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The debates are Donald Trump’s last chance to turn the race around.

No chance.

Trump can’t even win a debate with himself. This week he was on two sides of the Mexican border – and on two sides of the issue.

Clinton will cut him to pieces on national TV.

The New York Times had a revealing story on how the two candidates are prepping. The headline said it all: “Hillary Clinton Piles Up Research in Bid to Needle Donald Trump at First Debate”

Clinton, as you would expect, is going about it in an exacting and exhaustive way. She’s poring over research. She’s doing mock debates. Her team is studying all the Republican debates. They’re doing a psychological profile of Trump. They’re interviewing his ex-ghostwriter.

Trump, on the other hand, will tee it high and let it fly. He can’t be bothered with practice, prep or issues. He’s “more freewheeling than focused.” And he says he’ll just be himself.

Well, that should work out just fine.

Remember when Republicans mocked President Obama for using a teleprompter? Now they’re ecstatic when Trump relies on one. And he won’t have it here.

Asked who might be a stand-in for Hillary at his mock debate, Trump, suggested his daughter Ivanka: “Wouldn’t she be great at that?”

Now, you can overdo debate prep. Most every candidate does.

But if you’re the first male to debate a female Presidential candidate, you’d better be ready. The potential for disaster is big, and Trump’s potential for disaster is, as he would say, great.

Clinton is no newbie. She debated Rick Lazio in her 2000 Senate race, and shredded him. She repeatedly debated – and defeated – both President Obama and John Edwards in 2008. And she spent a full day embarrassing a House committee of loaded-for-bear Republican congressmen on national TV.

Trump did win the Republican debates. But look at the competition. Not one of them had the smarts or you-know-whats to stand up to him.

The multitude of candidates enabled him to get by with insults and one-liners. A 90-minute debate between two candidates answering dozen of questions will show there’s nothing to Trump but insults and one-liners.

One thing Trump makes clear: If Hillary hits him, he’ll hit back.

She’s counting on it.


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Rudy Giuliani said we should Google “Hillary Clinton Illness” and see what comes up. Well, let’s Google “Donald Trump Illness” and see what comes up.

Aha! Terms like “psychopath,” “Narcissistic Personality Disorder (an exaggerated sense of self-importance)” and – thanks to a TAPster – “sociopathic projection…in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others….(such as) accusing you of cheating, accusing you of being dishonest or lying….”

The Internet says Trump is nuts. So it must be true.

But Trump and Crazy Rudy are talking about Hillary Clinton’s physical health, strength and stamina. (After all, they know a woman can’t do the job of President.)

So let’s examine Trump’s physical health.

Here’s what we know. He’s clearly overweight, and he looks like he’s gaining weight. (Or his hands are getting smaller.) He brags that he eats mainly fast food, especially Big Macs and fries. He gets no exercise. He sleeps only three or four hours a night. And his only activity on the campaign trail is flying to a city, riding to the event, giving a speech, waving, shaking a few hands, then back to the car, back to the plane and home to Trump Tower. Maybe with a stop to pick up a couple of Big Macs.

Now, I’m almost as old as Trump. I can tell you this is no way for an old man to live. Yes, Bill Clinton loved Big Macs, too, but at least he jogged to McDonald’s. And now he’s a vegan.

We do have on record what MSNBC described as the “unintentionally hilarious, four-paragraph letter” from Trump’s doctor describing his health as “extraordinary” and his labs as “astonishingly excellent.” (No details provided.)

The letter added, “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

After some questioning, the good doctor retreated somewhat from that suspiciously Trump-like language. He admitted he wrote the letter in just five minutes while a limo waited downstairs to pick it up and that “some of those words didn’t come out exactly the way they were meant.”

Trump is 70, and Hillary Clinton is 68. Anybody who knows anything about men and women at this stage of life knows who is more likely to be watching their diet, exercising and seeing a real doctor. And who is likely to live the longest and stay the healthiest.

Trump says that if Hillary wins, the Second Amendment people might take care of things.

If he wins, the Big Macs might take care of things.


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Sean is Irish and Catholic and decades ago his great-grandfather was an immigrant; after he (Sean) graduated from Fordham and married and worked a stint in White Plains, New York, he moved to Raleigh where he now lives and earns $175,000 a year.

Sean doesn’t have one ideological bone in his body and partisan politics has only touched him once – as a word he checked on a form the day he registered to vote in Raleigh. He thought briefly of registering Republican but the culture of southern Republican politics seemed peculiar to him so he registered Independent.

He sees government as a boondoggle and the taxes he pays take money out of his pocket but, still, he’s amenable to paying the taxes when they support the schools his three children attend.

Last election he voted for Mitt Romney but this election he’s Undecided – he loathes Hillary; he saw politicians like her in New York. He’s never seen a politician like Trump but he’s seen plenty of wheeler-dealers playing every angle for a dollar so he loathes Trump too and trapped between those two loathings he’s not just Undecided he’s rock hard frozen in place Undecided and he’s got Republican strategists scratching their heads and wondering, What’s he going to do?

Is he going to stay home on Election Day? If he does that spells doom not just for Trump but for Republicans down ballot who need his vote.

Will he vote for a third party candidate like Gary Johnson? Or decide to vote but skip the Presidential election?

Both choices spell disaster for Trump but Sean’s votes for the Republicans further down the ballot could save them.

Could Trump find the magic to ease Sean’s loathing enough to win his vote? Can Hillary? Neither seems likely – but stranger things have happened.

Sean’s an archetype – there’re thousands of Seans trapped and frozen.

It’s the biggest mystery in politics: How will Sean the Independent with no ideology and no partisanship who voted for Romney, vote on Election Day?

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A reporter recently sent me a long list of detailed questions about how to tell if a political poll is reliable.

Things like margin of error, sample size, live vs. robocalls, question wording, question order, the pollsters’ track record, partisan affiliation, past performance, etc.

All good stuff. But face it, you’re not going to that much trouble.

So how do you know which polls to trust? Here’s my advice.

Don’t pay too much attention to individual polls. Or to small changes in the numbers, which the media too often treats as real changes in the race.

To wit: “Clinton was 7 points ahead in poll last week, and today she’s only 5 points ahead, so Trump is gaining!”

Not necessarily. That’s meaningless. All too often it creates a false narrative. Reporters and editors, after all, don’t want to keep writing the same story. They want news. There’s a reason it’s called “news.”

Look at big trends. And averages.

For example, Clinton has had a significant lead (in this polarized political environment, anything more than 2-3 points is significant) since the conventions. That hasn’t changed in a month.

Another example, where there has been a big change. Before Governor McCrory signed HB2, he was ahead in most every poll. Since then, he has been behind Roy Cooper in every poll. Sometimes by as much as 7 points.

It’s also big that Deborah Ross has gone from being behind in every poll to within a couple of points, up or down, with Richard Burr.

Watching the polls every day, or hour, is like watching the stock market every day, or hour. It’ll make you crazy.

Take them all in, but don’t take one or two blips up or down too seriously. Check in about once a week, say on Tuesdays, to get the big picture.

If you’re hopelessly addicted to the minutiae of polling, take a deep dive into the website FiveThirtyEight, especially Nate Silver’s analyses.


Posted in: General
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The Washington Post was roaring Trump’s ‘Mean, Scary and Hurtful’ and Fox News was crowing on its website the ‘Grand Dragon of the Klu Klux Klan’ has endorsed Hillary.

Another website was claiming ‘Hillary is Saul Alinsky’s Daughter’ (Conservative Review) and another was saying ‘Hillary’s mentor was a former Klan leader’ (they were talking about former Senator Robert Byrd).

Another reported ‘Trump has Russian Mob Ties’ and the Huffington Post reported ‘Trump was Sued for Child Rape.’

Ghoulish Trump,’ said Red State.

Greasy Hillary,’ said Breitbart.

And the most esteemed website of all – The New York Times – was saying, ‘Donald Trump gives sociopaths a bad name.

We live in the Information Age and the world’s at our fingertips with the click of a mouse – but look what it’s led to.

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Ten weeks out, the presidential election appears frozen in place. Absent an act of God or an incredibly boneheaded play by the Hillary Clinton campaign, she is going to win and Donald Trump is going to lose. Big.

Then things will really get interesting. More in a bit.

Trump is losing because of how he won the Republican nomination. He roused the racists and bigots. He galvanized angry white working-class men. And he shredded the Republican Establishment with insults.

His fans loved it. Most voters hated it. And he can’t change that now. A presidential candidate as well-known as he is with a 35 percent favorable rating isn’t going anywhere. Especially a candidate as undisciplined as Trump.

Clinton’s campaign has learned how to play him. Every time the news cycle turns bad for her, they call Trump “racist” or “dangerous” or “unfit for office” and – presto – he goes ballistic and says something racist, dangerous and unfit for office.

Since the conventions, the polling consensus shows her solidly ahead nationally and, more important, decisively ahead in the decisive states.

The big question now is what Republicans who hate Trump do. That will be the difference between a solid Clinton win and a landslide.

Then the question will be what happens after the election. Will Trump stay active and continue the Republican Civil War? Will Trump, Ailes and their alt-right allies make the next four or eight years even more bitter and brutal than the last eight?

Or will Hillary, who always has been more popular in office than running for office, have the political skill to build a center-left coalition that actually gets something done the next four or eight years?

Can the Ice Princess thaw her image and unfreeze our politics?


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Democrats who are nervously hoping for a good 2016 but afraid to believe it need to read “The Wave” from Stanley Greenberg at Democracy Corps.

His analysis:

“America is about to experience a once-in-a-lifetime earthquake of an election, but progressives do not seem to trust the new American majority and its ascendant values and thus, continue to be tactical, reactive, and fight old wars. As a result, they may miss the chance to create a governing majority after November 8th.

“Hillary Clinton is beginning to emerge with the kind of lead you would expect in a country where over 60 percent of the electorate will be racial minorities, single women, millennials, and seculars and where the positive sentiment about the Democratic Party is 9 points higher than for the Republicans.

“Progressives, pundits and the media are consumed with the pivotal role of angry white working class men when their vote share is declining every presidential election and will be only 18 percent of the electorate this year. When Clinton’s margin was only 3 points, their share of the electorate would have to jump to 25 percent to push the overall vote to parity….

“Today, I want progressives to embrace an economic narrative that seeks to ‘level the playing field,’ because that is key to motivating working class voters, white and minority, including women who are now a majority of the working class, not because of its appeal to Reagan Democrats.

“Because progressives did not trust the new American majority, they thought Donald Trump’s dark convention and speech was effective and waited for the polls to be sure. They thought Pennsylvania would be close, underestimating the new dynamics in the state. And their priority and strategy was to stop Trump in the Rust Belt states to stamp out any chance of Trump being elected.

“But Trump already lost this election before his disastrous last week, as only 6 percent of Clinton voters would even consider supporting Trump. The number of potential switchers in this election has shrunk to just a third of what it was in the last three presidential elections.

“This misplaced priority comes at the expense of efforts to produce the biggest possible wins in the elections for the U.S. Senate and House and state elections.

“Campaigns and media should be focused on this number: 38 percent. That is the percent of the vote that Trump is likely to win in this multi-party election, matching the vote share for George Bush in 1992 when he lost to Bill Clinton by 5 points. That 38 percent should concentrate the mind on what is the real opportunity for Republican votes and voters to disappear down the ballot.”

Based on this analysis, Greenberg sets out three tasks for Democrats this year:

  • Get Clinton voters to vote Democratic down-ballot
  • Get Trump voters to punish GOP establishment candidates
  • Fuel the Republican civil war and get moderates to vote Democratic.
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Last summer the Insiders looking on figured Donald Trump was going to crash and burn – but after Trump started winning primaries they moved in and after the first round of knife fighting Corey Lewbanowski was out and Paul Manafort was in charge.

Which should have been the end of the story; once an Insider has power no one can pry it out of his hands.

But Donald Trump’s nothing if not unorthodox so, after the Republican Convention, another round of knife fighting broke out and this time when the cutting was done Paul Manafort was out and Steve Bannon was in.

Bannon’s taken charge of the direst political mess any Republican has seen since Nixon burgled Watergate: Hillary’s on a roll. Trump’s in a ditch. Hillary’s got money. Trump doesn’t.  And to win Bannon’s got to find a way to prove electing a Twitter obsessed billionaire will Make America Great Again while electing Crooked but Predictable Hillary will ruin it.

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As I listened to Roy Cooper set a crowd of OBX Democrats to clapping and hollering Monday evening, a wise old political vet whispered what I was thinking: “He’s come a long way.”

A year or so ago, Democrats had doubts about Cooper. “He should have run before now.” “Does he really have the fire in the belly?” “He needs to be a better speaker.”

Today, 70-some days before the election, Cooper has answered all the doubts. He picked the right year to run, he definitely has the fire and he’s speaking with energy, passion and conviction.

Check, check and check.

In person, Cooper has the fit, lean look of a man ready to run a marathon. His campaign is just as disciplined.

His timing this year, as it has been throughout his career, is perfect. The old joke was that, after coming to the legislature in the 1980s, he’s been a rising star in four different decades. His obvious talent make him obviously touted for bigger things.

In 1994, he was pushed to run for Tim Valentine’s seat in Congress. Cooper passed because he had young children. Smart.

He picked the right office (AG) and the right year (2000) to run statewide. He passed on U.S. Senate races in 2002 and 2004, good Republican years. He passed on challenging Bev Perdue for Governor in 2008; Democrats were going to nominate a woman, period. And he knew better than to get in the race late in 2012.

Now is the right year to run for Governor.

Since Governor McCrory signed HB2, Cooper went from behind in every poll to ahead in every poll. He’s catching a wave with voters who don’t like the direction McCrory and the Republican legislature have taken us. He evokes the North Carolina rural roots and embraces its new urban character.

He has a good message, and he sings it well. He hits HB2, education, the environment and over-partisanship with quick, strong lines.

One example Monday: teacher pay. Republicans are twisting statistics to camouflage their record on teacher pay. Cooper avoided the mind-numbing numbers game. He told a story.

He told about a third-grade teacher who came to him in despair about not just pay, but the lack of respect from Raleigh. Cooper told her about his third-grade teacher and the difference she made in his life. He assured the teacher she was making a difference in her students’ lives.

And he told her, “Hold on, I’m coming.”

Indeed. Coming on strong.


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Richard Burr has his hands full.

For the first time since he went to Washington 22 years ago, he faces a double whammy: a strong opponent and a bad year for Republicans.

You can see his problem in the first ad for Deborah Ross. It tags Burr, sans socks, as the worst kind of Washington politician, one who makes Washington work for him but not for North Carolinians.

Most striking is how strong Ross is on TV. She comes across as tough, smart and likeable. That’s a powerful combination.

No wonder Burr is ducking debates.

A lot of Republicans – and Democrats – dismissed Ross because she worked for the ACLU. But that’s old thinking.

Ross can make the ACLU a plus, not a minus. Like Kizir Khan, she can whip out the Constitution and say, “This is what I fought for.”

North Carolina voters are more urban and college-educated today. They like an organization that protects individual liberties against government overreach. Millennials like it. Even Trump voters like it.

Burr was elected to the House in the 1994 anti-Clinton Newt Gingrich wave. He beat Erskine Bowles for the Senate in 2004, a good Republican year, and was reelected in the 2010 Tea Party wave, after Elaine Marshall was bled dry in the Democratic primary.

Even after two terms in the Senate, Burr is little known by voters. He made himself a lame duck by saying he won’t run again. Now, his boat is being dragged down at both ends, thanks to Trump and Pat McCrory. Polls show Ross even with him.

Conventional wisdom always misses wave elections, and conventional wisdom could be missing how strong Ross is this year.


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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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