Wednesday, April 30, 2008

From one "Extreme" to another in presidential primary

There’s some strange stuff going on in the Democratic presidential primary in North Carolina that may make some voters forget about the N.C. Republican Party’s “Extreme” ad linking nominee Barack Obama and Democratic governor candidates Bev Perdue and Richard Moore to radical preacher Jeremiah Wright's recent ravings.
For several days, voting advocates have warned that robocalls by someone identifying himself as “Lamont Williams” have targeted mostly African American households with some misleading and incorrect information about what they have to do to be eligible to vote. Listen to the robocall here.
Turns out that campaign has been linked to a group in Washington called Womens' Voices, Women Vote which has links to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Click here for a link.
Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies has more information on the group and its campaign. Click here for more.
I asked Kromm to boil it down to its essence. Here’s what he e-mailed back:
“I think the 3 important items here are:
“(1) This organization Women’s Voices unleashed a deceptive and probably illegal robo-call and mailing campaign in NC that confused voters about their registration status shortly before the May primaries; many of those targeted were apparently African American voters.
“(2) Many of the organization’s principals apparently have close ties to Sen. Clinton; the group itself seeks to mobilize a constituency that has leaned in Clinton’s favor.
“(3) When confronted about the illegal calls, the disruptive timing, etc., the organization’s response boils down to “oops, we made a mistake” – this coming from an operation that includes some of the most seasoned and sophisticated political operatives in Washington.
We agree with Bob Hall [Democracy North Carolina] and others -- it just doesn’t add up.”
Late Wednesday afternoon the N.C. Department of Justice sent out the following:
“Raleigh: Telemarketing calls that led North Carolina residents to question whether they could vote have stopped, but voters should question mailings scheduled to arrive soon, Attorney General Roy Cooper said Wednesday.
“On Wednesday, Cooper and his consumer protection team demanded that the organization Women’s Voices Women Vote stop breaking state law with prerecorded calls to North Carolina residents. The organization said Wednesday the calls would stop.
“The robo-calls told residents that they would be receiving a voter registration form in the mail that they needed to sign. But the deadline to register by mail has passed, and some call recipients already were registered, causing confusion.
“’Regardless of the motivation, the robo-calls violated the law and they needed to stop,” Cooper said.
The calls violated state law by failing to disclose who sponsored the call and failing to offer the organization’s contact information to get the calls to stop.'”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What's weight of Easley's endorsement?

Gov. Mike Easley has thrown the full weight of his political organization behind the presidential candidacy of Sen. Hillary Clinton in the May 6 Democratic primary.
The question is, of course, how much of an organization the governor has to throw to anyone’s support. Easley won the governorship in 2000 largely without a large political organization such as the ones that former Democratic Govs. Jim Hunt and Terry Sanford put together not just to win elections but also to shape public policy.
Mike Easley shunned the usual trappings of political organizations - the county grass-roots building blocks that his predecessors used, and the endless ribbon-cuttings and baby-kissings when he ran successfully for governor in 2000 and 2004. Easley’s appeal was based in large measure on his extraordinary ability to communicate with individual voters through TV ads and broadcast appearances.
But there’s relatively little organization - he couldn’t even get his choice selected chairman of the state Democratic Party several years ago. There’s even less now that Easley is going out of office in a few months and apparently is not all that interested in running for further public office or even serving in the new administration in Washington. But who knows what’s in the mind of politicians? He may want a job in D.C. badly.
How much will Easley’s endorsement help Clinton next week? How much would it weigh, politically? Let me know what you think.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Not registered? You have until Saturday

The N.C. Center for Voter Education and UNC-TV have produced an online voter’s guide with a lot of helpful information, including how to register and cast your vote in the same-day registration and voting process that ends Saturday, May 3.
Here’s a news release from center about the work of the two institutions and a link you can follow to learn more:

"Online Guide Gives Voters Facts on N.C. Candidates

"RALEIGH With North Carolina engaged in a historic primary election, the N.C. Center for Voter Education has partnered with UNC-TV statewide public television to create an online voter guide available at

"The guide features information on voting in this year¹s primary election, candidate profiles and multimedia interviews with the contenders, including those vying for down-ballot offices often overshadowed by the presidential and gubernatorial races.

"Research by the N.C. Center for Voter Education has found that the No. 1 reason why registered North Carolina voters don¹t cast a ballot is that they don¹t know enough about the candidates. This lack of information is especially prevalent when it comes to judicial and Council of State races.

"'It is wonderful that the presidential primary is inspiring voters to head to the polls, but it is vital that voters also have information about the other races that await them on the ballot,' said John Thompson, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education. 'This online guide is designed to empower North Carolina voters with the facts they need to cast a confident ballot in all statewide races.'

Incorporated with the guide¹s candidate profiles is the Judge for Yourself: Election 2008 series featuring in-depth, one-on-one interviews with contenders for the governor¹s mansion, U.S. Senate, Council of State and N.C. Court of Appeals.

In addition to being available at, Judge for Yourself: Election 2008² can be heard at

"The Raleigh-based N.C. Center for Voter Education is a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, dedicated to improving elections in North Carolina."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Too extreme? For North Carolina?

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has condemned a North Carolina Republican Party ad campaign attacking Democratic candidate Barack Obama and his former pastor as “offensive” and asked that it be withheld. The ad "degrades our civics and distracts us from the very real differences we have with the Democrats," McCain said.

The ad called Obama “just too extreme for North Carolina” and also criticizes Democratic gubernatorial candidates Bev Perdue and Richard Moore for having endorsed Obama.

Wow. Think of that - the party of Jesse Helms, calling someone too extreme for this state. Not so long ago almost nothing was too extreme for North Carolina politics, including the Helms’ campaign portraying Democrat Jim Hunt as someone backed by gays and lesbians, not to mention Teddy Kennedy and Jesse Jackson.

What Obama's former pastor said did, indeed, offend a lot of folks, but Obama has repudiated Jeremiah Wright's remarks and most candidates have stayed away from the N.C. Republican Party's style of guilt-by-association ad. But evidently the GOP thinks it's right at home in North Carolina, where there's a rich tradition of this sort of thing in political campaigns -- including the days when the Democrats ran everything.

Here’s a link to Observer reporter David Ingram's story.

Democrats made nice, not news

The Democratic candidates for governor made more nice than news Tuesday night in their much-anticipated televised debate. Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore were well-behaved and entirely civil - surely to the disappointment of those who had hoped for a more pointed exchange.
Perdue, after all, had avoided accepting a debate format for much of this campaign season, though she has participated in a lot of forums. Anyone watching the debate on WRAL would have wondered why she was reluctant to take part in a debate with Moore, who has aired ads critical of her performance on several counts. Moore cited her votes in favor of higher university tuition and for the state lottery as key differences between the two, but Perdue kept smiling and suggesting the debate focus on issues, not nitpicking old votes. I’m guessing her campaign was satisfied with her performance, though it seemed to me that Moore’s assertions and answers were crisper and quicker.
Moore’s problem was to portray Perdue as being wrong or making poor policy choices without also appearing to be a bully beating up on Perdue. He walked that thin line pretty well, but overall the tone of the debate was almost genial. The two agreed on a number of issues, including each candidate's clever commitment to make sure one of them would be elected governor in the fall. If there was any sting in this debate, that pretty much smoothed things over and left the impression these two candidates aren’t that far apart.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Perdue agrees to debate Moore Tuesday night

Give Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue credit for resolving an impasse over the only real debate -- Tuesday night at 8 p.m. -- we're likely to see in the Democratic primary for governor. She's agreed to debate State Treasurer Richard Moore -- who has been pressing her for a long time to take part in a real debate where the candidates can challenge one another and debate ideas in the classic sense of the word.
Moore had agreed to a debate invitation from WRAL TV in Raleigh, which proposed a format without time limits on individual answers and rebuttals. Perdue preferred an alternative proposed by WTVD in Durham, which called for 75-second answers and 60-second rebuttals. That might have covered more topics, while the WRAL format might lend itself to more depth.
It was a stalemate until Tuesday afternoon when Perdue agreed to the WRAL format. That debate will be shown on a number of stations around the state. Their debate -- coming at a time when Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has declined to debate Sen. Hillary Clinton in North Carolina -- should be helpful to North Carolina primary voters torn between two experienced candidates, and looking for reasons to support one over the other.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Who's afraid to debate -- and why?

Who’s afraid to debate – and why?
Gov. Jim Hunt is the latest N.C. political figure to urge Sen. Barack Obama to debate Sen. Hillary Clinton before the May 6 primary. He joins Gov. Mike Easley and legislative leaders Speaker Joe Hackney and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight in calling for the debate.
Hunt points out that while the presidential candidates have debated many previous times, the candidates have not discussed North Carolina issues.
Left unmentioned is a decision by Democratic Senate candidate Kay Hagan, running for the nomination to oppose incumbent Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole, not to debate. She’s ignoring her opponents, including Jim Neal of Chapel Hill, who has not had the money to mount an advertising campaign that might help attract voters to his campaign. Hagan, of course, is following the traditional view that front-runners in a political race ought not give their challengers a platform.
The same thing is at work in Democratic governor candidate and Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue’s reluctance this spring to face State Treasurer Richard Moore. Perdue avoided debates for much of the campaign, though she recently called for a debate and has accepted WTVD’s proposal for an April 22 debate. Moore prefers an alternative debate format proposed by WRAL in Raleigh which would provide a more open debate process.
Those who are reluctant to debate before N.C. voters may have their own strategic reasons for doing so. After all, they’re trying to win an election. But in declining to debate, they rob the public of an opportunity to see how they perform under pressure and how they react to tougher questions than they’re likely to get in the usual candidate forums. Among many other factors, the public is entitled to measure the candidates’ reluctance to debate when they make choices about whom to support.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Perdue, Moore contemplate a debate

One clear difference between the Republican and the Democratic primary races for governor is this: Republicans in the main have embraced debate appearances together. Democrats can't even agree how to debate when both finally agree to a real debate on the same day.
It’s not that the four leading Republicans have always attended every debate, or that they’ve sung that old folk standard, “Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya.” But they have appeared together frequently, worked through the issues and traded jabs and japes. Those who have paid attention know a lot about how Bill Graham, Fred Smith, Bob Orr and Pat McCrory think about government.
Those hoping for debates from the Democrats have been disappointed. While there have been six forums and one online “debate” that showed more promise than proof, there has been no direct debate between Treasurer Richard Moore and Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue.
Moore has been willing all along to debate – anxious to do so, in fact. Perdue has not been enthusiastic about a direct debate with her challenger, but changed tactics recently. She said she was swearing off negative ads of the sort that Moore has aired, and she challenged Moore to a debate.
Two TV stations have proposed hosting the debate Tuesday evening, April 22 – WRAL, the CBS affiliate in Raleigh, and WTVD, the ABC station in Durham. Moore immediately accepted WRAL’s proposal for what appeared to be a free-wheeling debate with candidates given time to explain their positions and to challenge one another in follow-up exchanges at the discretion of a moderator. There would be no time limits.
Perdue accepted the more structured proposal of WTVD, which would give candidates 75-second time blocks to explain their positions and give their challengers 60-second windows to rebut. There would be formal opening and closing remarks. It’s a more formal format, but still useful to voters.
As a viewer I liked the WRAL proposal better; in the hands of a skillful moderator – WRAL proposed former WSOC’s Bill Walker for the job – that kind of debate can be illuminating and entertaining as well as showing how the candidates stand up to pressure.
But WTVD anchor Larry Stogner, who would moderate its debate, is also a veteran newsman who likely would keep the candidates on schedule and perhaps squeeze in a larger variety of questions for the gubernatorial candidates.
Either way, the viewing public will learn more about the candidates than from the sterile forums that have previously aired. It’ll be interesting to see whether there will be real fireworks – or any reasons to energize voters to cast their ballots for one or the other when the debate is over.
After all, that would require Moore and Perdue to agree on a place, now that they've agreed on a deate.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The election begins when? Thursday?

Don't look now, but the election begins Thursday -- at least for early votes, and voter advocates such as Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina are warning there may be long lines.
Here's what he said this afternoon:

Election Group Warns of Bottlenecks at Polls,
Urges Officials, Public to Prepare for Large Turnout

As interest in North Carolina’s presidential primary continues to build, a watchdog group is calling on state and local officials to beef up preparations for a surge of voters on May 6 and at the One-Stop Early Voting sites which open across the state this Thursday, April 17.

“It’s like preparing for a hurricane and a week-long rock concert at the same time,” said Bob Hall, executive director of the nonpartisan election reform organization, Democracy North Carolina. “Officials need to plan for every contingency, add extra personnel, anticipate where bottlenecks will happen, and keep educating the public about changes in conditions.”

On Friday, Democracy North Carolina sent a memo to the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections with a list of recommendations to alleviate the expected crush of voters in the Charlotte area. They ranged from opening Early Voting sites on Saturdays and Sundays to getting advance cooperation from college officials in order to process last-minute registrations from students. (See memo at end of release.)

“We’ve been making similar requests with our allies to boards in Greenville, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Durham, and elsewhere,” Hall said. “You quickly see that every county board is different. Many are taking positive steps to prepare for a large turnout, but this election is so unusual it requires the focused attention of public officials at all levels.”

He noted that the State Board of Elections has provided local boards with well over $1 million in grants this spring, but he said more help is needed from public and private agencies.

“We urge county commissioners, public and private college administrators, state and local officials, civic and religious organizations, and the public to all take pro-active steps to make the primary election a meaningful experience, especially for first-time voters,” Hall said.

“We have 2.5 million missing voters – citizens who haven’t voted here in this century. This election could be the experience that turns them around. And the whole nation will be watching.”

Democracy North Carolina recommends:

** Voters should get prepared: They should learn when and where Early Voting sites are open and become familiar with the local ballot at Voters can also learn how to vote by mail with an absentee ballot at that website, or at They can register in person (and vote) at the Early Voting site, until May 3, but will need to bring one of the IDs listed on the websites. They should learn about the candidates and remember to vote in the nonpartisan races at the end of the ballot.

** County commissioners should provide personnel to help local boards of election process the thousands of new voter registration forms and provide emergency resources to staff and expand the availability of Early Voting in the county. Election officials need strong support from local leaders.

** County boards of elections should add staff and equipment to Early Voting sites to process more voters quicker, add hours/days to existing sites, and add more sites. Counties with residential colleges should obtain electronic lists of students’ campus addresses to facilitate same-day registration and voting.

** College administrators should offer a good site on their campus as a polling place and should take the initiative to provide election officials with an electronic list of the addresses of on-campus students. They should also help students travel to Early Voting sites before the semester ends.

** State officials should continue to promote opening more local Early Voting sites with more hours and staff, particularly on or near campuses, closely monitor implementation, and provide additional resources. The Governor should offer emergency funds to the State Board of Elections to cover contingencies and supplementary grants to counties.

“The State Board staff and most county election officials are doing a great job,” said Hall, “but they need the support of political leaders to take the risk of adding capacity that may or may not be fully used. This is a unique opportunity to invigorate our democracy and showcase North Carolina’s positive leadership.”

* * * *

April 12, 2008

TO: Michael Dickerson, Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Director

Georgia Lewis, Chair, Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Michael Kolb, Member, Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Carol Williams, Member, Mecklenburg County Board of Elections

Dear Mr. Dickerson and Mecklenburg County Elections Board Members:

Democracy North Carolina is partnering with numerous non-partisan organizations throughout Mecklenburg County to educate the voting public and increase voter turnout this election year. In our recent conversations with people and organizations throughout the county, it’s apparent that there is much concern that the current One-Stop Early Voting schedule for the 2008 Primary Election could lead to frustration and confusion among some voters. Although we appreciate the fact that Mecklenburg County will have more early voting sites than ever before the week of April 28, there are concerns that the plan for the first week plus (April 17 – 25) of early voting is insufficient. This concern, along with others, is listed below. We believe that if these concerns are addressed, then all Mecklenburg County’s citizens will benefit, regardless of party affiliation.

Below are requested changes to the current Primary Election early voting plan. Please notify us of your responses to these requests.

1) Approve the opening of more early voting sites during the week of April 21 or, at the least, create a contingency plan to open more early voting sites the week of April 21 if demand calls for it. For example: Mecklenburg County BOE makes the call to open 4 or 5 other locations for the week of April 21.

2) Open at least five one-stop early voting locations on Saturday, April 26, 2008 from 9am-5pm and Sunday, April 27, from 1-5pm.

3) Extend the last Saturday of early voting on May 3 until 5:00PM. North Carolina statute 163-227.2 (B) states that during the last Saturday of early voting (May 3), early voting shall be available until at least 1:00pm, however, if a county Board sees fit, the availability of early voting may be extended until 5:00pm that day.

4) As suggested by the State Board of Elections, work with University/College officials to obtain campus housing databases that will allow students to provide student ID cards in order to meet voter identification requirements. This identification may be necessary either because of current HAVA laws or because they are utilizing North Carolina’s new same-day registration process. Also, make sure that early voting officials encourage students to enter their permanent mailing address (in addition to current campus residential address) on voter registration forms in order to insure that voter verification cards will not be returned due to incorrect addresses.

Of course, some of these modifications may need the approval of more funds from County Commissioners. We hope that the Mecklenburg County Commission will work with you to provide the funding needed to improve the one-stop early voting plan. Perhaps additional money is also available from the State Board of Elections to help offset additional costs of these requested changes.


Adam Sotak, Organizing Director

Democracy North Carolina

704-277-8340 cell

Robert Dawkins, Community Organizer

Democracy North Carolina

704-957-3105 cell

cc: Mecklenburg County Commissioners

Thursday, April 10, 2008

No more negative ads? Really?

Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue says she’s tired of the negative campaigning in her contest against State Treasurer Richard Moore and says she will run only positive ads for the rest of the primary election, which culminates May 6. That will come as a relief to many who are tired of those ads -- and to an insurance company targeted in one of her ads.
Here’s what her campaign said in a news release.
“Raleigh, NC - Bev Perdue today announced she will run all positive ads for the final weeks of the primary.

“Wherever I go people ask me, 'Can't we stop the negative campaign?' The simple answer is, yes" said Bev Perdue. "So I have decided to take my negative TV ads off the air. It's the right decision for me and it's the right decision for North Carolina."

“Bev's positive campaign applies to all campaign communications and she is asking all independent 3rd parties not to engage in negative campaigns.

“As of 5:00 a.m. this morning, the Bev Perdue Campaign has pulled all negative television ads off the air and is removing the negative portions of the campaign website.”

Treasurer Moore has been pressing Perdue hard with tough, pointed ads and campaign rhetoric, but Moore doesn’t regard his negative ads as anything to be ashamed of. In an interview with the Observer’s editorial board earlier this week, Moore was asked about those ads and the tone of his campaign. He responded, “I’m proud of my campaign.”
His campaign said it would have a response shortly.
Addition at 12:30:
The Moore campaign responds:
“This is no surprise given that the Perdue campaign had to pull their last negative ad because it was untrue and even her "positive" TV ad has been called misleading by the Associated Press. How about a pledge to tell the truth? The fact is, as Democrats have learned about Bev Perdue’s college tuition increases, her tax cuts for the wealthy, and the SBI investigation, they are questioning whether she's ready to be governor.” --Jay Reiff, campaign manager

Oh, well. You can draw your own conclusions about how this will go.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Why was Wright's sentence longer than Jim Black's?

Why was Wright’s sentence longer than Black’s?
When Superior Court Judge Henry Hight sentenced former state Rep. Thomas Wright to prison Monday to a minimum of 70 months, it was longer than former House Speaker Jim Black’s sentence of 63 months and former Rep. Michael Decker’s of 48 months. Why the disparity?
A key reason: Wright was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced in state court. Black and Decker were sentenced in federal courts. And while fairness would seem to require that those sentenced for corruption ought to get sentences that are proportionate not just to the crime but also to other sentences for political corruption, the plain fact is there’s little attention given to what fairness might dictate. Everything depends upon the prosecutor, the charges brought, the jury’s makeup and decision, and the judge who delivers a sentence. And judges themselves, of course, must abide by the dictates of the differing federal and state sentencing guidelines. Federal judges particularly have to go through a long process before pronouncing sentences, and their discretion is limited, though not as much as it used to be. State judges’ discretion is also controlled by mitigating and aggravating factors.
For a thorough look at these cases, take a look at my Raleigh colleague Laura Leslie’s pondering on the disparities on her WUNC radio blog “Isaac Hunter’s Tavern.” Click here and scroll down to the section "Running the numbers." She covered the trial and her blogs over the past week include audio excerpts from the trial that are illuminating. As usual, she does a first-rate job of covering things.
She also notes that Rep. Wright never apologized for his missteps. Those of us who have covered trials before have noted that defiant defendants seem to be in extra jeopardy of longer sentences when they refuse to own up to crimes after they’re convicted. That raises another fairness factor: If you don’t agree that you’re guilty, you may spend even more time in prison.
Is that fair or unfair?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Gov. Martin, back in the Capitol

Gov. Martin, back in the Capitol
Who says you can’t find a governor in the Capitol on a Saturday night? There was one there Saturday – only his name was Jim Martin, and has hasn’t been governor for going on 16 years.
But there he was Saturday night, beneath the Dome – delivering keynote remarks at the State Capitol Foundation’s annual ball and fundraiser.
Gov. Martin, who served in the corner governor’s office from 1985-1993 after representing the 9th District in Congress for years, was still in top form, telling funny stories about his days in Raleigh – beginning with his plan to have his office not in the historic Capitol building, but in the Department of Administration a block west of the General Assembly. His plan was to be closer to his key aides at a time when his administration included quite a lot of Democratic holdovers – so necessary, he joked, because “there weren’t that many unemployed Republicans” who needed the work.
But, he said, he was summoned to the Capitol office of the late Secretary of State Thad Eure, an institution in state, Southern and national politics because he served in that job for 63 years. Despite being called to Eure’s office rather than asked to come, Martin, said, he went anyway, Thad Eure being who he was. And Eure told him, “The office of the governor is in the Capitol – you understand what I’m saying?”
So it was, said Martin, that he decided to keep his office in the Capitol. After all, he reasoned, Eure had served in his office longer than anyone in public office except Queen Victoria (64 years) and what sounded like some ancient ruler whose name was lost to my aging ears in the high tide of laughter that swept in and over the crowd.
When Thad Eure spoke, people listened.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Recalling Coach Fred McCall

The summer basketball camp is a mainstay for both youngsters hoping to improve their skills and one day play in the NCAA tournaments as well as for coaches and college athletes who run the camps and get to work with future stars.
So it’s worth marking the death the other day of an influential figure in college basketball who created one of the first basketball camps and trained hundreds of schoolboy athletes in this state.
He was Fred McCall, a native of Denver in Gaston County and a three-sport star at Lenoir Rhyne College before World War II. By the 1950s he was coaching at what was then Campbell Junior College in Buies Creek, N.C.
In 1956 he and legendary Wake Forest Coach “Bones” McKinney started the Campbell Basketball Camp with two one-week sessions for aspiring roundballers. It became the place where everyone with hoop hopes wanted to go in the 1960s. His staffers included such famous players as Bob Cousy and UCLA Coach John Wooden, notes the N&O’s Lorenzo Perez in this story.
I spent a week in his care in the summer of 1962 during a time when I naively hoped to play basketball for the Davidson Wildcats after finishing high school a few years later. My hopes were far grander than my talent, as I soon discovered, but at Campbell Basketball Camp – known to most of us as Fred McCall’s Camp – I learned a lot about basketball and how it should be played. One of the most impressive coaches there was Press Maravich, whose then-14-year-old son Pete was hanging around the camp and making fools of much bigger players with his ball-handling skills and his cocky attitude. I learned a lot from Fred McCall, including the value of realistic assessments about one’s own talent.
McCall’s death marks another loss to the Carolina cultural landscape. He was an excellent coach (221-104 lifetime at Campbell) and, incidentally, the father of State Health Director Leah Devlin.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

'Debate': campaign's most mis-used word

Perhaps the most misused word in the 2008 campaign in North Carolina is “debate.” Candidates, campaign advisers, newspapers, broadcast news departments, all seem to use the term “debate” indiscriminately to describe any setting where more than one candidate addresses an audience.
Most of them really are public forums, where candidates say what they think, respond to questions from the audience or a moderator and, at best, reply to an assertion by an opponent. But we really haven’t seen direct debates of the sort that presidential candidates more routinely engage in.
Those sometimes are confrontational – reinforcing the original meaning of the word debate “to fight.” Political debates are best when the opponents fight one another, argue over ideas, contend for voters’ allegiances and put on an informative program that tells voters how candidates react when put on the spot. Those are useful things when you’re about to pick a state or world leader.
When I suggested the other day that Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue needs to engage in a real debate with State Treasurer Richard Moore in their primary campaign for the Democratic nomination, my friend Mac McCorkle, a Perdue adviser, called to ask if I thought the current campaign between the two wasn’t contentious enough already. His point was apt: the two campaigns are fighting tooth and nail in their campaign ads. (A few days later, Perdue challenged Moore to a debate, as if there weren’t already opportunities to accept. It may occur April 22. Stay tuned for that.)
And the two did meet in what was described as the state’s first online debate on the Web site Monday night. It was an interesting project that needs some refinement but holds promise for future forums that engage the candidates more directly.
The online “debate” had both Perdue and Moore – or at least they and their campaign advisers – responding online to questions posed by’s moderators and by anyone who registered and signed onto the site. As my colleague Laura Leslie of WUNC public radio points out on her blog “Isaac Hunter’s Tavern,” those who watched the Web site probably didn’t learn anything that wasn’t already on the record.
And while it lacked drama and was occasionally a bit balky to follow, there was a lot of traffic -- an indication that folks are interested. I imagine the next time that things will go more smoothly and that candidates will be more nimble about answering questions and possibly posing them to one another – and contesting one another’s answers. It’s one more way that the Internet is changing political campaigns.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A tsunami of new N.C. voters

The rising tide of new voters
State director of elections Gary Bartlett has more startling numbers. Since the first of the year, more than 165,000 new voters have registered to take part in elections. That’s an average of 55,000 new voters per month.
It’s an unprecedented outpouring of potential voters in North Carolina – greater even than the bulge of new N.C. registrants before the 2004 fall elections.
Will polling places have enough ballots on hand in the May 6 primary? “We are encouraging all counties to review their order and make adjustments as needed,” Bartlett said.
For the record, the new registrants comprise 74,587 Democrats, 41,301 Republicans and 49,561 unaffiliated voters. About 64 percent of the new voters are white, 27 percent black. Nearly 54 percent are women. Overall, the state has about 5.7 million registered voters.