perdue that leaves people shaking their heads.
 
But the Governor’s not going down without a fight. She’s launched her first fundraiser in Charlotte, making it clear she has one powerful ally:  Money.  She’s lined up all the usual suspects:  Insurance Company CEO’s, Power Company CEO’s, big developers.  Perdue’s first move in her reelection fight is to send one message to Republicans loud and clear: Pay to play is alive and well in North Carolina – so watch out.
 
The Governor’s thrown down the gauntlet and the Republicans with their newly elected Majorities in the State House and Senate ought to take up her challenge – and drive a spike through the heart of pay to play once and for all – by banning donations from state contractors, state appointees, state employees, and any special interest lobbying state government.  If a fellow is set on doing business with the state he shouldn’t be able to give money to the Governor who picks the people who hand out the contracts. 
 
In one fell swoop Republicans can deal a death blow to the corrupt fundraising machine that has been the financial engine of Democratic politics in North Carolina for two decades. 
 
And if the Governor says no legislators ought to hold hearings: The questions should be obvious. How much did you give Governor Perdue? And how did you get your state contract? For example, it might be interesting to ask ‘The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians’ – which runs the only gambling casino in North Carolina – why it gave $31,500 to the Democratic Party last election.
 

 

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12
WWOW: Where Obama Went Wrong
 
One thing I always enjoy about working with Governor Hunt is his passion and enthusiasm for new ideas. From primary-reading programs to Smart Start to new industry, he never stops pursuing bigger and better things for North Carolina.
 
So, naturally, he had a thought about what Obama might have done differently his first two years.
 
The problem with the stimulus bill, Governor Hunt believes, is that nobody knows where the money went. He supports the goal: jump-starting the economy. But it’s hard to know what we’re getting for our money.
 
What Would Jim Hunt Do?
 
“High-speed rail.” That’s his current passion. And he believes that Obama should have focused the stimulus money on that one big goal – rather than letting a thousand flowers bloom.
 
By now, Hunt believes, the nation could be laying the tracks for a transportation system that is cleaner, cheaper and safer than building miles and miles of highways and driving more and more cars. The work could have translated into thousands of new, identifiable jobs – and visible results.
 
And it would have been in a great Republican tradition: Lincoln and the land-grant colleges, Teddy Roosevelt and the national parks, Eisenhower and the Interstate highway system.

 

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11
Just when I thought I’d seen it all out of the blue I ran head-on into a living breathing piece of devilment called the Recount.
 
In North Carolina the recount medusa only raises its head if a candidate wins by less than 1% of the vote.  In Renee Ellmers’ race with Congressman Bob Etheridge that’s 1880 votes. After the smoke cleared from Election Day Mrs. Ellmers led Etheridge by around 1650 votes – so Etheridge declared he’s going to sure as hell call for a recount. 
 
The moment the recount monster lands on its doorstep the first thing a campaign needs to find is a first-rate lawyer who had been through the ordeal before.  I’m as jaded about lawyers as the next fellow but when you need one you need one and there’s no point beating around the bush. Mrs. Ellmers has ten counties in her district and, two days after the election, her campaign had an attorney assigned to each, plus to the State Board of Elections. 
 
Next her campaign learned about three little conundrums called provisional ballots, post-election absentee ballots and post election military ballots.
 
I’d always thought absentee ballots were counted at 5pm on Election Day but I was wrong – absentee ballots are accepted post-election as long as they’re post-marked pre-election.  There’re not many post election absentee or military ballots in Mrs. Ellmers district but provisional ballots are another matter – there’re three thousand of them.
 
What exactly is a provisional ballot? 
 
Let’s say, for example, John Smith walked into a precinct on Election Day and said, I want to vote here, but he wasn’t on the list of registered voters – he was given a provisional ballot, then after the election the County Elections Board figures out if he’s eligible to vote.
 
As a rule of thumb, I’m told, half the provisional ballots end up being disapproved.
 
Franklin County is an example.  There were 187 provisional ballots cast in the Ellmers-Etheridge race.  The County Board of Elections disapproved 101 of them.  And approved 71.  And deferred action on 16 more until it could consult the State Board of Elections.
 
Bottom line:  Right now, six of the ten counties in Renee Ellmers district have counted their absentee and provisional ballots and Congressman Etheridge has gained around 150 votes – so Mrs. Ellmers’ lead is holding up.
 
The other four counties will count there provisional ballots by Friday, then each county Elections Board will meet to hold what’s called a ‘canvas.’  Each board will check the math of the vote tallies, add in the provisional and absentee ballots, update the totals and ‘certify’ the vote.  If Mrs. Ellmers leads by 1% – barring Bob Etheridge filing a lawsuit – she’s the winner. If she leads by less than 1% then over the next three weeks the Boards will recount every ballot and all sorts of fiasco’s are possible due to everything from old fashioned human error to outright chicanery.
 
For instance, the other night when the Nash County Board of Elections counted its provisional ballots there was a development no one (at least in Mrs. Ellmers camp) ever dreamed of. Due to the perversity of redistricting Nash County is in three Congressional districts.  The First District, represented by Democratic Congressman G.K. Butterfield. The Second District, Mrs. Ellmers’ district. And the Third District represented by Republican Congressman Walter Jones.
 
As fate would have it some voters in Mrs. Ellmers’ District had strayed into Congressman Butterfields’ and Congressman Jones’ Districts on Election Day where they ended up casting ‘provisional’ ballots.  And some of them, it turns out, voted straight Democratic tickets. The moment one Democratic observer heard that he spoke up and declared those ballots ought to be counted for Bob Etheridge. 
 
In other words the way he figured it if a person voted for Democratic Congressman G.K. Butterfield in the First District then his vote ought to be counted for Democratic Congressman Bob Etheridge in the Second District.  That got folks attention sure enough.
 
In the end the Elections Board decided the idea that someone who voted for G.K. Butterfield actually meant to vote for Bob Etheridge didn’t pass muster and disapproved the ballots.
 

 

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11
In business, government and education, one of Erskine Bowles’ great strengths – and, as a politician, one of his great weaknesses – was a fondness for speaking blunt truths. He relishes telling people what they don’t like to hear.
 
But now he has truly surpassed himself.
 
First, he set North Carolina on its ear – especially in higher education circles – by suggesting that state budget cuts might force the closing of one of the UNC campuses.
 
Then, he roiled the national political waters – along with fellow bomb-thrower Alan Simpson – by spelling out what reducing the national deficit means: a higher retirement age and higher taxes.
 
When it comes to upsetting people, that’s a good week’s work.

 

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11
Here’s some tonic for Democrats depressed about last week’s elections.
 
In North Carolina, 2.7 million people voted Nov. 2 – a turnout of 43 percent. In 2008, 4.3 million North Carolinians voted – a 70 percent turnout. That’s a drop of 1.6 million voters.
 
Nationally, 75 million people voted last year. In 2008, 130 million Americans voted. A dropoff of 55 million.
 
So there are still plenty of Democratic votes out there.
 
Two problems:
  • They didn’t vote this time. Will they next time?
  • Democrats still lost a lot of Independents and Democrats this time. 

 

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10
“WOWW” stands for “Where Obama Went Wrong.” Beginning today, I will present various theories I have heard from Democrats. Then I will unveil my own super-secret, foolproof answer.
 
Obama’s theory – articulated by him before the election and by several Democrats since – is that he “got the policy right and the politics wrong.”

Call this the Cool Hand Luke Theory: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
 
No, say a couple of smart North Carolina Democrats: He went wrong by letting a Democratic Congress write health care reform and the stimulus bill. By the time those ugly processes were over, Americans had no idea what the final bills did, but every suspicion that both were full of bad things and wasteful spending.
 
Next: The “There Was Nothing He Could Do Theory.”

 

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10
Republican legislators say they’ll balance the state budget by combing through every item.
 
Now comes Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler – a Republican.
 
The Greensboro News & Record reports that he “says there’s nowhere left to cut in his department and he has refused to give Gov. Bev Perdue recommendations on where to cut spending.”
 
Said Troxler: “If we take further cuts, we can’t do the things we’re mandated to do.”

 

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09
Governor Perdue faces a critical policy and political choice.
 
The media is focused on what the new Republican legislature will do to balance the budget.
 
But the Governor has to make the first move. She proposes the budget.
 
And the course she takes could decide whether she becomes North Carolina’s first one-term governor since succession passed in 1977.
 
She could try to out-cut the Republicans. If she does, she’ll face a rebellion in her Democratic base –and maybe a primary challenge.
 
Or she can find a way to draw a clear line with Republicans: progress versus retreat, go forward or go back.
 
It’s no easy choice, given her precarious public standing.
 
My choice would be to go with the base now. If she doesn’t energize their support in 2011, she’ll never get it in 2012.

 

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