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Earlier this week, I blogged about the President’s speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner – and his accomplishments in office. Also this weekend, an article in Sunday’s The New York Times Magazine brought to mind the striking contrast between Obama and the Republicans in Congress.

In September 2008, less than two months before the presidential election, the American financial system nearly collapsed. Both Obama and John McCain were called to an emergency meeting at the White House. There, President Bush and his economic advisers pled for bipartisan support for a rescue program.

The one person who responded was Obama. He didn’t have to. He could have washed his hands, walked away, said “It’s your problem” and reaped the election rewards.

That’s what FDR did. Even after winning the election, he refused to work with President Hoover. He stayed silent until he was inaugurated, which was in March in those days. Meanwhile, the nation’s economy plummeted. FDR came in, took command and became a hero.

But Obama stepped up. He did the right thing and the bipartisan thing. He helped pass President Bush’s plan. And his reward? Right after Election Day, Mitch McConnell told Republicans their mission was to make Obama a one-term President and refuse to cooperate with him in any way. That’s been the GOP playbook for eight years – gridlock, deadlock and obstructionism seasoned with birtherism and, from some corners, sheer racism.

History will show that no President has achieved more in the face of less cooperation and more hatred than Obama.

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For one reason or another I haven’t blogged in awhile so I’m going to make it all up in one fell swoop by writing about the campaign that’s been keeping me busy.

Back in early March, when the two candidates in the 2nd District were George Holding and Renee Ellmers, George’s campaign took a poll.

He had a ten point lead over Ellmers with 25% of the voters undecided. The race wasn’t a shoo-in. Renee was going to do plenty to try to change those numbers and she had plenty of money – more than George. But George only needed 40% of the undecided vote to win and it looked like he could get a lot more, plus part of Renee’s vote.

In addition, in a primary where three-fourths of the voters are Conservatives (with 25% calling themselves Somewhat Conservative and 50% Very Conservative), Renee Ellmers was left of center: 52% of the voters viewed her as either a Moderate or a Liberal while 20% viewed her as ‘Somewhat’ Conservative. Hardly a soul saw her as Very Conservative.

Voters did see George Holding as a Conservative. Very few voters viewed him as a Moderate and none mistook him for a Liberal. But he did have a problem: Among the 40% of the voters who understood George’s conservative record he led by 20 points. But half the voters didn’t know of his record. And weren’t certain of his ideology. They needed more information. And that became an immediate campaign goal: To tell voters about George Holding’s record.  

The same problem cropped up over and over in the poll, in other ways. Voters knew plenty, a lot of it negative, about Renee Ellmers. But they needed more information about George Holding.

Holding had a Favorable of 40% and an Unfavorable of 5%. Hardly anyone was Unfavorable to him. But, again, half the voters didn’t have an opinion. Increasing the number of voters who are Favorable to George matters a lot.

Ellmers had a problem of her own: While she was better known she was also a lot more unpopular than Holding. Her Favorables were around 40%, roughly the same as Holdings. But her Unfavorables – at 30% — were abnormally high for a Republican elected official running in a Republican Primary.

As campaigns go, the poll gave us a clear picture of the race. But that was about to change because, as soon as he lost his Primary to Richard Burr on March 15th, perennial candidate Greg Brannon dove into the race for Congress in the 2nd District.

That meant a new poll – and when it was done it showed a different picture.

After heavily courting Tea Party voters in his two Senate Primaries, Brannon had a following. With a Favorable of 30% he was less known than either Ellmers or Holding but to the extent he was known and liked it was by Very Conservative voters. The same people who were likely to vote for Holding.

How Brannon’s entry changed the race was simple: He split the Conservative vote, particularly among the Very Conservative and Tea Party voters (about 10% of the voters describe themselves as Tea Partyers). He trailed both Holding and Ellmers. But by splitting Conservatives he hurt Holding and helped Ellmers.

Brannon turned the campaign into a horse race with Holding and Ellmers neck and neck with around 25% of the vote each and Brannon trailing, running below 20%. It didn’t appear likely Brannon could win. But he could make it a lot more difficult for Holding to win.

On the fundraising side of the ledger, before the new districts were drawn, Ellmers had a cash-on-hand advantage over Holding. But, by late April, Holding had closed the gap. He outraised Ellmers in March and pulled even with each candidate having a little over $500,000 in the bank. By comparison, Brannon had little money and bills left to pay from his Senate race against Richard Burr.

The fundraising battle had evened up. But suddenly Holding, unlike Ellmers, had two problems to deal with: He had to run one campaign against Ellmers, who was the bigger problem. But he also had to run a campaign against Brannon to stop him from helping Ellmers by splitting the Conservative vote.   

In each of his previous races against Thom Tillis or Richard Burr, Brannon had failed to build a competitive campaign. He barely ran any real TV or radio ads in either race. Instead, he’d become the ‘default’ choice of Tea Partyers (and some additional Very Conservative voters) who watched Tillis and Burr and decided neither was their cup of tea.

The problem Brannon presented to Holding was simple: If Brannon received, say, 15% of the vote it hurt Holding and helped Ellmers. And since that, say, 15% who were voting for Brannon like him a lot, persuading them to vote for Holding wasn’t going to be easy.

On the other hand, Brannon has problems of his own like his failure to pay the IRS $175,000 in taxes (he’s worked out an arrangement to pay the taxes in installments over time).

Plus, Brannon had a second legal problem: He’d been sued for defrauding investors in a technology company (the company had developed an app for mobile phones) he co-founded. He lost the lawsuit and lost the appeal and was ordered to repay investors $250,000.

Finally, for all his obvious fervor for the Constitution, Brannon at times ended up in odd places. In his past races against Tillis and Burr, Brannon, in almost every interview, on almost every issue, would return, time after time, to his views on the Constitution. He presented himself as a self-taught expert on the Constitution.

And some of his views on the Constitution were very traditional. But others were unusual.

Once, in an interview with Bill LuMaye, Brannon argued that the way he saw it according to the Constitution we should have state militias defend our country rather than a standing U.S. Army.

That’s odd in two ways: First, after the Constitution was ratified, the standing army, the U.S. Army, was founded under President George Washington – with President Washington’s support. It was also supported by Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Did George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison violate the Constitution?

More to the point: 50 state militias cannot provide the United States with missile defenses, an Air Force, and they can’t defeat ISIS. So the idea of protecting the United States with 50 state militias won’t wash.

On the other side of the ledger, in the Ellmers campaign, the surprising fact was her aggressiveness – and the litany of attacks she launched against George Holding.

The American Conservative Union gave Holding a 100% Conservative rating for his voting record. The National Right to Life Committee endorsed Holding for his 100% pro-life record – and criticized Ellmers for her record on pro-life issues. Concerned Women for America and Freedom Works, all long time Conservative organizations, endorsed Holding against Ellmers.

When Holding’s campaign posted those conservative endorsements on Facebook, Ellmers fired back with a bit of political sleight of hand – she claimed Holding was bragging about endorsements from Washington special interests and lobbyists. It’s hard to get any further from being a Washington special interest than Freedom Works which is one of the original Tea Party organizations.

In effect, Ellmers turned the world on its head by claiming long time conservative groups – like the American Conservative Union – were Washington Insiders and that she was an outsider by fighting them.

She also attacked Holding (starting on her Facebook page) by telling voters that, in Congress, he’d opposed farmers, highways and the U.S. Army.

Let’s take those one at a time.

In Washington, Ellmers voted for what the Washington Establishment likes to call the ‘Farm Bill’ – and Holding voted against it. That vote is the basis of Ellmers’ claim ‘Holding opposed farmers.’ He voted against the Farm Bill.

But, in fact, almost 80% of the spending in the so-called ‘Farm Bill’ had nothing to do with farming – instead, it went to pay for Food Stamps.

Holding had voted for a House bill that cut Food Stamp spending and required people receiving Food Stamps to work (workfare) for their benefits. And he voted for drug testing for people on Food Stamps. When that bill went over to the Senate the Democrats gutted it, increased Food Stamp spending and took out workfare and drug testing. 

When the Senate’s version of the bill came back to the House and Ellmers voted for it – for more Food Stamp spending, no workfare and no drug testing. Holding voted against that bill. And that’s why Ellmers says he’s ‘opposed farmers’ – because he voted against increasing Food Stamp spending.

We tested Ellmers’ attack on Holding in our poll and found, when voters have all the facts, 77% agreed with Holding and not Ellmers.

Ellmers tried a similar tactic on highways.

The ‘Fast Act’ was originally a bill to fund highways. But it ended up funding more than that.

Under Obama, the Export Import Bank landed in hot water after giving hundreds of millions in taxpayer backed loan guarantees to state owned Russian and Chinese banks. So Obama and the Washington Insiders made a deal to get the Ex-Im Bank re-funded. Using an old political trick they added the Ex-Im Bank to the highway bill.

Renee Ellmers voted for that deal – which the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) projects will cost taxpayers $2 billion over the next ten years. George Holding voted against it.  So, because Holding opposed putting taxpayers on the hook for the Ex-Im bank, Ellmers is telling voters he opposes highways.

We tested that issue in a poll as well and this time when voters know all the facts nearly 70% agree with Holding and disagree with Ellmers.

Finally, Ellmers slammed Holding for voting against funding the U.S. Army – and that’s one more example of political sleight of hand.

Last fall, Holding voted for a House bill to increase military spending to fight ISIS.

Obama then vetoed that bill and told the House, You want more military spending, I want more domestic spending, let’s make a deal.

So the Insiders in Congress made a deal – and Obama got what he wanted: $40 billion more in domestic spending.

Ellmers voted for that deal – called the Omnibus Budget Deal. And George Holding voted against it. And, according to Ellmers, that’s why George Holding opposes funding the U.S. Army. Because he voted against Obama’s budget deal.

When we tested that issue in our poll 69% of the voters agreed with Holding and disagreed with Ellmers.

Finally, there’s Renee Ellmers’ record on illegal immigration.

88% of the voters disagree with President Obama’s Executive Orders granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. Ellmers, who favors a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, was one of ten Republicans to vote against stopping President Obama’s Executive Orders granting amnesty to illegal immigrants by defunding them.

She was also the only Republican to vote against an amendment by Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis that would have required the Obama Administration to deport any illegal immigrant who was convicted of sex crimes, child abuse or domestic violence.

On a whole series of other issues voters also had clear opinions.

82% of the voters are Unfavorable to Washington Politicians. When asked if Ellmers is a Washington Politician 46% said Yes – while only a handful said No. The rest had no opinion. They need more information.

When asked who’ll do a better job strengthening our National Defense, Holding or Ellmers, voters said Holding 2 to 1, 30% to 15%. But 50% of the voters didn’t know. They need more information.

When asked who’ll do a better job of cutting wasteful spending voters said Holding 2 to 1 – but, again, 50% didn’t know. They need more information.

We asked voters whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: ‘Renee Ellmers was elected in 2010 by running as an outsider. But, after she was elected, changed and voted with the insiders in Washington. And, now, she is again running as an outsider, trying to fool voters a second time’ – 50% of the voters agreed. Which is a big number. But 50% of the voters didn’t know. They need more information.

Finally, there’s a big wild-card in this election: There’s never been a Special Election before on June 7 – so how many people will vote?

85,000 people voted in George Holding’s Primary for Congress in 2012. About half as many voted in the Republican Primary in 2014, in an off year election. Over 30,000 people voted in both those primary elections.

So, how many people will vote on June 7?

Will it be 85,000 like in the 2012 election? Or 40,000 like in 2014? Or will it be less? Could it be a lot less? The truth is no one knows.

In 2012 Congressman Robert Pittenger and Congressman Richard Hudson each had run-off elections.

In Bob Pittenger’s race, turnout dropped (from the Primary to the run-off) by 60%. In Hudson’s race it dropped even more – by 75%.

Almost every campaign will be targeting the approximately 30,000 people who voted in both the 2012 and 2014 Primaries – but what if turnout plummets like it did in the Pittenger and Hudson runoffs?

If turnout drops 60% — that’s 12,000 people voting on June 7th.

What that means is simple: Identifying people who’re voting for George Holding and getting those people to the polls matters – a lot.

It makes sense to canvas voters – usually by phone – to ask: Are you voting for Holding,  Ellmers or Brannon. And if the answer’s Holding then it makes sense to do everything possible to get that voter to vote on Election Day: Visits from volunteers, calls from neighbors, letters, mailings, providing rides to the polls for elderly voters – all make sense. Identifying and turning out your supporters could make the difference if this turns out to be a low turnout election.

To sum up, we found four themes that mattered:

  1. Holding is Conservative. Ellmers is not.
  2. Holding has voted against the Washington politicians. Ellmers has voted with them.
  3. Ellmers is trying to fool voters. There’s no double talk with Holding.
  4. Holding can defeat Ellmers. Brannon cannot.

And identified three specific goals:

  1. When voters know Holding’s record and stands on issues, they vote for him. But there’re a lot of voters who need information.
  2. Holding needs to debate Ellmers on each of her attacks on: a) The ‘Farm Bill’ and Food Stamps; b) the ‘Highway Bill’ and the Ex-Im bank; c) on supporting the military and the Omnibus Budget deal with Obama; d) and Ellmers’ votes on illegal immigration.
  3. Brannon’s tax problems, legal problems and stand on state militias (instead of an army) add up to Brannon can’t defeat Ellmers.

Here’re links to Holding’s first TV and Radio ad (about the Ex-Im Bank).

And that’s a picture of how a political campaign is built in eight weeks. I’ll try to post more often – sorry to have been away so long.  

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Donald Trump has conquered the Republican Party. He’ll now take the GOP over the cliff to disastrous defeat. Or be our next President.

He dispatched Low-Energy Jeb, Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted. He turned Chris Christie into a fawning flatterer. Likewise the good Dr. Carson. He beat Carly Fiorina – twice. And Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul…whatever happened to them?

Trump defied and defeated the Republican Establishment. He beat the Koch Brothers and the Club for Growth. He marginalized the religious conservatives. He broke all the rules of how to win the Republican nomination.

He used reality-TV experience, a touch with Twitter and a gift for insult to outfox, outFox and overwhelm the media. Negative coverage and negative ads bounced off him.

Now some Republicans, like John McCain confidant Mark Salter, say they’ll vote for Hillary Clinton. Most others will no doubt find some heretofore-undetected presidential qualities in Trump.

Now we’ll endure endless over-analyzing of How He Did It. The answer is simple: racism, sexism and a contempt for anybody and everybody in politics.

And now Trump faces something he hasn’t faced yet: one opponent. A tough, savvy and battle-tested opponent. With enough oppo research to fill Trump Tower.

Along the way, Trump built a wall between himself and a big chunk of the electorate, especially women, minorities and millennials. Are there enough angry white men left to elect a President?

He scrambles the electoral map. More states, like North Carolina, are in serious play for Democrats. Republicans are worried about historic losses all down the ballot.


Democrats shouldn’t get cocky. A volatile electorate makes for a volatile election. And Hillary is a status-quo candidate in a year when both the left and right want change.

One more thing to ponder: Whoever wins in 2016, there’s liable to be a big swing the other way in 2018 and/or 2020.


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President Obama is not only one of our greatest Presidents,* but also our funniest. Watch this video of his speech to the White House Correspondents Dinner.

No, he doesn’t write all the jokes. But he delivers them well.

He skewered journalists, Republicans, Trump, Cruz and himself. You’ve probably read some of his best lines, but I liked two about Democrats that didn’t get much publicity.

After giving a shout-out to Bernie Sanders: “I am hurt though, Bernie, that you have been distancing yourself little from me. I mean that’s just not something that you do to your comrade.”

And Hillary Clinton: “Look, I’ve said how much I admire Hillary’s toughness, her smarts, her policy chops, her experience. You’ve got admit it though, Hillary trying appeal to young voters is a little bit like your relative who just signed up for Facebook. ‘Dear America, did you get my poke? Is it appearing on your wall? I’m not sure I’m using this right. Love, Aunt Hillary.’ It’s not entirely persuasive.”

Then there’s a great skit at the end with John Boehner. I especially like Obama’s expression when Boehner tempts him with a cigarette.

In all, a demonstration of wit, grace and cool befitting a President.

* Oh, yes, re …”one of our greatest Presidents”: Saved the country from Depression. Saved the financial industry, auto industry and housing industry. Slashed the federal deficit. Revived the economy. Ended one war, wound down another and wouldn’t get bogged down in a third. Fought to give millions of Americans health insurance. Took climate change seriously. And did it all despite total obstructionism from Republicans and despite unbelievable levels of racial hatred and hostility and, all the while, conducted himself, as did his wife and two daughters, in a manner that brings honor to the nation’s highest office. So there.


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If you’ve ever worked in a campaign, you’ve been part of the debate over yard signs.

Pros pooh-pooh them as a waste of money. Volunteers clamor for them. The candidate’s brother calls in every day to tell you how many signs the opponent has up. Supporters claim your opponents are stealing yours. And a smart manager knows that the most important person in the campaign is the one who puts up the signs on the road the candidate takes to the event.

A TAPster who has been there sent this story from The Onion: “Yard Sign With Candidate’s Name On It Electrifies Congressional Race.”

The lead:

“JASPER, IN—A blue corrugated plastic sign bearing the name of candidate Todd Young has invigorated and galvanized voters in southeastern Indiana’s 9th District congressional race, catapulting the Republican to an all but insurmountable lead over his opponent, Democratic incumbent Baron Hill.”

And this:

“When I drove by the sign two days ago, I had to pull over to the side of the road and catch my breath,” said Jade Williams, 34, a lifelong Democrat and former supporter of Baron Hill. “I’d never felt such a profound connection to a candidate before. Then I saw the powerful red line under his name and knew I had to drive to City Hall immediately and register as a Republican.”

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Democrats in the legislature should immediately embrace a statewide referendum on HB2. This issue is killing Republicans. A referendum will keep it alive all year.

A cascade of national money will flow in to help Roy Cooper, Deborah Ross and Josh Stein.

Pat McCrory’s “Carolina Comeback” will drown in a tide of ongoing news  about the economic damage.

Richard Burr’s plans to run on terrorism will be swept aside.

Buck Newton will spend the year explaining how he’ll “keep North Carolina straight.”

Democratic legislative candidates will win every swing district in metropolitan areas.

Young voters and Bernie Sanders voters who might sit out in November will turn out.

North Carolinians will see every day how HB2 hurts the state.

And they’ll see that Denny Hastert is a bigger sexual-predator threat than HB2.


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After Tuesday’s primaries, we face the likelihood of a mean, ugly campaign between two of the most polarizing people in American politics today.

Where is Hunter Thompson when we need him? Only the good doctor, who wrote Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, could do justice to what’s coming.

Donald Trump’s negatives trump anyone’s ever in political history. He is roundly hated by women, minorities and wide swaths of America, including other business people. No one since George Wallace has generated so much meanness, bigotry and pent-up violence. No wonder the pro-gun GOP wants no guns on the floor of its national convention.

And Hillary Clinton. Even Democrats who believe she is extraordinarily well qualified to be President see the depth of the distrust and sheer hatred she generates.

Hillary can’t catch a break. In the 80s and 90s, they said she was too liberal. Today, they say she’s too conservative. She carries the scars of many years and many battles, and she bears the Clintonian mantle of too many scandals, too much what-the-definition-of-is-is and too much eagerness to grab the money.

And it could get worse. Trump’s forces and the Never-Trump forces could rip the GOP apart. Bernie and the Sandinistas could cripple Clinton. Either party could spawn an independent candidacy.

Only then do we get to the fall campaign. Advantage then to Clinton. She’s pretty much offended everybody she’s going to. But The Donald has unlimited potential to offend even more.

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Here’s another way the crowd in Raleigh today is hurting North Carolina.

WRAL will broadcast a documentary at 7 pm tonight, “Grading Teacher Pay.” The station’s overview:

“During the 1990’s Governor Jim Hunt worked with Republicans and Democrats in the legislature to raise the average salary for public school teachers to the national average in an effort to attract and retain good teachers and improve education. Teacher salaries rose steadily until 2008, but after that our state’s average teacher salary plummeted to 47th in the nation and is currently 42nd.  The result, according to North Carolina’s Superintendent of Education and local superintendents, has been high teacher turnover and teacher shortages.  Many teachers have gone to other states for higher pay or have left the profession.   Through interviews with teachers and policymakers this documentary examines the impact of low teacher pay, its relationship to educational quality and the debate over how much North Carolina’s public school teachers should be paid.  The documentary is hosted by WRAL News anchor Renee Chou.

“In addition to the documentary there’s a related special report by WRAL education reporter Kelly Hinchcliffe that digs deeper into the teacher salary numbers on To find it use keywords ‘teacher pay’.”

The show, produced by Clay Johnson, airs tonight at 7 on WRAL-TV, WILM-TV and and on April 30 at 6:30pm on WRAZ FOX-50.

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Like all Gaul, the Republican Party is divided into three parts, and all three seem to be at war with each, in North Carolina and nationally.

In North Carolina, the Cultural Conservatives (Part I) who run the legislature have made HB2 – and the consequent economic damage – the big issue for 2016.

That has led to a rebellion by Part II, the Business/Billionaire Club, which is Governor McCrory’s base.

At the same time, the Business/Billionaire Club nationally is suffering heart seizures over Donald Trump.

Trump is leading the GOP presidential race because he captured Part III, the White Working Class. He won their loyalty by attacking Obama, Mexicans, Muslims and – not least – the Business/Billionaire Class.

The three groups coalesced into a Republican coalition between 1964 and 1980. But it’s the nature of disparate coalitions to eventually fly apart.

Now it’s a three-way battle on two levels, state and national. It could lead to a GOP disaster in November. Unless Democrats blow the opportunity. Which is a subject for another blog.


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North Carolina politics used to divide regionally: East vs. West. For much of the 20th Century, there was a tradition that a Governor from the West was succeeded by a Governor from the East. And each region had one U.S. Senator.

Today, the civil war is City vs. Country.

The ever-wise Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill, summed it up in The New York Times:

“We’ve got this divide – the divide between the cultural conservatism of older suburbs and older rural areas, and these new, thriving, modern economy, diverse cities.”

Ferrel’s quote was in a Times article (“Southern Cities Split With States on Social Issues”) about battles over issues like HB2.

This is not a comic-book caricature division between smart, sophisticated urbanites and dumb-bunny country bumpkins. There are social liberals in rural areas and closed minds in cities.

It’s that people who live in North Carolina’s growing metro areas are more likely to meet and know, for example, transgender people who are struggling with identity issues. That is less common in more rural areas, which explains why Governor McCrory might well have found some support in that famous “African-American buffet restaurant” in Hamlet, NC (hometown of the Times’ Tom Wicker, by the way).

Not too long ago, we had the same divide over gay-rights issues. Then it turned out that country folks knew gay folks too. It will happen, in time, on transgender issues.

People are usually better than their politicians.

Unfortunately, North Carolina today is led by politicians who want to drive us apart rather than bring us together. It’s always that way. We had our Helmses and Smiths, just as we now have our McCrorys and Bergers.

Fortunately, we also have our Coopers and Steins and Rosses, just as we had our Hunts, Sanfords and Fryes.

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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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