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15
More telling than Kay Hagan’s overall lead in the polls may be her overwhelming lead with women.
 
According to a Rasmussen Poll last week, Hagan leads Thom Tillis by six points, 45-39. But then it gets confusing. The poll said Hagan leads among women by 21 points, while Tillis leads among men by nine points.
 
Say again? If the vote splits 50-50 between men and women, and Hagan leads with women by 21 and trails by men by nine, isn’t she then ahead by 12?
 
Unless Rasmussen assumes that a whole lot more men will vote than women.
 
If that assumption is wrong, and if women turn out heavily, Tillis is – as the fellow Down East once said – “Toast. T-O-S-T, toast.”

 

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11
Back in 1939 (when a varmint was on the loose) there was hardly a mother, father or wife around who felt enough fear or saw any good reason to send their sons or husbands to Europe to fight what looked like a modern version of the bubonic plague – which left Franklin Roosevelt facing a knotty problem.
 
Because sooner or later the varmint was going to land on our doorstep fully armed with German tanks and dive bombers – so Roosevelt had to get all those mothers, fathers and wives scared enough or angry enough to stop saying, It’s none of our business, and start saying, We don’t have any choices left – we have to fight.  
 
It was a tall order: Roosevelt had to turning a slumbering and naturally divided Democracy into a single-minded juggernaut that figured no one was safe with a fellow on the loose who didn’t think twice about shooting anyone that looked at him crossways.
 
So, as Hitler crushed France and bombed London and rolled toward Moscow, as each blow fell Roosevelt nudged and poked and prodded using each crisis to build the fear and unity to whip the varmint.
 
Then, in 1941, Roosevelt cut off oil to the Japanese – which mattered back then because the Japanese got most of their fuel from American oil companies. Then the Japanese decided to bomb Pearl Harbor to sink our fleet so they could sail South to capture the Dutch oil fields in Indonesia and, by sunset on December 7th, Roosevelt had a united (and white-hot angry) nation on his hands.
 
Today there is a varmint on the loose over in Syria and Iraq beheading Americans (and Kurds and Syrians) and posting videos on the Internet (which even Hitler didn’t do in the newsreels of his day) and sooner or later this varmint’s going to land on our doorstep too.
 
It’s a hard fact: We’re no more united – or ready to fight any kind of real war – than we were in 1939. But it’s also a fact there’re crazy folks on the loose who have a mean streak a mile wide.
 
So – instead of saying ‘stay calm, don’t worry, the world’s always been a messy place’ and promising he can serve up a painless victory without ‘putting a single boot on the ground’ – maybe the President ought to start poking and prodding to open people’s eyes to the threat so we can whip the varmint and get it over with.

 

 

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11
A shadowy terrorist group with Dark Ages savagery and Digital Age media savvy beheads two journalists and posts a video. So – 13 years to the day after 9/11 – we’re off to war!
 
Talking TV heads spin us into a frenzy. Democratic and Republican politicians race to the cameras to out-hawk each other. John McCain and Lindsay Graham talk tough. Old Reliable Dick Cheney warns us that we’d better get back to his war that worked so well over the last decade. Rick Perry sees hooded jihadists filtering in over the Mexican border. Michelle Bachman says it’s the most dangerous thing in the world since Hitler and the Blitzkreig.
 
President (“Don’t do stupid stuff”) Obama keeps his customary cool. No doubt it’s the perspective that comes from viewing the globe from an 18-hole golf course. Yes, he says, ISIL – or ISIS or the Islamic State (why can’t somebody decide?) – is a threat to the Mideast. But not, he quickly adds, to the homeland.
 
But it’s bad enough, apparently, that lions and lambs are prepared to, if not lie down together, mount up together. Us and Iraq and Iran and the Sunnis and Shiites. Maybe Saudi Arab will even use some of the military hardware that we give them when our local police don’t want it. We’re even getting the old band together, that great Coalition of the Willing that marched into Iraq with us to rid the world of Sadaam’s WMDs.
 
Since the video beheadings were viewed by millions (not including me), public opinion in America has swung sharply. No boots on the ground, of course. We want a video-game war where we push a few buttons, blow up the bad guys and get home in time for dinner.
 
Apparently, we make all our big decisions today based on video replay – whether it’s a war, a touchdown or the criminality of a running back assaulting his wife in an elevator (as if you needed a second clip for that call).
 
We don’t have time to study the thing – and ponder what happens next. Just watch the clip, feel the requisite revulsion, and drop the bombs. Not to worry, everything will work out fine this time. Have the talking heads ever been wrong?

 

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09
When it comes to teacher pay, Republicans must feel like they’re pushing a truck up a hill with a rope.
 
Thom Tillis claims the legislature passed a 7 percent pay raise. Then Governor McCrory sends teachers a letter telling them it’s a 5.5 percent average pay raise. Then teachers like Michelle Pettey in Wake County get the paycheck and see a raise of only 1.39 percent. (A tip of the TAP hat to Mark Binker at WRAL for this story.)
 
Republicans have been scrambling this year to get out of the hole they dug with teachers since 2010. They’ve pushed the 7 percent claim hard. But if teachers like Pettey look at their paychecks and decide they’re being conned, the hole is going to get a lot deeper.
 
Will Tillis then tell teachers, like he told Senator Hagan, that they just don’t understand simple math?

 

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08
A TAPster unimpressed by the Hagan-Tillis debate says, “If you want to see a real debate, watch Jim Hunt debate Jesse Helms in 1984. That was like Ali and Frazier.”
 
Ah, take me back to those thrilling days 30 years ago. Here’s a link so you can watch two heavyweight champs. (This is the first debate, which I liked best because Hunt did best in it.)
 
Hunt caught Helms flat-footed. Carter said later the Helms campaign underestimated Hunt. They thought he would be a pushover. And Helms didn’t want to look mean. Hunt started punching Helms in the nose in the first minute and never let up.
 
In three later debates, Helms gave as good as he got. Watching clips now, I’m reminded how smart and tough they both were – and how much they truly disliked each other. I’m reminded of the tension in the rooms where just the TV crew and a few staff members were allowed. I remember thinking: I’m glad I’m not the one who has to stand up there.
 
Carter and I first met negotiating the rules of the debates. We were the junior partners in the room; Tom Ellis represented Helms and Phil Carlton, Hunt. We met under the auspices of the N.C. Broadcasters Association.
 
Our meetings started in a climate of mutual hostility and suspicion. But after a couple of sessions, an odd dynamic emerged. The two campaigns realized that we were more in tune with each other than with the broadcasters on the format we wanted. So we asked the broadcasters’ representatives to step out of the room. We quickly settled on a format that let the two men go at each other freely without a lot of rules, time limits and moderator-posturing. We told the broadcasters: take it or leave it. They weren’t happy, but they took it.
 
Hunt prepared like a boxer in training. He went through sparring sessions with Harrison Hickman, a native North Carolinian with an uncanny ability to ape Helms’ voice and style. Hunt had some rough spots during the prep, but he worked hard and did his homework, as always. He was ready when the debates began July 29, 1984.
 
After four debates, the candidates, their campaigns and the voters were worn out. But nobody could say we didn’t give them their money’s worth.

 

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05
Candidates and their advisers spend a lot of time during debate prep thinking about how to address their opponent, so it was no happenstance that Tillis called Hagan “Kay” and she called him “Speaker Tillis.”
 
Tillis didn’t want to give her the benefit of incumbency, so he took the risk of looking sexist and offending women voters, as Laura Leslie noted on WRAL.
 
Senator Hagan wasn’t being “respectful,” as her partisans suggested. She wanted to tie Tillis as closely as possible to the legislature and what it did on education. Tillis knows he has that problem, so he and the Republicans are pushing back as hard as they can on teacher pay raises. But they’re not getting any reinforcement from teachers.
 
Reporters and viewers clearly were frustrated by all the canned lines and talking points, but what the candidates said still tells a revealing story about the hidden forces behind this election.
 
In other Senate races across the country, President Obama’s ever-falling job ratings are hurting Democrats. But in North Carolina, Senator Hagan has an even more unpopular villain to attack (hard as that is to imagine). That’s the legislature, and that’s why he’s “Speaker Tillis.”

 

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04
The Senate race is all about sex. It is Supportive Mommy against Stern Daddy.
 
And the debate may make me amend my rule about how the most comfortable, confident and commanding person in the room always wins: Except when it’s a man against a woman and his “commanding” slips over into “condescending.”
 
Thom Tillis stood for the over-50 white male view of the world: It’s a tough place. I made it and so can you. Put on your big boy pants, get to work and don’t expect any damn handouts.
 
Kay Hagan replied: It is a tough world, big boy, but it’s a lot tougher than when you came up. And sometimes people need a hand.
 
He said: Business will do the right thing and solve our problems if government gets out of the way.
 
She said: Business is great, but it won’t always do the right thing, and that’s why we need government.
 
But what they said wasn’t the story. That was canned, rehearsed and predictable, as all the recaps noted. The story was how Tillis said it, calling her “Kay,” as in, “Kay’s math just doesn’t add up” and “she obviously didn’t read the budget.”
 
How many women thought: “It hate it when men talk to me that way”?
 
These psychological undertones make it hard for the media and pundits to deliver an instant analysis of a debate’s impact. People writing and talking on deadline focus on facts, substance and talking points. It’s hard – and it’s tricky – to gauge emotional reactions. Those take days to take hold in a campaign.
 
You can’t analyze the debate – or the race – without looking through the lens of the fundamental social, cultural and political divide in America today. Republicans target of old white men who are angry about the way things are going. Democrats target women and young men who are angry at the old white men.
 
The old white men took over in 2010. Now there’s a reaction building. The old white men are outnumbered, and their days are numbered. 

 

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03
Several reporters have called to explore “what’s at stake” in tonight’s U.S. Senate debate and “what Hagan and Tillis have to do.”
 
Well, the answer is a lot simpler than we make it sometimes in politics.
 
The media will bravely try to focus on substance and whether either candidate “said something new.” (The candidates and their respective camps certainly hope not.)
 
The partisans will see what they want to see, unless their own candidate either shines or stumbles. And you can always tell, not matter how brave the front.
 
A lot of the back-and-forth tonight will go over most viewers’ heads. Experienced legislators like Tillis and Hagan especially have a bad habit of lapsing into mind-numbing policy and process talk.
 
Here are the two best ways to judge who won and who lost.
 
First, make it a drinking game (two or more participants required): One takes a drink every time Tillis talks about Obama. The other takes a drink every time Hagan talks about the legislature’s cuts to education. Whoever ends up drunkest, that candidate won. (You can also do this by yourself, taking a drink each time each candidate scores. This will ensure you don’t remember a thing from the debate.)
 
The second way: Turn off the sound and just watch. See if one candidate or the other looks more confident, comfortable and in command. That is the winner.

 

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01
A sharp-eyed TAPster thinks that Thom Tillis is stretching the truth (again) on his biography.
 
The TAPster notes that Tillis says in his new “Kitchen” ad: “I’ve been a paperboy, a short order cook, a warehouse clerk and eventually a partner at IBM.”
 
“Freeze it!” as Dick Vitale would say. The TAPster protests: “IBM doesn’t have ‘partners’.”
 
According to his bio on the Speaker’s Office website, “Thom was an executive with IBM Corporation where he led a management consulting practice focused on the financial services industry. Prior to joining IBM in 2002, Thom was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world’s largest accounting and management consulting firms.”
 
Partner, executive, who cares? Well, earlier, Tillis got caught saying he graduated from the “University of Maryland.” It turned out that he received a bachelor’s degree in 1997 from University of Maryland University College, “an accredited, distance-learning institution affiliated with the state’s university system.”
 
Maybe this is a difference without a distinction. But Tillis doesn’t need to get flagged again for being offsides on his own bio.

 

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29
WRAL’s Mark Binker says the claim that Senator Kay Hagan votes with President Obama 95 percent of the time is “something of karmic payback for Hagan, who benefited from a similar claim leveled against then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2008.”
 
There is a little-noted back story to the Dole ad: It wasn’t really about voting percentages. It was about age. And it was a devastatingly clever attack on Dole.
 
At the time, serious-minded fact-checkers focused on whether the ad, sponsored by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was correct when it said Dole ranked 93rd in effectiveness in the Senate and voted with George Bush 92 percent of the time.
 
But watch the ad (it’s in Binker’s story) and listen to the two old codgers rocking on the porch. One says, “I’m telling you, Liddy Dole is 93.” The other replies, “I heard she’s 92.” At the end, one asks, “What happened to the Liddy Dole we knew?” The other says, “She’s just not a go-getter like you and me.”
 
The subtle but powerful message: Liddy Dole is too old. Her time has passed.
 
Now, a direct hit on her age (she was 72 in 2008) would have backfired. But the sly hit worked.
 
So don’t expect the 95 percent hit on Hagan by Tillis’ campaign to work like the 2008 ad did. For one thing, voters suspect – as Binker’s fact check shows – that the 95 percent includes a lot of minor votes.
 
Hagan and her allies have run a brilliant campaign so far. They’ve portrayed her as a moderate (“just right, just like North Carolina”) and they’ve painted Thom Tillis into a box with an unpopular legislature in Raleigh.
 
This attack won’t change that.

 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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