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18
There’s fall in the air and, suddenly, there’s spring in the step of Democrats.
 
Part of it was last week’s elections, especially the prospect of capturing the Wake school board. Part of it is the natural joy Democrats feel when Obama pillories Republicans and big, bad bankers. Part of it is seeing Herman Cain rise to the top of the Republican polls, a possible portent of a GOP apocalypse.
 
Whatever it is, there’s growing optimism – or maybe just hope – among Democrats I talk to.
 
Obama’s swing through Western North Carolina was a pick-me-up. The takeaway: Voters still like Obama and still hope he’ll succeed, even if they’re not happy with his performance. A reminder: Never, never underestimate the power of being liked in politics.
 
Obama touched two Democratic strongholds: Asheville and Boone. Appalachian State University, Obama staffers tell me, produced more votes for him than any other campus in the state. He also went into hostile territory, Wilkes County, and got a boost from the school superintendent.
 
The leaves are turning in the High Country now.  And, just as the seasons turn, so does politics.

 

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18
Back in the old days hardly anyone noticed when a Governor took a stand. But times have changed. Just look at the newspaper headline: Perdue Announces She Will Take a Stand.
 
From there the process gets more puzzling.
 
Before she would announce whether she was for or against the Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage, the Governor said, she and her staff had to make calls to constituents – which sounds like she was testing the waters. But, then, in the next breath the Governor chirruped, Of course I’ve known all along where I stand… when I make decisions I do it because of who I am and what I believe.
 
It’s hard to figure out. Why didn’t she just say, I’m against the Constitutional Amendment – which is what she finally said a week later.
 

 

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17
First President Obama announced he was going to raise taxes on everyone making over $200,000 – then he fell victim to logic; Senator Charles Schumer did the math, looked at the numbers and to Schumer the message was clear: There are a lot more people making over $200,000 than there are people making over $1 million – so Schumer announced that folks making $200,000 aren’t rich, not by a long shot.
 
Schumer’s next step was even simpler: He amended Obama’s plan to only take taxes out of the hides of millionaires (to the tune of $50,000 per millionaire). The President recognized genius when he saw it. He could collect the same amount of tax money and make fewer people mad. So all that was left was for the President to say, Amen.
 

 

 

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17
The other morning after she finished reading the obituaries my wife turned to the front page of the newspaper and frowned then declared, That is ridiculous.
 
Buried in the sports page I muttered, What’s ridiculous?
 
John Edwards says he can’t be prosecuted because the government didn’t give him ‘fair warning’ he was violating the law.
 
Mind half-wandering, I said. You think that’s unreasonable?
 
She looked across the table at me over the rims of her reading glasses. You try driving down the highway going a hundred miles an hour then tell the highway patrolman that you can’t be prosecuted because the government didn’t give you fair warning.
 

 

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17
The Occupy Wall Street/Washington/Raleigh/etc. protests are a classic example of a political movement that the general public may agree with, at least on some level, but not find agreeable.
 
In politics, as in physics, every action generates a reaction. The Tea Party movement powered Republicans to victory in 2010, but may drag them to defeat in 2012. See this year’s Wake school board elections.
 
Middle America is mad – at big government and big business. But Middle America is put off by extremists – on both sides.
 
The risk with the Occupy movement is even greater than with the Tea Party. Simple reason: age and appearance. Tea Partiers look like Middle America – middle-aged with spreading middles. The Occupy protesters, younger and hairier, run the risk of looking like anarchists and Europeans.
 
It’s like the Vietnam era. Many Americans didn’t like the war, but they liked the protesters even less.
 
Democratic politicians who cozy up to the Occupy protests run the same risks as the Republicans who got too close to the Tea Party – and now can’t escape.

 

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14
Direct mail is the Ninja assassin of politics. “An icepick to the forehead,” it was called by Dave Gold, who did our direct mail when Jim Hunt beat Jim Gardner in 1992.
 
That year, we targeted 100,000 swing voters statewide. And bombarded them with a series of mailings about Gardner’s checkered business record. By the end of the campaign, one man in a focus group said: “He’ll be lucky if he doesn’t go to jail.”
 
That’s why direct mail was – and again will be – the weapon of choice in the Wake school board race.
 
It’s deadly because it’s the ideal means of communicating negative information about an opponent. For example, that Kevin Hill supports “busing for quotas” (as John Tedesco charged on TV Tuesday night) and that Heather Losurdo is a tool of the Tea Party.
 
It’s silent because it’s carefully targeted. Compared to radio and TV ads, which everybody sees, there’s less chance of blowback.
 
Best of all, given the explosion of independent campaigns, candidates get the best of both worlds. They can decry negative attacks – and benefit from them.
 
Ain’t politics great?

 

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13
There is delicious irony in the juxtaposition of the New Yorker story about Art (“I am not an heir”) Pope and Tuesday’s election.
 
The New Yorker critique of Pope is that he spent a lot of his money to support tough, negative, independent campaign attacks on Democrats – which helped Republicans win control of the legislature last year.
 
Democrats interviewed professed to be appalled.  (See my October 4 blog “Stop Whining”.)
 
In the Wake school board elections this week, well-heeled Democrats spent a lot of their money to support tough, negative, independent campaign attacks on Republicans – which came within a hair of helping Democrats win control of the board.
 
Public Policy Polling, which guided much of the Democratic effort, did an analysis touting its winning strategy: “relentlessly hammering GOP candidates for their ties to an increasingly unpopular movement.”
 
PPP says Democrats won “by running against the Tea Party. It’s a model Democratic candidates across the country should consider following in 2012.”
  
My earlier blog advised Democrats to stop whining, get to work and find their Art Pope. They apparently have.
 
In the meantime, let’s not get too high and mighty about Pope’s political sins.

 

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12
There’s been an outbreak of populism on – of all places on earth – Wall Street. It started when a hardy band of protesters camped out in a small park near the Stock Exchange, waving anti-Obama, anti-Republican, anti-Democrat and anti-Wall Street greed signs. For a while no one paid attention. Then, suddenly, the protesters became celebrities. And there were a lot more protesters. Then the unions jumped into the fray proclaiming the Occupy Wall Street protesters were their answer to the Tea Party – which provoked the Republicans in Congress into denouncing the protesters as wild-eyed radicals and levelers.
 
From there different groups of politicians set about trying to provoke a war between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. Darkness descended. Chaos reigned. Then Professor Michael Munger, former Chairman of the Duke Political Science Department, posted a link to a chart and a blog on the Internet that said, “Occupy Wall Street, at its core, is a reaction to the increasing power and influence of corporations. The Tea Party, at its core, is a reaction to the government’s constant interference with free enterprise. But…the greatest threat to our economy is neither corporations nor the government. The greatest threat to our economy is both of them working together.”
 

 

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12
A TAPster sees a factor in Tuesday’s elections apart from the party angle:
 
“There’s an important lesson tucked in the outcome of Raleigh’s school board election Tuesday when voters kicked out the divisive school board chairman.
 
“It’s not a lesson about Democrats vs. Republicans, even though the N&O and its political pundit Rob Christensen are chirping today that Democrats came together to reclaim control of the school board.
 
“What we saw Tuesday in a local race could be a prelude to state and national elections when voters believe politicians of either party have strayed too far from the middle. Voters want their politicians to think like them, and want policies enacted that reflect their beliefs. It was actually refreshing to see voters in Raleigh reject extremism and polarization in an election that highlights how a restless populace feels towards politicos who are pandering to the fringe elements of their parties.
 
“So, the lesson to politicians: you’d better understand where the voters are. The crazies may be noisy but, in North Carolina, voters live in the political middle where they simply want good schools, reasonable taxes, responsible government and to be left the hell alone.
 
“Any politician who doesn’t understand this should look at the N&O’s photo today of a distraught Ron Margiotta learning his fate on election night.
 
“If you still don’t get it, a photo of your distraught face on election night is next.”
 

 

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12
It was a rout. Democrats were fired up and ready to go.
 
They were mad about more than the school board. They were mad about the 2010 elections, the Republican legislature, the Tea Party, even Art (“I am not an heir”) Pope.
 
Incidentally, Tuesday’s results show that Pope’s power was exaggerated by the New Yorker. Control North Carolina? He doesn’t even control his home town and county.
 
How strong was the tide? Strong enough to drown Billie Redmond – well-liked, well-connected and well-financed – by more than 2-to-1.
 
Strong enough to sweep in more taxes, spending and borrowing in the worst possible economic environment.
 
Strong enough to overcome Republican gerrymandering, unseat Ron Margiotta and come within a few votes of taking control of the school board.
 
Make no mistake: It was a partisan victory. Democrats put in the money, put professional organizers to work and used their polling to settle on a clear, consistent message: stop the Tea Party.
 
In 2010, Republican voters were motivated. In this election, it was Democrats. Next year, both will be fired up and ready to go.
 
It will be a hell of a battle. And Raleigh, Wake County and North Carolina will be ground zero.

 

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