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08
First Carter and Renee Ellmers go to war with Washington Republicans over funding her recount fight.
 
Then Republicans begin jockeying for legislative leadership positions.
 
It proves the truth of James Carville’s old age: “Transitions are when you stop fighting your enemies and start fighting your friends.”
 
Except he used a more colorful word that “fighting.”

 

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05
North Carolina Democrats have survived three near-death elections: 1972, 1984 and 1994. But will 2010 be the one when the dam finally breaks and we go the way of the rest of the South?
 
Some smart Democrats here think so. They see a decade – or more – of Republican dominance ahead. They believe 2012 could be a repeat, not a reversal, of 2010. They fear the impact of redistricting. They openly speculate about Governor Perdue losing in 2012.
 
I thought about this last night at the reunion of Jim Hunt Alumni – everybody who worked with and for him from 1970 through today.
 
Hunt’s political career goes back 50 years – to the election of Terry Sanford and John Kennedy in 1960. Ever since, the South has trended Republican. Yet Democrats stemmed the tide again and again. Often, it was Hunt who was the bulwark, especially in 1972 and 1992.
 
Last night was full of energy and enthusiasm. Governor Hunt, as usual, picked everybody up from Tuesday’s disaster. Even this year, he noted, North Carolina reelected Democratic congressmen in tough races.
 
But I couldn’t help wondering if I was watching an era end.

 

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05
The great thing about political blogging is that the game never ends. For the next two months, we get to watch the positioning for the legislative session.
 
Governor Perdue’s first statement got it right: We need to work together in a time of economic and fiscal crisis.
 
But she’ll have conflicting advice. Move to the middle and work with the Republicans, some will say. No, confront them at every turn, others will counsel.
 
With their victory, Republicans now have to govern. Will they be disciplined, or overreach like Washington Democrats did the last two years? Will the Chamber of Commerce crowd get along with the Old Testament Caucus?
 
In Washington, Democrats and Republicans can get away with kicking the can down the road, since they don’t have to balance the budget.
 
In Raleigh, somebody has to find $4 billion. And somebody’s going to pay a price.

 

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04
Election night, after the ten counties in her district reported their votes, Renee Ellmers led incumbent Congressman Bob Etheridge by 2,100 votes. (That number is crucial because under North Carolina law Congressman Etheridge is not entitled to an ‘automatic recount’ if he trails by more than 1% – or 1,888 votes.)
 
Then the afternoon after the election – out of a clear blue sky – the vote totals changed. The State Board of Elections reported Mrs. Ellmers’ lead had dropped to 1,600 votes. The explanation, when it came to light, was as old as time: Human Error.
 
Meantime, Congressman Etheridge had hot-footed it to a press conference and announced he was going to call for a recount the first chance he got which, of course, he has every right to do.
 
So, two days after the election Mrs. Ellmers’ campaign found itself hiring attorneys – eleven attorneys in all. One in each county to monitor each voter canvas and recount, and an attorney to work with the State Board of Elections. The minimum cost: $50,000 – which is a huge problem because, of course, Mrs. Ellmers’ campaign spent every penny it had before the election.
 
Next Mrs. Ellmers’ campaign appealed to the Republican National Congressional Committee, asking if it could contribute to help pay for the costs of the recount. The answer came back: No, nyet, nix. Mrs. Ellmers, the NRCC said, would have to raise the money to pay for the recount herself – which was unfortunate but not unexpected.
 
Back in June when an NRCC ‘tracker’ made the famous videotape of Congressman Etheridge assailing the two students on a sidewalk in Washington, the NRCC staunchly denied it had any idea who the ‘tracker’ was.
 
In other words, the NRCC misled the press – which was a dunderheaded move. Which led to another problem: When Ellmers’ campaign learned what had actually happened, over the strenuous objections of the NRCC Political Director Brian Walsh and Executive Director Guy Harrison, it told the press the ‘tracker’ had worked for the NRCC – which was then reported in the News and Observer.
 
Ever since the NRCC has been unremittingly hostile to Renee Ellmers’ campaign. They planted stories in the press – quoting anonymous NRCC spokesmen – saying her campaign was incompetent and ‘not ready for primetime’ and that she was not ‘on their radar screen’ because she had no chance to win – which, of course, made it even harder for Ellmers to raise the money she needed to win.
 
In the fall, the NRCC poured money into other campaigns in North Carolina but never lifted a finger to help Ellmers. Then on election night every North Carolina candidate the NRCC helped lost and Ellmers won.
 
Today, Renee Ellmers leads Bob Etheridge by 1600 votes. A lead that in all likelihood will hold up. But, of course, Mrs. Ellmers can’t take anything for granted so she’s scrambling to raise $50,000 for the recount – but the NRCC still won’t lift a finger to help. (Mrs. Ellmers’ campaign has set up a special fund – Renee Ellmers for Congress Recount Fund – to pay for the recount. To contribute click here.)
 
Renee Ellmers has had a long, hard campaign but one thing is certain: She’s already had an education in Washington politics.
 

 

 

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04
Tom Fetzer stole the stage – literally – from Pat McCrory Tuesday night.
 
McCrory had what seemed like a prime spot: introducing Senator Burr for his victory speech.
 
But Fetzer was front and center in the photos and video of the bigger story: Republicans taking the legislature.
 
Fetzer is in prime position now to pick his spot. If not a race for governor, how about a new congressional seat?
 
And McCrory has to be looking over his back.

 

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03
That old warhorse Carter pulled off another one.
 
He’s had a history of guiding Republican Senate – and now congressional – candidates to unexpected victories: John East, Jesse Helms, Lauch Faircloth and, now, Renee Ellmers.
 
He’ll be the first to tell you that it was, first and foremost, the national tide.
 
But the Ellmers campaign succeeded where other challengers failed. Maybe because she’s a woman. Maybe because of Bob Etheridge’s health-care reform vote. Maybe because of Etheridge’s “who are you?” moment.
 
But Etheridge and his team ran a good campaign. I thought their ads were some of the best of the year.
 
So I give my blogging partner and old foe his due.

 

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03
As Carter said on a radio interview we did a couple of weeks ago, Tip O’Neill’s axiom – “all politics is local” – is dead.
 
Democrats vote Democratic – up and down the line. Republicans vote Republican. And Independents rarely split their tickets any more.
 
The dramatic turnover in the North Carolina legislature had nothing to do with North Carolina. Democrats here were collateral damage from the bunker buster that hit the White House.
 
The only survivors – not just here, but across the South – were the three Democratic congressmen who did the most to decouple themselves from Obama and Pelosi: Shuler, McIntyre and Kissell. Bob Etheridge, who apparently lost, voted for health care reform – and didn’t apologize for it.

 

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03
Face it: We got whacked.
 
The natural reactions are denial and rationalization: “We didn’t communicate well.” Or, “The voters just don’t get it.” Or, “Evil Big Money drowned us out.”
 
Wrong, wrong and wrong.
 
The American voters just didn’t like the dishes Democrats served up the last two years.
 
The signal this year was as clear as the signal in 2008 – and completely contrary.
 
Then, it was: We want more government to protect us.
 
Now, it is: We don’t want that much government.
 
Elections are won – and lost – in the middle. We lost the middle.

 

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02
Perhaps the essential truth about election days is their ambiguity. Today, of course, we Republicans are asking each other if the 2nd Coming, politically, is at hand. But even on Election Day the imponderables offer no answers.
 
Realizing how we humans hate ambiguity the cable TV networks have fed us a steady diet of pundits offering answers to calm us – answers that generally have more to do with the pundits’ political agendas than facts.
 
Here is one fact: Two years ago, President Obama won North Carolina due to a spectacular surge in African-American participation in the election. We Republicans have been telling ourselves that would not happen this year because President Obama is not on the ballot. But, early voting seems to negate our theory.
 
21.5% of all registered voters are African-American and 21.9% of the ‘early voters’ were African-Americans – which would seem to say there has been no real decline in African-American turnout. But, then, again, ambiguity sets in.
 
Hopeful Republicans argue these facts are misleading: They point out in 2008 African-Americans were a whopping 26.5% of the ‘early voters’ – so, the fact African-Americans are 21.9% of the ‘early voters’ this year may be a sign African-American turnout is dropping 4.6%.
 
But who knows?
 
Here is another fact: Unaffiliated voters are 22% of the registered voters; this year they were 17% of the early voters. Their turnout seems to have declined. But, then again, maybe not: Two years ago Unaffiliateds were 18% of the ‘early voters’ – so, maybe there’s no real change.
 
Republicans are 31.5% of the registered voters; two years ago they were 30% of the ‘early voters.’ This year they’re 36.5%. A Republican surge of 5 to 6.5 % points.
 
Democrats, by comparison, are 46.4% of the registered voters and were 46% of the early voters. That sounds flat but, then, two years ago Democrats were 51% of the ‘early voters’ – so maybe Democratic turnout is dropping.
 
What does all that jumble of numbers mean?
 
It means if the early voting trends hold true through tonight Republicans could be 6.5 points more of the electorate than two years ago. A big boost. Had that happened in 2008, instead of losing to Obama by an eyelash John McCain would have won North Carolina by 6%.
 
But will the Republican surge in early voting hold true through tonight? More ambiguities.
 
One last fact: Gridlock is written into the genetic code of American politics and government. And it was put there intentionally. To prevent any one person – or group of people – from getting enough power to do a great deal of damage. The Obama sweep two years ago overcame our government’s prosperity for gridlock. So, Republicans winning, say, the House of Representatives will at least restore a balance (and brake) on government that has been missing – and that is not a bad change at all.

 

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02
Lo and behold, Art Pope’s Civitas Institute did a poll that found that North Carolina voters agree with – wait for it, yes, Art Pope! – on who is to blame for the recession: government, not business, by 64-22.
 
But curb your enthusiasm. Look deeper.
 
Last week, the New York Times did a national poll that asked a similar question – but gave respondents more choices.
 
Asked, “Who do you think is mostly to blame for the current state of the nation’s economy,” respondents said:
 
The Bush Administration – 30 percent
 
“Wall Street and financial institutions” – 22 percent
 
Congress – 13 percent
 
The Obama Administration – 8 percent
 
Yes, more people blamed government. Combining the Bush and Obama administrations and Congress, government’s total was 51 percent.  But Bush got most of the blame, and Congress came in second. That’s quite an accomplishment for Bush, given how much people hate Congress.
 
And “Wall Street and financial institutions” – a much tighter target than “business” – was second on the blame list.
 
As always, be skeptical about sweeping claims based on ideologues’ polls.
 

 

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