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Entries for April 2012

30
Most of time, you can tell what a campaign is thinking by watching what it does. Sometimes, what a campaign does makes you wonder what – or if – they’re thinking. So it is with Bill Faison’s campaign for governor.
 
Some weeks ago, the buzz was that Faison was going to pump a half-million dollars-plus of his own money into TV ads. But the blitz never came.
 
This weekend, driving on U.S. 64 east of Raleigh, I saw a lot of Faison for Governor signs.
 
A campaign that puts signs by the road but no ads on TV has its priorities wrong.
 
See Public Policy Polling: “Dalton now leads by 10 in NC Democratic Gov primary.”

 

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30
Walter Dalton, Bob Etheridge and Bill Faison are slugging it out in the Democratic Primary and the prospect of one of them emerging flat broke after the election and facing Pat McCrory (who’s sitting on $3 million) in the fall has Republicans feeling warm all over about winning the Governor’s race for the first time in two decades.
 
But the Democrats are not in as bad a shape as it seems at first glance – after all, there’re still three quarters of a million more Democrats than Republicans in North Carolina and either Dalton or Etheridge or Faison is going to suit most of them just fine and it’s a safe bet as soon as the primary’s over those Democrats are going to unite into a phalanx and we’re going to be looking at one close Governor’s race.
 
And another mysterious piece of ephemera is going to change too.
 
Pat McCrory spent a year running against Bev Perdue who has been so unpopular McCrory just naturally looked a little larger and better than life. Since Perdue exited the stage Dalton and Etheridge and Faison have been fighting with each other, so for the last three months McCrory’s been running against no one at all which is another good way to look larger than life.
 
But once the primary’s over folks are going to start looking at Pat McCrory and comparing him to Walter Dalton (or whoever) and then that ephemeral bit of key chemistry is going to change. 
 
In a way, what’s about to happen to McCrory is like what has happened to Barack Obama over the past year – only in reverse.
 
A year ago Obama was running against no one and since a lot had gone wrong on his watch people were looking at Obama and imagining a faceless alternative and the alternative looked pretty good and Obama’s chances of reelection looked pretty bleak.
 
But now Obama’s opponent has a face and folks are looking at Obama and Mitt Romney side by side and comparing them and Obama doesn’t look quite so bad because Mitt Romney has clay feet too.
 
The same thing’s about to happen to Pat McCrory only the other way around – because McCrory, unlike Obama, is popular and being popular and not running against anyone just naturally makes a fellow look better than he really is – until people start comparing him to another fellow and then, well, he just naturally doesn’t look like quite such a tower of strength.
 
Of course, if you had a choice you’d rather be in Pat McCrory’s shoes than Walter Dalton’s (or whoever’s) because $3 million is a lot of money, but, still, 750,000 more Democrats than Republicans is a lot of votes too.
 

 

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30
Since their 2010 debacle, Democrats have muttered about an “iron triangle” they believe helped do them in: politically motivated prosecutions, relentless Republican pressure for the investigations and tough media scrutiny. Some even saw a coordinated conspiracy.
 
So don’t be surprised if they look for payback in the Charles Thomas/lobbyist affair. They want investigations – and testimony under oath – to answer some questions:
 
Did either Thomas or the lobbyist break any laws?
 
Did Speaker Tillis know about the relationship?
 
The N&O quoted Thomas as saying that “every day” in Raleigh there are “trade offs:” lobbyists buy drinks or dinner, “with the idea that it will be made up later.” Presumably, the staffer or legislator pays the next time.
 
“Really?” said one Democratic lawyer. “That is against the law. Let’s hear more about this practice.”

 

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29
Every now and then during the closing days of an election a candidate defines his campaign with one line. Paul Coble did that in the News and Observer this morning. By attacking George Holding for prosecuting Mike Easley and John Edwards.
 
Last week, Paul Coble attacked George Holding for working for Senator Jesse Helms in Washington. This week, Paul Coble’s attacking George Holding for prosecuting Mike Easley and John Edwards.
 
Trailing in the polls, and desperate, this morning Paul Coble’s campaign began falling apart in front of our eyes. Over the next week Coble’s latest attack on George Holding will be the most important issue in his campaign.
 

 

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27
I’ve seen candidates say some bizarre things when their campaigns fall apart – but this one has to take the cake. Paul Coble’s actually slamming George Holding for prosecuting Mike Easley and John Edwards – and saying those prosecutions were a waste of taxpayers money. We just entered the twilight zone. Paul’s poll numbers have slipped. And we’re watching his campaign come unglued in front of our eyes.
 
 

 

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27
Following is Justin’s response to my blog (see below) about his N&O op-ed:
 
“Thanks for taking an interest in my op-ed. Here is my take on your questions:
 
“First, I disagree that progressive politics are not business friendly. The current Republican leadership has taken us so far to the right that we need a shift to the left just to keep from scaring off business. Look at all the CEOs speaking out against Amendment One recently. Education, in particular our universities, is another example of progressive policy that is also business friendly.
 
“Second, my critique is not of the progressive/business coalition, age or even ideology. It's about a lack of vision. For too long, Democrats have been too worried about the next election to stand for anything big and bold. That formula isn't working.
 
“McCrory is up in the polls by double digits and it looks like the GOP will control the legislature for the next decade. North Carolina Democrats need to do something different, because what they are doing right now isn't working. That a Chicago politician named Barack Obama is leading polls in North Carolina, while our local Democratic candidates for Governor are losing is very telling. That said, the Democratic nominee will have time to confound expectations.
 
“Age does play a role in my critique, because young people naturally have a longer-term view of the challenges we face and are more willing to take chances. But there are plenty of politicians who think that way in their 40s, 50s or 60s. I cited tax modernization in the op-ed. That's not particularly liberal or conservative, but it is a long-term solution to a big problem. North Carolina Democrats would be better served giving some new blood a chance, regardless of their age."

 

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27
It certainly didn’t take the Republicans long to pick up where Jim Black left off.
 
Democrats can have a field day: “The Speaker’s chief of staff, roommate and best friend had a romantic relationship with a lobbyist who had legislation before the House.”
 
They can ask: “What did the Speaker know and when did he know it?”
 
The chairman of the Democratic Party should hold a news conference today and…
 
Oh, that’s right. Never mind.

 

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26
Justin Guillory’s op-ed in the N&O – “Embrace the future, North Carolina Democrats” – struck a theme you hear a lot these days from young Democrats:
 
The major upheaval in the Democratic ranks provides a unique window of opportunity for the party to turn over a new page and choose its next generation of leadership….
 
“Democrats need a fresh start in the midst of an unfamiliar political landscape. Today’s Democrats seem stuck in a rut. The same old politicians, with the same old ideas and the same old politics. Politically, it’s got them in a bind and they need to break out.”
 
Having been younger once, I agree. A party always needs new leaders and new ideas. Being older now, I have couple of questions:
 
First, is he talking about the candidates for Governor? Certainly, they don’t seem to excite him.
 
Second, is the goal just younger faces? Or an ideological shift – to the left?
 
There’s a different critique I hear from other Democrats – generally, older Democrats. They’re afraid the party is going to lurch left. And become anti-business.
 
They believe the party’s success for decades was built on a coalition of progressive activists and moderate business leaders. Yes, it was sometimes uncomfortable. But it won elections, and it led to, as Guillory acknowledges, “big thoughts and bold action.”
 
What divides Democrats today isn’t so much age as disagreement over this question: Is the old formula still right, or is there a new, winning formula that entails moving left, moving away from business and energizing new voters?

 

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26
Whoever wakes up May 9 as the Democratic nominee for governor will immediately face an insurmountable obstacle.
 
Pat McCrory is sitting on $3.1 million, John Franks reports in Dome. That’s precisely $3.1 million more than the Democratic nominee will have that day.
 
It will be impossible to make up the gap.
 
Now, in politics the candidate with the most money doesn’t always win. Maybe only nine times out of 10, I would guess.
 
We see again how Governor Perdue’s late decision not to run – and the candidates’ late start – put Democrats in a hole they may not be able to dig out of.

 

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25
The all-but-certain presidential nominee emerges from his party’s primaries bruised and bloodied. He was mocked relentlessly as a flip-flopper and a panderer, a career politician with no inner core, a former governor with little to brag about. The brutal march to the nomination drove his favorability ratings into the ground.
 
He faces an incumbent President with real advantages: solid accomplishments in foreign affairs, a likeable personality and an experienced, ruthless campaign team. A bad economy dogs him, but his advisers are confident they can make the opponent an unacceptable alternative.
 
That’s the story today – and 20 years ago. It’s what Bill Clinton faced at this same point in 1992. In November, he soundly beat President George H.W. Bush.
 
The Clinton model demonstrates the opportunity – and the problem – Mitt Romney faces.
 
Clinton had the political smarts to see his problems honestly – and confront them. His campaign launched “the Manhattan Project.” It was an intensive effort to explore – through polls and focus groups – what people thought of him and what they knew and didn’t know about him.
 
Team Clinton learned a simple lesson: They needed to fill in the public’s picture of Clinton. He was seen as nothing more than a politician, one who hadn’t been the best husband. That didn’t surprise the campaign. The surprise was that the public also thought of Clinton as a rich son of privilege whose path to power was smooth and foreordained.
 
That’s when the campaign started to tell the story of “the Man From Hope” – the poor boy whose father died, who took care of his mother and brother, who worked hard to get an education and make something of himself. By the time of the Democratic convention, the public had met another Bill Clinton altogether.
 
That is the challenge for Romney today: reintroducing himself to the American public as a real person, not the cardboard caricature.
 
But Romney has a problem – actually, two problems. At his core, he is two things: a ruthlessly successful businessman and a devout Mormon.
 
First, how does he tout his business success without opening himself up to a devastating counterpunch: the people he laid off and the companies he loaded up with debt?
 
Second, how does he tell about the central – and admirable – role that his religious faith has played in his life without scaring the willies out of people, including a lot of Republicans, who are leery of the Mormon Church?
 
If Romney can’t paint a new picture in the public eye, he’ll never be President.

 

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