Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why moderates win N.C. and liberals don't

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling has some year-end food for thought about politics in North Carolina, including why moderates win here and why liberals have a tough time. PPP always has interesting stuff.
Among other things, PPP notes how Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s Senate record became more conservative, belying the moderate image she projected in winning the 2002 Senate election here.
And PPP notes that both Democrats and Republicans interested in winning elections should pursue moderate candidates. My guess is liberals and conservatives won't like this advice, but there's good fodder to chew over here.

Take a look.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hagan campaign best, but how about Dole's?

The Washington Post has proclaimed state Sen. Kay Hagan's victory over U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole the best Senate campaign of the 2008 election, Chris Cillizza of the Post blog The Fix has this to say:

Today we tackle the best Senate campaign. Tomorrow we'll do governors and on New Years Eve (a.k.a. Wednesday) we'll finish up with the House races.

Drumroll please.... And the best Senate campaign of 2008 is:

Kay Hagan of North Carolina -- Hagan, a state senator, got into the race against Sen. Elizabeth Dole after a number of better known candidates including Gov. Mike Easley and Rep. Brad Miller took a pass on the contest.

Hagan got into the race as a virtually unknown candidate both in North Carolina and nationally, but quickly showed a capacity to raise money that opened the eyes of many people in Washington. On her first trips to the nation's capital, she wowed even the most cynical of party operatives with a charisma about campaigning and a no-nonsense approach to what needed to be done to beat Dole.

Hagan got a major boost in her efforts by a significant amount of spending by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's independent expenditure arm -- including an ad featuring two men on rocking chairs debating Dole's effectiveness and closeness to President George W. Bush.

But, she proved a strong -- and on-message -- candidate in her own right. When Dole went after Hagan in an ad for attending a fundraiser with the Godless Americans political action committee, Hagan was quick to respond with an effective (and cutting) response.

In the end, the race wasn't close. Hagan beat the seemingly unbeatable Dole 53 percent to 44 percent.

My two cents' worth: Cillizza might also have given Dole the award for one of the worst Senate campaigns. She should have started running seriously years earlier by spending more time in her state -- and making sure people saw her often -- and also by tackling more issues that people cared about. The "Godless" ad that got so much attention didn't kill Dole's campaign, but it made the final margin of victory for Hagan larger than it would have been.

Bugle boys of the Cataloochee

More than five years ago, I stood in the rain beneath dripping rhododendron leave and watched as a small herd of 15 elk -- 10 cows, four calves and one old 12-point bull --grazed in a lovely little pasture in the Cataloochee Valley up in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These were not native elk. They were hunted to extinction long ago. These were transplants, brought in from Kentucky, Tennessee and Canada in hopes of reestablishing the presence of elk. It was touch and go for a while. In 2001, 26 elk were brought from the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee; the next year, 27 elk came from the Elk Island National Park in Canada.
The Asheville Citizen-Times reported the other day that the number of elk has almost doubled despite predators such as bears, and the population of elk in the Cataloochee now stands at an estimated 95. Here's a link to Nancy Bompey's story -- headlined "Bugle boys" -- in the Citizen-Times.

On that day in 2003 we had hoped to hear the elks bugling, but the only action was the old bull's slow, deliberate rise to his feet and saunter in our direction when a couple of the calves began wondering our way. The old bull neatly cut them off and herded them back to the other side of the family, but it was still a majestic sight to see. It's worth the long drive just to see these big animals -- up to 1,000 pounds for the bulls, 800 or so for cows -- as they roam the lovely mountain valley. It sounds like they've having a pretty good year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Easley on newspaper 'hatchet job'

My colleague Mark Binker, capital correspondent at the Greensboro News-Record, interviewed Gov. Mike Easley the other day in an end-of-administration session that revealed, among other things, how the governor views the press -- particularly McClatchy Newspapers in Raleigh and Charlotte. It also showed the governor with a startling defense of his administration's poor management of the state's probation system. The News & Observer's series on the probation system -- focusing on 580 murders committed by poorly- or non-supervised probationers over the past eight years -- was nothing but a "hatchet job" on Secretary of Correction Theodis Beck, to whose department the probation system reports.

Leave it to the governor to totally miss the point of the N&O's thorough reporting on the probation system failure: Unsupervised probationers commit too many crimes and his administration did too little to correct the problem. Easley's problem is not that the newspaper did a hatchet job on one of his appointees; his problem is that he wasn't paying attention to what his appointees were doing -- or in this case, not doing -- and the newspaper found him out.

Look: The governor is a charming man, funny, witty, wise in many ways and one of the best woodworkers I know. But on some issues he's full of bull. This is one of them.

I missed the interview in the News-Record Sunday while out of town. Here's a link to Binker's blog, which also has links to audio excerpts from the interview. My friend Doug Clark also has some pithy comments about Easley's words.

Here's Dome's take on it today:

Gov. Mike Easley said the "24/7 press cycle" has led to criticism of him.
In an exit interview with Mark Binker of the Greensboro News-Record, Easley said that the increased demand for news online had led to "gotcha" journalism.

"There's a 24/7 press cycle now," he said. "People calling all night long. They want access to the governor all the time ... So that's created a lot of competition, especially on the print side the pressure has been downsizing and original content. Original content is gotcha stories."
Easley said the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer had been hardest on him of state media because his administration would not release e-mails relating to personnel matters and corporate recruiting.
He said a recent series on problems with the probation system was a "hatchet job" on Correction Secretary Theodis Beck, though he argued that probationers killings are better than they used to be said the death of Eve Carson was being unfairly blamed on the system.
"Some young lady gets brutally murdered by a couple of probationers ... it's now the probation officers fault," he said. "When are we going to start holding some of these people accountable and get some of these executions going again?"
Easley said he tries to be fair to the media for his part.
"I try to keep my side of the window clean," he said. "My job is to be nice to other people and their job is to be nice to me. Just 'cause they're not doing theirs, doesn't mean I shouldn't do mine."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Legend of the Christmas Flounder

North Carolina holiday customs are unlike any I've heard elsewhere. In Cherryville they bring out the big guns to fire on New Years day, big old muskets that make a whale of a racket.

In Rodanthe they celebrate Old Christmas on Jan. 6, a custom that dates to days before the revision of the Julian calendar.

And in Wilmington, or so this quaint old story goes, some old timers still revere The Christmas Flounder.

I dunno how much credence to attach to this story -- or the notion that some impecunious youngsters once hung Christmas Flounders on the mantle in hopes that Santa would stuff them with goodies. I think our someone's pulling our dorsal fins, if you take my meaning.

But here's a piece that for years has appeared on Christmas Eve in the Wilmington Star, its editors used to say, in "an effort to keep this grand tradition alive."

Here 'tis:

Twas the night before Christmas

And all through the sound

Not a creature was stirring,

Not even a flound(r). --- Anonymous

If there is an old-timer in your house today, he probably is not reminiscing about the grand old tradition of The Christmas Flounder. It is practically forgotten.

The Christmas Flounder is a Yuletide custom unknown outside Southeastern North Carolina, according to Paul Jennewein, the veteran newsman who is the world's only authority on the matter.

As is the case with many traditions, the origin of The Christmas Flounder is obscured in the mists of memory, but according to Mr. Jennewein it apparently began during the Great Depression, when people in this area were even poorer than usual.

Buying and stuffing a turkey for Christmas dinner was out of the question for many. Something else was needed, something that poor folks could procure in the days before food stamps. And so it came about that one Christmas Eve in the reign of Franklin the King of Four Terms, the merry glow of kerosene lanterns and - for those who could afford the Ray-O-Vacs - flashlights gleamed over the waters of the sound.

Westward wading, still proceeding, went wise men who knew that dull-witted fishes would be sleeping in the mud at that time of night. Suddenly the sharp splash of steely gigs shattered the starry stillness.

Next day, the unfortunate flounders, lovingly stuffed with native delicacies such as oysters, crabs, collards and grits, graced Christmas tables all over the area. Non-Baptists who knew a reliable bootlegger accompanied the humble dish with a jelly glass of high-octane cheer.

It was a tradition born of hardship, but it is unique and deserves to be remembered as part of the folklore of the Lower Cape Fear.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Serendipity: Aunt Sissie's rolls

Terry Eastland, publisher of The Weekly Standard, author and a leading light in the world of conservative thought, didn't live in North Carolina long but he made a big impression on readers of The Greensboro Record, where he wrote lively, provocative and witty editorials before moving on and up in the world of serious commentary.
Terry Eastland has many talents and a great curiosity, among them his search during the 1970s for a recipe to use to make doughnuts as good as Krispy Kremes. He discovered a solution in a family recipe that belonged to his Aunt Sissie, a Texan with whom his parents had stayed when they were courting long ago. We never tried making the doughnuts because we regarded the rolls -- a somewhat simpler product -- as a measure of perfection.
Alas, we misplaced the recipe a few years ago, and though we came close, we couldn't quite replicate from memory the genuine article. Then last week while looking for something else, we came across a stash of our favorite recipes in a corner of a standup desk in our kitchen -- no doubt squirreled away while hastily straightening up the place for company.
These are the best dinner rolls we know of. Eastland described them as light, fluffy and slightly sweet, and he's right. We've made them for sit-down affairs, for stuffing with chopped barbecue for a buffet and for Christmas morning rolls with currents and frosting added.
Here's what you'll need: 1/2 cup of Crisco, 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt, 2 eggs, 2 packages of yeast to dissolve in 2 cups of lukewarm water, and 6 cups of plain flour. (You can use other flours, too, as you see fit, but use plain the first time).
Here's what to do: Cream the half-cup of sugar with the half-cup of Crisco. Dissolve the two packs of yeast in the two cups of lukewarm water. Add that to the creamed sugar mixture, along with the two eggs. Add the six cups of flour and two teaspoons of salt.
Knead the dough and then set it in a warm place until it has doubled in size -- usually around two hours. Roll it out thin -- about 3/8 of an inch, according to one copy of the recipe from the old Greensboro Daily News, and cut out with a round cutter. Put butter on one side, then fold it back on itself. Give the rolls plenty of time to rise (one recipe called for two hours!), then place into an oven preheated to 500 degrees, and immediately reduce the temperature to 450. The rolls will be ready in 5 to 7 minutes.
If you want to try the doughnuts, the recipe says to cut out doughnut shapes, dip in melted shortening and put it on wax paper to rise for an hour or more. Then fry in deep, light shortening 30-40 seconds on each side, then dip in glaze made of milk and sugar while it's still hot.
The doughnuts may have been perfect, as Eastland used to say, but we never made them because Aunt Sissie's Rolls were what we liked best. As Garrison Keillor croons every week in another context, "If your family's tried 'em, then you know you've satisfied 'em."

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Christmas tree in the gloom

When I pulled onto Raleigh's I-440 at 6:45 a.m. the other morning for a quick back-and-forth trip to Charlotte, the world was a gloomy place -- a nasty little mist putting a fuzzy aura around lampposts and headlights. It was going to be a long, hard day -- and then I saw a sight that never fails to lift my spirits. Perched high in a copse of pine (Sunday addition: and hardwood) trees just off the beltway where motorists from both directions can see it well, a brightly-lit Christmas-tree-shaped decoration shone through the gloom. It's a Christmas gift to travelers who race around Raleigh, a brief interlude in a fast-paced lifestyle that reminds me to slow down and enjoy the season.
It's been that way since some time back in the 1990s when Mike Minikus and his family first hoisted a hula-hoop-and-wire contraption lit with lights to the top of a tree towering over the brick wall separating his property from the highway. After the 9-11 attacks, the lights were red, white and blue for a while. Each Christmas the lights reappear and provide a moment of cheer for motorists and passengers along that way.
It also reminds me of other roadside memorials along the waysides of this state's roads. When I take U.S. 64 west towards Charlotte, I always look for the scale replica of the twin towers that a stonemason built beside the road somewhere between Raleigh and Asheboro -- perhaps six feet high or so, one with slightly darker stone than the other, representing the World Trade Centers that fell in the 2001 terrorists attacks.
And there's a field alongside I-85 south of Greensboro where someone flew a lone American flag in the middle of an empty field, a sentinel that I still watch for on those long rides down the road.
These bits of Americana are priceless gems to me, signs of an American spirit that endures in tough times, and help brighten the way. I'm grateful for them -- and for the hands that put them up for all of us to see.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Charlotte's stimulus list: $422 million

The City of Charlotte has sent the U.S. Conference of Mayors a list of projects it believes is eligible for inclusion in a federal economic stimulus program -- and it includes projects totalling nearly $422 million and involving as many as 3,610 jobs if all projects were funded.

The list -- part of a MainStreet Economic Recovery Survey on INfrastructure Job Potential -- is among many others available here at the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. It includes such items as $110 million for extension of the LYNX transit system's Blue Line -- which might involve 1,100 jobs -- and $13 million for widening of "NC29/US49" -- involving 130 jobs. There's also $22 million on the list for the Fred D. Alexander Boulevard, involving 220 jobs, and $30 million for bus purchases, which the list says would mean 300 jobs.

It's an impressive list -- one of many hundreds that local and state governments are forwarding to Washington in hopes of funding for a proposed stimulus package. It's worth noting, as Julie White of the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition notes, that "The Governor-elect (Perdue) indicated today that the State may have a willingness to consider passing some money through to cities if it only flows to the State."

That's a concern to local governments who fear that much of the money will wind up in state hands.

"Coalition Mayors are organizing around this effort. They have established a committee with Mayor Pro Temp Julie Robison of Cary and Mayor David Combs of
Rocky Mount as chairs to spearhead our efforts to ensure some portion of the
economic stimulus package goes directly to MPOs and cities….We are asking the Metro Coalition cities to pass a resolution (or write a letter of support) and plan to present them in total to our federal and state leaders as well as send them to the Obama transition team," White says.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Smithfield Foods and J.P. Stevens

The news last week that workers at the world's largest pork slaughterhouse had won a union election after 16 years of effort was widely hailed as a turning point in employer-employee relations at the Smithfield Foods plant in Bladen County. It harkens up memories of the euphoria that workers felt in 1974 after a long and bitter campaign to organize J.P. Stevens' textile plant in Roanoke Rapids. Workers then thought their union victory would be a turning point in the South -- and state AFL-CIO President Wilbur Hobby said it was "a new day in Dixie." He also prophesied a trend toward unionization: "J.P. first, the textile industry second and then the whole South."
The victory at the Stevens plant was even memorialized in the 1979 movie "Norma Rae" featuring Sally Field, who won an academy award.
But it took the union another six years to negotiate a contract with Stevens, and the union victory never led to the sweeping unionization of the industry or North Carolina -- let alone the South -- that the late labor boss Wilbur Hobby imagined.
Some optimists believe the workers in Bladen County could have a contract within six months, and it does sound as though Smithfield Foods is more amenable to working things out than J.P. Stevens was 34 years ago. "We respect the employees' decision and look forward to working together," said Dennis Pittman, a company spokesman, after the vote, according to news accounts.

Clodfelter for DENR?

Is state Sen. Dan Clodfelter of Charlotte in line for appointment in the Perdue administration as secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources?
Dome hears he's interested. The N&O Web site had this to say:

"Dome has heard one more name for the secretary of Environment and Natural Resources.

"Sen. Dan Clodfelter, a five-term Charlotte Democrat who currently sits on the Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, is reportedly interested in the job.

"He joins a long list of names, including current Secretary Bill Ross, parks director Lewis Ledford, former Secretary Bill Holman, Creedmoor Mayor Darryl Moss, conservationist Reid Wilson, transportation board member Nina Szlosberg and consultant Freda Porter."

Here's my two-cents' worth: Clodfelter is a highly knowledgeable workhorse on a variety of issues, including the environment. He was a key player in the long campaign to adopt better stormwater runoff rules. He's also an effective senator and skilled legislator, so if he were appointed, it would be a loss to the Senate for his expertise and judgment -- but a gain for the administration for the same reasons.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What would Bev do?

In case anyone is looking for clues to what Gov.-elect Bev Perdue will do once she takes office Jan. 9, there's new information on her Web site from 14 Transition Advisory Groups who've looked at the issues since the election and made specific recommendations to Perdue for actions she ought to take in such areas as environment, commerce, education and so on.
For example, the group looking at transportation issues made these suggestions, among others:
--Sell infrastructure (for example, bridges, ferry system) to private entities.
--Require counties to maintain county roads.
These reports don't bind Perdue to anything, but they may provide some hints to her thinking once she's in office.
Take a look here for all 14 reports:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Grinch Who Stole the Pay Raise

If you read Observer Washington correspondent Lisa Zagaroli's story Wednesday about the pensions that members of the N.C. congressional delegation will be eligible for when they leave office, no doubt you noted the curious case of U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, a Republican from Guilford County and a true skinflint.
I say that with some admiration. I've known Coble for decades and he's pretty tight with a buck -- his, yours or mine.
He didn't enroll in the congressional pension system, though by now it would have earned him a pension of about $65,000 a year after 24 years in the U.S. House. "It's a taxpayer ripoff," Coble told Zagaroli.
"I think the taxpayers probably should contribute to a modest pension, but this one is not modest. This is a lavish pension plan, vesting at five years and automatic cost of living (increases) worked into that."
When Coble was in the N.C. House of Representatives back in the 1970s, he was in the distinct minority on a lot of issues related to spending. He once sponsored a bill to stop a proposed legislative pay raise. My colleague the late Brent Hackney, then a Raleigh correspondent for the old Greensboro Daily News, wrote a story calling him The Grinch Who Stole the Pay Raise.
Coble, ham that he is, loved it. For years thereafter he reveled in the nickname -- and when he called his hometown paper to speak to one of us, he'd growl, "This is the Grinch."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2010 -- it's begun!

Tom Jensen, the analyst for Public Policy Polling whose writings about the 2008 election proved so accurate in this year's elections, is out with word that Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is in a good position to challenge Republican Sen. Richard Burr in 2010. Here's a link:

$2 to $3 billion for NC transportation?

There was some hopeful talk for travelers around Charlotte and those headed across the Yadkin River at this morning's final meeting of the 21st Century Transportation Committee. No, it's not that the General Assembly would adopt recommendations quickly and produce a lot of immediate revenue for highway, mass transit and other transportation projects. That's going to take a while.
This time the talk was some optimism about getting money from President-elect Barack Obama's proposed national infrastructure program, for N.C. transportation projects such as completion of the I-485 loop around Charlotte and replacing the aging I-85 bridges east of Spencer over the Yadkin river -- the principal east-west crossing for a great many cross-state motorists.
While there's no information on a specific sum that might be available if and when the president-elect gets congressional approval for his program in 2009, committee chairman Brad Wilson speculated that North Carolina's share might come to as much as $2 billion or $3 billion -- "big money," he accurately noted, making it critical for the state to have projects in the pipeline and ready to go when money becmes available.
State Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, is concerned that enough projects won't be fully ready to go. "If DOT has ever been in a hurry on anything, I've never seen it," Hoyle said.
The transportation committee reportm isn't online just yet but will be available at the committee's main Web site at

Users v. withdrawers: getting it right

Richard Whisnant, UNC Chapel Hill professor and co-author of a new study on state water allocation policy, notes that there's an important distinction that may escape some casual readers. The study recommends that those who withdrawn large amounts of water be required to get permits to do so -- but that's not the same thing as large users of water.
"The two populations are very different, since so many large users buy their water from someone else who withdraws and treats it," Whisnant says.
An Observer editorial Wednesday morning referred to water "users."

Monday, December 08, 2008

Data flowing on water study

A comprehensive study of the state's water allocation policies -- launched during a fierce drought and aimed at helping policymakers sort through competing issues and arriving better water policies that would preserve water resources as the state grows rapidly -- has developed over the past year on a Web site that invites the public's contributions. It also tracks changes as the study moved along.

The water study's principal authors are Richard Whisnant of the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government and Bill Holman of Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. You may have read about it in Bruce Henderson's story in the Observer Monday.

Whisnant and Holman were just the right analysts for the job. They've got a ton of experience, knowlege, judgement -- and wit to tackle the subject. As the so-called "water Wiki" notes:

"You cannot step twice into the same river, for fresh waters are flowing in upon you." ~Heraclitus, 500 B.C.

"You cannot click twice into the same water wiki, for fresh data are flowing in upon you." ~An Editor of the Water Wiki, 2007"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Should UNC block hate speech?

UNC President Erskine Bowles is asking a commission to study whether each of the university system's campuses should have a policy blocking hate speech, Mandy Locke reports in this story from the News & Observer.
Bowles was reacting to racist graffiti painted in the Free Expression Tunnel on the N.C. State campus after the Nov. 4 election. It declared, "Shoot that n----r in the head", among other things. The university is disciplining a student who took responsibility for initiating the painting, and four students involved have apologized. The state NAACP has asked that they be suspended. Neither state nor federal authorities have filed charges.
Bowles' concern about the racist speech is understandable. Intolerance and the promotion of violence have no place in a civil society, especially on a university campus. But there remains that other troubling question -- if the First Amendment is to truly mean anything, should it not protect even the most offensive speech? And if not, who decides where the line will be, and whether it moves?
It's also a sensitive issue for the university, which more than four decades ago suffered under the humiliation of a legislatively-imposed Speaker Ban Act that sought to prevent subversive speakers from appearing on state property, including university campuses. That law was passed by the General Assembly while Bowles was a student at Chapel Hill. That law threatened the university's accreditation and led to a prolonged campaign to have it declared unconstitutional, as it ultimately was.
Regulating speech is a tough question in a society that reveres its First Amendment rights to speak out -- but the university is within its rights and its responsibility to consider hate speech and what, if anything, to try to do about it.
What do you think?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Straight scoop on straight party votes

A few more digits for the data-starved post-election numbers addicts: Who are the most reliable straight-ticket voters in North Carolina? The Democrats, who predominate in numbers? You can certainly make that case, but there are some interesting nuances. One is that the Libertarian Party was one hell of a draw in this election.

Democrats represent about 46 percent of all registered voters, but in the election that began Oct. 16 and culminated on Election Day Nov. 4, 58.76% of the straight ticket votes cast went to the Democratic Party. (That's 1,283,486 out of a total 2.1 million straight ticket votes, according to the State Board of Elections Web site.)

While Republicans represent about 32 percent of the registered voters, 40.4 percent of straight-party votes (881,856) went for the Republican ticket.

So you can say that both Democrats and Republicans enjoyed straight-party support in excess of their proportion of registered voters.

This is not quite the same as saying that all those straight-party Democratic ballots were cast by Democrats, or that all those Republican straight-party ballots were cast by Republicans. There may have been a number of straight-ticket ballots cast by unaffiliated voters, who make up 22 percent of the state's registered voters. And of course there might have been some crossover straight tickets, too.

The interesting number to me was the number of straight-party ballots cast for the Libertarian ticket. There are only 3,683 North Carolinians registered as Libertarian, but there were 19,054 ballots cast for the Libertarian ticket. That's five times as many straight-ticket votes as there are registered voters for the Libertarian Party.

Of course, the Libertarian ticket was mighty short compared to the Democrats and Republicans, and Libertarian numbers are relatively tiny. Libertarians got less than 1 percent of the total straight ticket vote. But to draw straight party votes from a group five times the size of the party itself must be gratifying in some way.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Election Day winners: McCain, McCrory, Dole

Election Day winners: McCain, McCrory, Dole

If you're not already saturated with numbers from the Nov. 4 election returns, Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina has some gems. Among them: In votes cast on Election Day itself, Republicans John McCain, Pat McCrory and Elizabeth Dole won North Carolina.

Of course, the election isn't decided just on Election Day anymore. Early voting started October 16 and ended Nov. 1, and Democratic candidates for president, governor and U.S. senator rolled up considerably more votes during that period, enough to win the office after the votes cast on Nov. 4 were added.

The election turnout was 70 percent, best record since the 1968 election.

Here's Bob's full report:
New Data Shows Lopsided Results from Early Voting versus Election Day,
Attached County-by-County Chart Shows Record Voter Turnout Rates
* Obama, Hagan and Perdue each led by more than 300,000 votes after Early Voting, then lost on Election Day
* North Carolina hits 70% turnout of registered voters; eight counties hit 75%
* The worrisome “under-vote” (voters skipping the presidential race) reached only 1.0%
Now that nearly all North Carolina counties have certified their vote counts, more details are emerging about this historic election. A couple localized recounts are still underway and the State Board of Elections will not certify the results until November 25, but new information dramatizes the significance of the Early Voting turnout to the overall election results.
Previous data indicated that Barack Obama led John McCain by nearly 180,000 votes after the Early Voting period, then lost most of that lead with Election Day voters. Because of a glitch in how several counties (including Durham and Wake) reported their returns, the gap between Early Voting and Election Day results was actually much larger than previously reported.
For example, the attached chart indicates that Obama led McCain by about 343,000 votes at the end of the Early Voting period, while McCain outpaced Obama on Election Day by nearly 330,000 votes. After provisional ballots were counted, Obama's lead now stands at 14,179 votes.
Barack Obama: Early Voting - 1,382,121; Election Day - 747,637
John McCain: Early Voting - 1,039,229; Election Day - 1,077,086
The attached chart shows that Kay Hagan led Elizabeth Dole by more than 400,000 votes in the Early Voting period, but Dole led Hagan by 44,000 votes on Election Day.
Bev Perdue led Pat McCrory by 312,000 votes at the end of Early Voting, and then lost by about 170,000 on Election Day.
A few smaller counties have not yet allocated their votes between Election Day and Early Voting, but these lopsided differences are not expected to change.
Overall, more than 4,354,000 of the state's 6,245,000 registered voters cast ballots, for a turnout rate of 70% -- the highest turnout since 1968.
That's a big jump from the 64% turnout in 2004 and all indications are that North Carolina achieved the biggest gain in turnout in the nation -- a bigger jump in voter turnout over 2004 than any other state, according to Democracy North Carolina's review of available data.
Chatham County led the state with a 78% turnout rate, while Warren County led with the biggest jump over its performance in 2004. The heightened participation by African Americans and Democrats, especially during the Early Voting period, means that most of the counties with the biggest jumps in turnout from 2004 to 2008 are in the east; however, these counties are not necessarily among those with highest turnout for this year.
The 10 counties with the highest turnout for 2008 (ranging from 78 to 74%) are: Chatham, Davie, Durham, Moore, Forsyth, Alleghany, Wake, Person, Greene, and Granville.
The 10 counties with the lowest turnout (ranging from 58 to 64%) are: Robeson (last place), Onslow, Swain, Cumberland, Cherokee, Scotland, Hoke, Jackson, McDowell, and Avery.
Democracy North Carolina applauds election officials across the state for a superior performance of their own. The intense preparation, additional investment in Early Voting opportunities, training of poll workers, and problem-solving attitude helped keep problems to a minimum.
Election officials made a special effort to explain the odd nature of North Carolina's straight-party ballot to voters. Under NC law, choosing the straight-party option does not include casting a vote in the presidential race; that must be done separately. Democracy North Carolina and various national organizations have criticized the law, and in years past, reports indicate that as many as 2% of the voters have skipped the presidential contest, or "under voted." Some voters likely intentionally don't want to cast a ballot for a presidential candidate, but it is likely that many of these under votes are caused by confusion with the straight-party option.
Because of media attention and extra education, the under vote this year was barely 1% (4,354,569 voters minus 4,310,770 votes for any presidential candidate = 43,799). However, that is still more than 43,000 voters, enough for continuing concern about the impact of the straight-party ticket on elections in North Carolina.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Advice for Hagan: Hep 'em all

As Sen.-elect Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, prepares to move to Washington to succeed Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., it's worth considering one hallmark of successful Senators: They're known for first-rate constituent services in the nation's capital. Most every member of Congress with any hopes of staying in the House or Senate understands that, at least on a theoretical level. And my guess is that every member already believes he or she has one of the best constituent-service offices in the nation's history -- staffers who will help run interference with Social Security problems, or passport problems, or Veterans Administration cases, or just rounding up an American flag that's flown over the Capitol for an elementary school class.

But some senators are a lot better at it than others. During the past few years we heard regularly from folks who claimed to have written Dole's office about one matter or another, often but not always seeking help, and who said they never heard back. That's the kind of thing that may be a matter of a simple mistake or a lost communication, but it can also turn a supporter into an opponent. Perhaps it's one of the things that turned Elizabeth Dole into a one-term senator.

My guess is Hagan's uncle, former Sen. Lawton Chiles, D-FL, had a pretty good operation, too. She saw it from the inside when she worked there for a while, so no doubt she understands the value.

Hagan ought to give some thought to how the offices of two conservative icons ran their constituent service organizations. The late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., had a crackerjack outfit that had the reputation of jumping to help any North Carolinian with a problem in Washington or with any federal agency.

And the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., may have set the gold standard. I was reading about this recently in a book of reminiscences, "The Centennial Senators." Lee Bandy, reporter and columnist for The State in newspaper (and an old friend from my Washington days), says that when Thurmond was asked what he liked best about the job, he would always say, "Hep'n people."

Duke Short, Thurmond's top aide who pulled the book together after Thurmond's death, said Thurmond used to tell his staff, "It doesn't matter to me what your job is. We're here to help people. And if you can't help people, we're going to help you go somewhere else real quick." Short recalled that Thurmond always gave this answer for how he'd like to be remembered: "Hep'n people! All the people."

Evidently it didn't matter who you were. As Short noted, if you were from South Carolina, or went to school in South Carolina, or once lived in South Carolina, or were related to people from South Carolina, or had driven through South Carolina, or had once been to the beach in South Carolina, that was good enough to get help from Thurmond's office. I think that's essentially the way Helms' office handled the job. It evidently didn't matter who you were or whether you liked what the senators did on other issues. If you needed help, you got it.

Considering that Thurmond served in the Senate for about half a century, and that Helms served 30 years and never lost a race, a new senator with hopes for a long tenure in Washington ought to think pretty carefully about the value of hep'n people.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Feeling sandbagged? Take a gander

If you've wondered what the fuss is about the state requiring the removal of sandbags along the N.C. coast where permits have expired, and don't know what those sandbags look like, the state is giving you a way to take a look. The Division of Coastal Management has created a Web site through Google Earth that lets you click on problem spots so you can see for yourself. The Web site is at
These are not little sandbags of the sort you see thrown around during floods out West. These are big sand-filled monsters, and there are something like 358 of them along the coast. They are allowed under state law that prohibits certain "hardened" structures such as seawalls, which can cause erosion at nearby property. The law allows temporary sandbags to help stabilize property threatened by the sea, but there are time limits.
Jim Gregson, director of the Division of Coastal Management in Morehead City, told attendees at the annual conference of the N.C. Beach, Inlet and Waterway Association Monday that the state ordered 150 of the sandbags removed by May of this year, while another 65 were covered by sand and vegetation and thus not subject to be removed. The remainder will have to be removed, but the state isn't going after every one all at once because there might be a flood of appeals for variances. The state sent out a letter to 23 property owners whose sandbags are a priority to remove. Those are the ones on the interactive Web site. You can click on the teardrop-shaped icons along the coast to see exactly what they look like. Here's a link.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Holy Smoke: The barbecue aristocracy

Standing there in Raleigh's upscale new barbecue restaurant The Pit last night was an amazing group woven deeply into North Carolina's cultural fabric. No, not the literati, though some of them were there. Not the business elite, nor the political elite, though a few of them were there. These were truly important folks who have worn familiar names to anyone with an appreciation for what my friend Dennis Rogers once called the Holy Grub. These were some, though hardly all, of North Carolina's barbecue aristocracy -- names such as Wilber Shirley, Samuel Jones, Ed Mitchell and Chip Stamey.
They were gathered on this rare occasion to launch a new and most worthy book about Tar Heel barbecue -- "Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue." Published by UNC Press, which has become a major celebrant of N.C. cooking, the book is not meant so much as a guide to barbecue restaurants, such as Bob Garner's ground-breaking Guide to North Carolina Barbecue, an indispensible reference work. This one is about the people, the recipes and lore of N.C. barbecue, according to authors John Shelton Reed, his spouse Dale Volberg Reed and William McKinney.
As the group stood in front of the crowd at The Pit -- which features Ed Mitchell's outstanding barbecue and ribs, among other things -- I thought how vast a trove of barbecue experience that group represented and how far their families go back into N.C. barbecue history. Samuel Jone's grandfather the late Pete Jones founded the Skylight Inn in Ayden, a not-to-be missed barbecue restaurant; Chip Stamey's grandfather Warner Stamey started the Stamey's barbecue restaurants in Greensboro where I grew up, but he's part of an extended family whose blood kin includes those who run outstanding BBQ places in Lexington and Shelby and who have trained many others who now run their own places -- such as a favorite of mine, Fuzzy's in the Madison-Mayodan area.
I asked Chip Stamey's father, Charles Stamey, why he had never opened a barbecue restaurant in Charlotte, where he would have been sure to find hungry customers. "Well, we all like to think that everyone likes everything we like," he mused, but he wasn't sure that was so. "Folks used to ask me to open one in Richmond, and we could have done that. But it might have taken a long time to adjust things to folks' taste there." But staying in Greensboro, where the family's first restaurant opened near what is now the Greensboro Coliseum (it was the fairgrounds them), allowed the family to concentrate on what they knew best -- selling barbecue made from pork shoulders, in the Lexington style.
What I like so much about this book is that the authors have carefully recorded first-person accounts of how these barbecue restaurateurs go about their business. It is as if they turned on the mike, asked the right question and got out of the way. It's not that easy, I know, but the authors made this a mighty easy read. Reading Chip Stamey's account of how the Greensboro Stamey's changed -- and about his own campaign to keep the menu traditional while his father was trying to simplify and streamline the family's offering -- is a fascinating account of how seriously these folks take their obligation to provide us all with the world's best barbecue.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

North Carolina's four U.S. Senators

For those who like to keep track of all things related to North Carolina, here's some trivia: How many North Carolinians are there in the U.S. Senate right now?

Depending on how you define the term, there are four: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, reared in Salisbury (and defeated by state Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro, a Shelby native, in last week's election), and Sen. Richard Burr, from Winston-Salem. Both Dole and Burr are Republicans; Hagan is a Democrat.

And there are at least two senators who are N.C. natives (native, as in (born in' as opposed to 'reared in') but who represent other states.

One of them is West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, an aging parliamentarian who was born in Wilkes County, and whom the Democratic leadership recently persuaded to step down from leadership of the appropriations committee because of his advanced age. He'll be 91 next week. Byrd was born on Nov. 20, 1917. Wikipedia's entry says this: "Byrd was born Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr., in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1917. When he was one year old, his mother, Ada Mae Kirby, died in the 1918 Flu Pandemic. In accordance with his mother's wishes, his father, Cornelius Calvin Sale, dispersed the family children among relatives. Sale Jr. was given to the custody of an aunt and an uncle, Vlurma and Titus Byrd, who renamed him Robert Carlyle Byrd and raised him in the coal-mining region of southern West Virginia." Curiously, Byrd, a Democrat, is a former Ku Klux Klan member, way back in his youth, who endorsed Barack Obama for president.

The other Tar Heel native in the Senate is Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss. As my former colleague Dave Ingram notes in an e-mail from Washington, where he now works for Legal Times, Chambliss was born in Warrenton in Warren County in 1943. Chambliss later graduated from high school in Louisiana and went to the University of Georgia. Chambliss, a Republican, is locked in a Dec. 2 runoff with Democrat Jim Martin, an Atlanta native.

Ok, one more piece of trivia. Of the four current U.S. senators and the one senator-elect mentioned in this blog, which one is not a North Carolina native? It's Richard Burr, a native of Charlottesville, Va.

(And just to take note: That's the same state -- excuse me, commonwealth -- from whence Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue came to this state to eventually become the first woman elected lieutenant governor and governor of this state. She's a native of Grundy, Va.)

(Which other recent N.C. governor was born elsewhere? Gov. Jim Martin, governor from 1985-1993, born in Savannah, Ga. And no, that’s not the same Jim Martin running against Saxby Chambliss.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Next up -- Richard Burr?

It's no secret that the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has turned over regularly since 1974. Since Sen. Sam Ervin retired, occupants of that seat have barely had a six-year hold on the office. The other Senate seat was held by Jesse Helms for five straight terms before Sen. Elizabeth Dole held it just one term -- losing last week to state Sen. Kay Hagan. Prior to this year, some Democrats may have been thinking they couldn't pick up another Senate seat until Burr came up for re-election.
Now Public Policy Polling -- which has seen its reputation soar during the 2008 election -- says Burr has a challenge ahead of him because his approval rating wad low in July --about 27 %. That may not bode well for his reelection hopes, but Burr has confounded political observers before with his successful one-on-one style of campaigning that reaches a lot more voters than it first appears to. And no doubt with Dole's loss and the low approval rating that PPP detected at mid-summer, Burr will be running hard and keeping fences mended.
Here's Tom Jensen's analysis:
North Carolina:

Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina has just a 27% approval rating, according to a PPP survey conducted in July.

It's not that the voters dislike Burr- there are slightly more who approve of the job he's doing than disapprove. But a remarkably high 46% of them are ambiguous toward him.

That fact makes Burr pretty vulnerable for reelection in two years. Incumbency is a huge advantage, but much less so when the voters don't even really know who you are. And a 46% 'not sure' rating for a US Senator shows he's not doing much to attract the voters' attention.

After seeing Kay Hagan knock Elizabeth Dole many of the folks who declined to run in 2008 will no doubt be chomping at the bit for a second chance in 2010. PPP will begin testing possible matchups for that race soon.

Monday, November 10, 2008

McCrory's 'best shot': Congress?

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling notes that Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who had never lost an election before losting to Democrat Bev Perdue in last week's governor's race, may have a tough fight on his hands if he runs for mayor for an eighth term. He also suggests that McCrory's "best shot for higher office is probably replacing Sue Myrick in Congress" one day. Read on:

Pat McCrory had never lost an election in Charlotte- until Tuesday. While Bev Perdue's margin of victory in Mecklenburg County was pretty small, her victory in the city itself was much greater- about 10 percent.

The fact that McCrory couldn't even win the city he's Mayor of in his quest to be elected Governor has some interesting implications moving forward. One reason he's had such ease getting reelected as Mayor over and over again is that the Democrats have put forth weak opponents against him. That will not be the case if he chooses to seek another term in 2009 with popular At Large City Councilman Anthony Foxx already announced as a candidate and other strong Democrats potentially in the mix as well. He may have to fight if he wants to keep his current post.

What about another bid for Governor? McCrory won 14 out of 18 counties within the Charlotte tv market, but lost 56 of the other 82 across the state. It's unclear whether he really has that much appeal outside his home base. He didn't connect with rural voters, which meant that Bev Perdue was able to win a lot of counties where Barack Obama lost. Republicans may want to nominate someone who can fare better in every different part of the state.

Where does that leave him? I think McCrory's best shot for higher office is probably replacing Sue Myrick in Congress at some point. He did quite well in Gaston and Union Counties, and conceivably the Mecklenburg part of the 9th Congressional District as well. Democrats are not likely to be particularly competitive for that seat any time soon, meaning it could be McCrory's for the taking whenever it comes open.
This is also available on our blog:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Keeping score: Rand was right

Keeping score -- and Rand was right
For those who keep tabs of the score, a couple of weeks ago former N.C. Free analyst John Davis projected that Republicans might pick up enough support to control the state Senate. Among those he forecast might win were Kathy Harrington, Republican challenger to longtime Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston.
Senate Democratic leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, said it wouldn't happen, that perhaps no more than a couple Democrats might be in jeopardy. Tuesday's election proved Rand right. Democrats lost a net of just one seat in the Senate, and Hoyle, long a champion of open government in the Senate, won his race with 51.5 percent of the vote in a Republican-voting county. It's a sign of the Senate Finance Committee chairman's political strength that he has consistently won in a county that usually favors the other party. Hoyle had gotten criticism from the Observer about his votes promoting a toll road not far from his property, but Senate ethics experts said it did not conflict with any ethics policy and that Hoyle would not have profited any more than any other person who had property in the area.
Other high-profile races in which Democrats held on: State Sen. R.C. Soles, D-Columbus, and Sen. Julia Boseman, D-New Hanover.
For the record, the Senate lineup when the 2009 General Assembly convenes will be 30 Democrats, 20 Republicans.

Perdue won Meck by 2 votes per precinct

For those who thought Democrat Bev Perdue wouldn't do well in Mecklenburg, where Republican Pat McCrory won seven terms as Charlotte mayor, here's the answer: She did run over the mayor, but she barely beat him with 49.04% of the vote --198,631 in all -- to McCrory's 48.94% of the vote -- 198,246. It was a grand total of a 385-vote edge for Perdue. With 195 precincts in Mecklenburg, that's a difference of less than 2 votes per precinct.
It's a reminder that a Democratic candidate can do well in Mecklenburg -- but other Democrats did a lot better. Barack Obama won 61.8 percent of the vote in the presidential race and Kay Hagon won 61.6 percent, with a 100,000 vote cushion over their opponents.
Maybe one difference was Perdue's Eastern N.C. ads critical of the Charlotte mayor and suggesting the big-city folks couldn't understand rural needs. Or maybe it was reflective of the struggle Perdue had in a number of places to persuade voters she deserved to be governor.
Still, fans of ACC basketball understand this: blowout or a narrow in, a W is still a W and counts just as much in the final standings.

Undervote back to normal?

Undervote back to normal?
In 2000 and 2004 a lot of North Carolinians didn't cast ballots in the presidential race -- far more than the roughly 1 percent that normally might choose not to vote for any candidate in that race. The falloff those years was up to three times the normal rate. How about Tuesday? The State Board of Elections Web site reports that 4,293,645 ballots were cast overall, but 4,248,285 ballots were cast in the presidential race. That's a falloff of 45,360, if my math is right -- .0105644 of a falloff. Here's the elections board website, in case the numbers get updated.

2pm update: Joyce McCloy of the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting reminds me that a lot of those in the falloff category were provisional ballots, and that may be an indication that there were even fewer ballots in the category of "undervote" or "falloff" than first appeared.

Update Thursday: the actual falloff in voting was more like 24,000 -- well below what voting experts say could normally be expected among voters who choose not to vote for a presidential candidate.

As I've said, I don't like straight-ticket voting. I'm a ticket-splitter. But in this case it certainly appears that election officials did a good job reminding voters that North Carolina's straight-ticket voting process does NOT include the presidential race. Still, it's something the legislature ought to fix. Any system that fools even a few voters into thinking they've voted needs work.
And it makes you wonder why 45,360 people didn't vote for any candidate.
Oh -- and the elections board says turnout was 68.56 percent of the state's 6,262,566 voters.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Only 3 governors in 32 years?

A Raleigh reader's question about this week's column reminds me of this point about today's election for governor: N.C. voters are choosing only the fourth different person since 1976 to be governor.
Thanks to the 1976 Constitutional amendment that allowed governors to run for and serve a second consecutive term in office, we've seen Democrat Jim Hunt serve two straight terms, then Republican Jim Martin serve two, then Jim Hunt serve another two, then Democrat Mike Easley serve two. That's eight gubernatorial terms, but only three people since President Gerald Ford left office. Either Democrat Bev Perdue or Republican Pat McCrory will become the fourth person to be elected governor in the past 32 or so years.
All this comes to mind because a reader wondered about a line in the column which said "Democratic presidential candidates have won nationally three times" since 1964. The reader thought that meant I was saying that three different Democrats had been elected president, but that's not the case with that particularly grammatical construction. The Democratic candidates who won three times were Jimmy Carter once (1976) and Bill Clinton twice (1992 and 1996).
But the reader had a closer point about the way I wrote that "N.C. voters did elect three Republican governors…." It was, of course, only two different persons. They elected Republican Jim Holshouser for one term in 1972, before governors could run for another term, and Republican Jim Martin twice, in 1984 and 1988.
This is also a reminder that the Era of the Jims officially ended years ago. Unless the winner of today's gubernatorial election changes his or her name, we're well out of the time when only a Jim could win. From Holshouser in 1972 to Jim Hunt's final term ending in 2000, all our governors were named Jim. OK, that's only three Jims, but they served seven different terms in office.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The flash in the pan

With all the excitement of the 2008 election campaign peaking today and Tuesday, and Republican hopes for a huge get-out-the-vote effort to counter the prospect of a Democratic sweep of major offices in North Carolina, something's missing from this campaign: John Edwards, the form-out-of-nowhere candidate whose 10 years in N.C. politics reflected both a meteoric rise and catastrophic fall in state politics. My colleague at the N&O Rob Christensen mentioned the Edwards phenomenon the other day in a column, and his case is an example of how briefly even a bright flash in the pan can shine. Edwards, Christensen thought, might have made Chapel Hill the site of the Southern White House before it all blew up.

Edwards was a political unknown prior to the 1998 Senate race, when he was a fairly well-known trial lawyer who hadn't bothered to even vote in a lot of campaigns. But he knocked off U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., who had long been a staple of N.C. politics as both a Democrat and later a Republican. Before his first two years in the Senate were up, Edwards was already being talked about for the presidential ticket. He was briefly considered for Al Gore's running mate in 2000 and was John Kerry's running mate in 2004.
He was running for the top post in 2007 when rumors began to circulate about an affair with a campaign worker -- hotly denied by those around him. Edward's campaign rumbled to a halt earlier this year when it became apparent that the Democratic primary race was between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Edwards endorsed Obama, but there still was talk of a bright future for Edwards in Washington -- perhaps a Cabinet post. Attorney General? Secretary of Labor? All that talk stopped when Edwards admitted during the summer that he had indeed had an affair in 2006 with a former campaign staffer -- an admission that looked all that much worse because of his wife Elizabeth Edwards' struggle with cancer.
Edward's decade in the political limelight is tailor-made for the plot of a steamy political novel. But it's hard to see an opportunity for a political comeback, even in fiction.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sins of the Speakers

Former House Co-Speaker Richard Morgan, a Republican from Moore County, is running for Superintendent of Public Instruction this fall. Like some candidates, he has also recently published a book about his time in politics,:The Fourth Witch: A Memoir of Politics and Sinning." In it he sheds light on how he came to share power in the N.C. House of Representatives with former Speaker and Co-Speaker Jim Black of Mecklenburg, now serving time in a federal prison for having accepted bribes.
He writes about a former aide to Black, Meredith Norris, who wielded great power and who benefitted from Black's helping her get clients as a lobbyist, and about former Rep. Mike Decker, a conservative Christian who accepted a bribe to switch his vote to help keep Black in power and who is also in federal prison.
Here's what Morgan had to say about Black: "It's hard to describe how I feel about what Jim did today. I served beside him two years as Speaker. I worked with him every day. He was my friend. How I don't feel is outraged. Or holier than thou. A day comes when unless you're blind you can't avoid seeing what every saint who ever drew breath figured out: Sin is bone deep. It's wider than any ocean. And none of us is safe. A thirty-year-old-girl was foolish enough to believe monitoring legislation wasn't lobbying. A history teacher from the Gospel Light Christian School, in an IHOP in Salisbury, took a $50,000 bribe. And a 72-year-old grandfather is serving five years in prison.
I guess how I feel about it is like the sinner's prayer, 'Have mercy, oh Lord, on me a sinner.'"
Later in the book, Morgan writes about his failure to confront Black in the House:
"My sin wasn't that I agreed to share power with Jim. It was in my not looking him in the eye, later, and saying, 'I can read a newspaper report. Is it true you bribed Mike Decker?'
"Instead, I didn't ask. Because Jim was my friend I closed my eyes -- and I'll warn you the easiest sin you'll ever commit is the one where you don't have to say a word or lift a finger -- where all you have to do is close your eyes."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bev not kissing off Charlotte, camp says

Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue's campaign says the Democratic candidate for governor is not kissing off Charlotte-Mecklenburg in this year's election while it stumps for votes in Eastern North Carolina, as This Old State wondered yesterday, based on an analysis by Public Policy Polling suggesting she was risking ticking off voters in the state's largest city. The campaign has an office there, she has campaigned dozens of times in Mecklenburg, Perdue's son Garrett is working the election circuit there and if elected governor, Perdue plans to open a governor's office in Charlotte. And campaign spokesman David Kochman notes the following letter of support published in the Durham Herald by Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Susan Burgess:
As Charlotte's mayor pro tem, many people have asked me who I support for governor. My answer is clear -- Bev Perdue.
In fact, the majority of the Charlotte City Council supports Perdue for governor. I know both candidates personally. I served with Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory on the City Council for seven years, and I've seen first-hand Perdue's work as lt. governor. She is the leader we need during these difficult times.
Unlike McCrory, she understands that we must bring our entire state together, all 100 counties, rather than pitting regions or groups against each other.
The difference is clear here in Charlotte -- McCrory vetoed a budget that would have added 70 more police on the streets. He opposed a program to revitalize a troubled neighborhood and reduce crime.
Perdue, on the other hand, personally visited those communities to learn about their concerns. Charlotte's form of government, like other North Carolina cities, gives the mayor no power. McCrory has never written a budget nor does he vote on City Council actions except in limited cases.
He has absolutely no experience in human services such as education, health care or mental health. In these most challenging times, we cannot risk a governor who needs on-the-job training. As governor, Bev Perdue has the experience and temperament to give all North Carolinians a seat at the table. Only she can move our entire state forward.
October 28, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bev to Charlotte: Drop dead?

Democrat Bev Perdue is maintaining a small lead over Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory in the governor's race with a week to go in the latest Public Policy Polling survey. Analyst Tom Jensen says the Perdue campaign has make a clear decision that it's willing to risk alienating voters in Charlotte-Mecklenburg -- hearkening up memories of a famous tabloid headline from 1975 when President Ford refused bailout money for an ailing New York City. The New York Daily News headline: "Ford to City: Drop dead."

Here's Jensen's analysis, in its entirety:

Bev Perdue 47
Pat McCrory 44
Michael Munger 5

Bev Perdue's campaign has made a clear calculus that they're willing to tick off Charlotte voters if it allows them to rack up the kind of margins they need to win in eastern North Carolina. Right now it seems to be working.

One of the biggest things that has kept Perdue from running away with this race is that Pat McCrory has consistently shown a huge lead in the polls in greater Charlotte, including major in roads with white Democrats, that Perdue has not been able to match in her home base of eastern North Carolina. Perdue has worked hard to shore up her support in Charlotte, but McCrory has consistently led the polls there by double digits.

So about two weeks ago it seems Perdue's campaign became heavily focused on the east. First she started running effective ads on Yankee trash, an issue that hits home much harder east of I-95 than it does anywhere else. Her newest set of ads attack McCrory for a Charlotte first mentality: if there was no inherent anti-Charlotte bias with voters outside the state of Mecklenburg, it seems, the Perdue campaign is trying to create one.

How's it all working? In the two polls before this new strategy Perdue led by an average of 48-42 in eastern North Carolina. In the two polls since her average lead is up to 54-38, including a new high of 56-36 in this week's poll. We project eastern North Carolinians to cast around 28-30% of the vote for Governor, so a ten point increase in her lead in that region gives her an extra three points statewide. That's huge in a tight race.

Of course folks in Charlotte aren't necessarily thrilled with Perdue's strategy. In the two polls before she started actively courting the east she trailed by an average of 52-41 there. In the last two she trails by an average of 53-39, with her 53-36 deficit this week the largest she's shown in Charlotte in a long time. So she's lost 3-4 points in a region of the state that will cast about 20% of the vote. That costs her a point statewide.

Forsaking a point in Charlotte to pick up three in the east? Could make the difference in a close race.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Old Reliable endorses McCrory

That agitated buzz you heard Sunday maybe have been from the steady conversation zipping across the political spectrum Sunday after The News & Observer, long the state's most important politicial newspaper, endorsed Republican Pat McCrory for governor.

The N&O was once known as The Old Reliable -- though not just for its steady support of Democrats dating to the days when its owners, the Daniels family of Raleigh, were involved nationally in Democratic Party politics. It had never previously endorsed a Republican for president, U.S. Senator or governor on its editorial pages -- at least as far as Editorial Page Editor Steve Ford knows. "I haven't carefully researched the matter, but I don't remember any such previous endorsement during my time with the paper (since 1981), and I doubt there was one before that," he said in an e-mail Monday.

Ferrel Guillory, a former reporter, editor, columnist and opinion writer with the News & Observer and now a professor of journalism and director of the program on public life at UNC Chapel Hill, thought the paper had always endorsed Democrats, even in 1928 when Al Smith, a Catholic, was abandoned by Democrats elsewhere across the South because they were alarmed by his faith. The McCrory endorsement, he said, "Is a clear break for the N&O from its past."

Like the Charlotte Observer, the N&O has also endorsed Barack Obama for president and Kay Hagan for Senate. They're both Democrats. And, of course, the N&O has also endorsed Republicans in other offices down the ballot, including in this election.

While the state's other large newspapers, including the Observer and the Greensboro News-Record had previously endorsed Republicans, the Old Reliable had not. John Hood of the Locke Foundation called the endorsement of McCrory over Democrat Bev Perdue "jaw-dropping," though I doubt it truly stunned anyone. Endorsements by newspapers have run steadily against Perdue, except in Eastern N.C. papers in Wilmington and Greenville and the Sandhills area paper in Southern Pines -- owned by several Daniels family members.

It's worth remembering that the News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer were ring leaders in the late 19th-century effort to undermine the Republican Party and overturn a Fusion government of Republicans and African Americans in Wilmington and replace them with Democrats. That episode is thought to be the only coup in the United States turning out a legally elected government.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Numbers for political junkies

For serious students of political science, you can't beat the meat-and-potatoes findings of the "North Carolina Data Net" at, published by the Program on Public Life at UNC Chapel Hill.

In the institution's most recent Web site posting, observations include these dry but significance-laden statistics and observations:

*The big story in registration trends involves unaffiliated voters, who now represent more than one-fifth of the North Carolina electorate. While the actual numbers rose within the major parties, both Democratic and Republican affiliation decreased between late 2004 and October 2008 as a share of the total electorate.
Unaffiliated voters, meanwhile, now account for 22.1 percent of all registrants, up from 18.5 percent in 2004.

*This is an historic election in terms of gender and race, in the nation and in North Carolina. Among the candidates in the three major campaigns on the ballot, there are four women: Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for vice president; Elizabeth Dole, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate; Kay Hagan, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate; and Beverly Perdue, the Democratic candidate for governor. In the presidential election, Barack Obama, the first black candidate of a major political party, has targeted North Carolina and made the state highly competitive in his race against Republican John McCain.

*As was the case in 2000, metropolitan areas largely account for statewide election turnout. In 2004, 15 of 100 North Carolina counties accounted for 51.1 percent of votes in the presidential election. In 2000, Bush won 12 of the top 15 counties, while Gore took three. In 2004, however, Bush won just six of the top 15 counties, and Kerry won 9. The 2008 presidential election will reveal whether Democrats can continue to win in the state’s major metropolitan areas while attracting new voters in rural areas.

Here’s a link to the Web site.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Voters to go for youngest candidates?

John Davis, the former head of the pro-business group NCFREE, has come up with another set of N.C. political predictions, this time in the top three races in North Carolina -- and he says the younger candidates will win.
He projects that Barack Obama will become the first Democrat to win the presidential race since 1976 when Jimmy Carter won.
He predicts that Kay Hagan will become the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race in a presidential election year since 1968, when Sen. Sam Ervin won his last campaign.
And he also predicts that the same trend helping Hagan in her campaign against Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a Republican, will help Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican, in his race against Democratic Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue: an anti-establishment mood.
In each case, the winner would be the youngest candidate.
"The two primary political forces driving the coming Election Day upheaval are
the anti-establishment mood of the voters and an era of
generational change, each compounding the power of the other
by coming together at the same time in political history," he notes.

Here's a link to his analysis:
Among other things, Davis notes that younger voters are motivated not by politics or ideology, but youth and hope:
"Newcomers to our state are more inclined to vote for Obama, Hagan and McCrory because they are younger and because they are not incumbent leaders of the day. Young voters are not voting for Barack Obama for U.S. President because he is a Democrat or because he's liberal, they are voting for him because he's 46 and offers them hope for a new direction for the country … one that their generation can influence."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dems in D.C.: One reader's 'terrifying' thought

In a Sunday column about Sen. Elizabeth Dole's political plight, I mused about her missed opportunity to connect with citizens and gain a reputation for standing up for ordinary folks against a powerful government during the dispute over the proposed Outlying Landing Field near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina.

A retired military officer wrote back, taking me to task for going too easy on Dole -- "It's time for her to move on" -- and offering a few additional thoughts about the upcoming election. It was a thoughtful note -- including his worry about what would happen if Democrats win a landslide and wind up with big Congressional majorities. "An absolutely terrifying prospect," he thought.
Here's what he had to say:
"Mr. Betts,
"In your column today you were too kind by half in assessing the disservice Senator Dole has done to the State and her chances of reelection by her Janie Come Lately opposition to the OLF. From my perspective she has done little in the service of her North Carolina constituents -- the main reason for which she was elected.
"I am a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer. So, that makes me a member of a special interest group -- veterans/military. By virtue of my age and some other pursuits I'm a member some others too but, what the heck, every constituent is a member of at least one. Since my retirement I have maintained an active interest in national legislation that pertains to military and veterans issues. When the need arises I do not hesitate to communicate with my elected representatives to urge their support of or opposition to bills as they move through the sausage-making machinery. In response to my communications, usually by e-mail, I routinely receive letter responses from Senator Richard Burr and Representative Sue Myrick. Sure, most of their letters are boilerplate explaining their positions on the legislation in question; nevertheless they are acknowledgement of correspondence from a constituent. Not once in her tenure as a Senator have I heard so much as a peep from Ms. Dole in response to any of my messages. That could be the result of, (a) sloppy staff organization, (b) a "who cares" attitude on the part of the Senator and her staff, and/or (c) both of the above. The bottom line for me is that Senator Dole doesn't really give a rat's rump about her constituents.
"In my mind a vote for Senator can be justified only as a defensive note because I view the potential threat of Democrat Executive and Legislative branches with a filibuster-proof Senate an absolutely terrifying prospect for the Republic.
"You were too easy on the old girl. It's time for her to move on, but the result could be more damaging than anyone could imagine if Democrats have virtually unopposed control of the government. What a predicament in which to have to cast a ballot!"
Jay Brosnan
Mint Hill, NC

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A trio who made us different

The Passing Scene
As the year rushes on and the seasons change, it's time to take note of just a few of the remarkable North Carolinians who've died recently:
John Webb of Wilson, who died at age 82 on Sept. 18. He was a judge for 27 years, serving on the Superior Court bench from 1971-77, then on the N.C. Court of Appeals until 1986, and on the Supreme Court until 1998.He was a World War II veteran, one of millions who went off to war, came back to go to college and law school and went on to build successful careers and become pillars of the community. They'll tell stories for a long time about John Webb, once known as the Smiling Cobra because he was soft-spoken and could smile and listen politely to defendants and their lawyers -- then strike with a tough sentence for those offenders who needed to go to prison.

Nell Joslin Styron of Raleigh died at age 93 on Sept. 10. There was just no one quite like her. She was a newspaper writer, poet, gardening expert, restaurant hostess and generally the life of the Capital City. I met her one day in the 1970s when journalist Ferrel Guillory introduced me to an out-of-the-way restaurant called The Upstairs (and known to old-timers as Marcus's, after a delicatessen that preceded The Upstairs. Nell Styron personally escorted diners to their tables, described the day's specials and regularly advised customers not to miss the cherry dessert -- but you must have it with ice cream "because the cherries are so taaahht." It took me two or three visits to realize she meant tart. They were. In time I came to dine there with the late Jack Aulis, a newspaper columnist who as a Marine had left an arm on some god-forsaken Pacific island during World War II. When Jack arrived, Nell would fly to the cash register and bring back a fresh flower bud, often a rose, that she cut each week to put in Jack's lapel. It was one of the most civil things I ever saw. This place isn't the same without Nell Styron.

And then there was Mary Garber of Winston-Salem, who died Sept. 19 at 92. I didn't know her personally, but I watched her work for decades. She was unique -- a pioneering woman sports writer in a profession that for a long time was dominated almost exclusively by men. She wrote for the Twin City Sentinel and the Winston-Salem Journal, starting in the 1940s when men were away at war and women did a lot of the work. Somehow she survived and thrived after the war, undergoing the indignities of not having the same access to athletes for so long. My first sight of her was in my high school days, when my school, Greensboro Page, was playing basketball at Winston-Salem Reynolds. A diminutive creature hardly five feet tall, wearing some sort of close-knit cap hung with sewn-on bangles was writing things on a notepad and talking to the coaches. I asked a friend from Winston-Salem who in the world that was, and was told, "Oh, that's Miss Mary Garber. She covers sports." I never met her, but in coming years I'd see her at high school or college games, often with one of those funny hats, always with a pad, always asking questions and always working. She was one of the many people that made life in this state somehow different, and almost always better.

Monday, October 13, 2008

GOP Senate? T'ain't so, says Rand

Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, takes issue with analyst John Davis' projection that Republicans will take over the state Senate after the Nov. 4 election ballots are counted. Democrats' polling numbers show no such shift, he said, though he declined to release poll findings.
"Our numbers show an entirely different story," he said. "We have been at this a right long time and with a high degree of success. I don't know where he gets his numbers but it looks like a splendid year for Democrats."
Rand points out that Democrats who are running in districts that appear to favor Republicans have won a number of those races in past elections. "We think we've done a good job protecting our turf and a good job taking some of theirs," he added.
Rand said he was concerned about close races, but thought when the election is over, Democrats would wind up "one over or one under, if I was a gambling man." Democrats currently enjoy a 31-19 advantage in the Senate.

State Senate to the GOP?

With President Bush's popularity down in the 20's and voters generally disgusted with the way the nation is headed -- and alarmed about the national economic picture as well as their own savings and retirement plans -- the election this fall looks to be a dismal one for the Republican Party. But there are a couple bright spots. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican, is in a close race with Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, the Democrat, and former state Sen. Robert Pittenger is not far behind state Sen. Walter Dalton in the polls for lieutenant governor.
Now comes political consultant John Davis with a forecast sure to ruin Democrats' day: The stars, he says, are lining up for a Republican takeover in the N.C. Senate. That would be a huge political story, given that the Senate has remained in Democratic hands since the crust of the earth cooled. By contrast, the N.C. House was held by Republicans in the mid-1990s for four years and. And the GOP shared power with Democrats in 2003-04 after a Republican switched parties to negate a GOP takeover.
Davis, former head of NCFREE, a pro-business organization, is editor of the Almanac of North Carolina Politics and in the past four elections has projected the winner 97 percent of the time, he says.
For the first time in his experience here, he goes on, Democrats are on the defensive in state Senate "Battleground Districts" and the incumbents in those races are in hot water. Among other things, Davis projects that Republican Kathy Harrington will defeat veteran Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, and that Senate dean R.C. Soles will lose to Republican Bettie Fennell. Davis also thinks Rep. Debbie Clary, R-Cleveland, will beat Democrat Keith Melton, Rutherford County Clerk of Court, to pick up the seat now held by Sen. Dalton. And he projects a loss by Sen. Julia Boseman, D-New Hanover, to Republican Michael Lee.
How could Republicans pick up the Senate in a year that appears to be going so wrong nationally for the GOP? Because there's an anti-incumbent mood at work. "This is one of the most intense anti-establishment years on record," Davis writes in his analysis. "Voters are so angry that one mistake by an incumbent is all they need to vote them out."
Here's a link to Davis' analysis.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Perdue back in lead in govs' race?

Public Policy Polling, whose updates have kept folks abreast about what one polling firm has found in North Carolina races, has an update that finds Democratic Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue back in the lead over Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory. Last week it had McCrory up by a small lead.
Here's the release from analyst Tom Jensen:

Bev Perdue 46
Pat McCrory 43
Michael Munger 4

After refocusing her campaign on the economy over the last week, Bev Perdue has taken back the lead for Governor.

Perdue's ad campaign of late has tied Pat McCrory to George W. Bush's economic policies while also talking about what she would do to help things out if she was elected. Where last week she had a 48-38 lead among voters most concerned about the economy that has now increased to a 56-35 advantage. Starting to talk more about the issue that 60% of the electorate names as its top concern may have been the boost Perdue needed to start turning her declining poll numbers around.

She has improved her share of the Democratic vote from 69% last week now to 75%. If she can push that further to 80% over the course of the next month that should be good enough for a win, especially if Michael Munger continues to do so well with independent voters.

There's a 16 point gender gap in this race, with Perdue leading by 11 points among women but trailing by five points with men. McCrory has a small lead with independents. Perdue's up with voters under 45, McCrory leads with older voters.

Monday, October 06, 2008

PPP: Obama by 6, Hagan by 9

A new Public Policy Polling survey of North Carolina voters is out, and it has more good news for Democrats, with Barack Obama "shoring up his lead" and expanding it (to 6 points) over Republican John McCain in the presidential race. Some undecideds have gone to Obama, Tom Jensen says.

PPP also shows Democrat Kay Hagan maintaining a 9 point lead over incumbent U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., in the U.S. Senate race.

PPP also says there's power in showing up: Obama's N.C. numbers have risen when he's campaigned here.

No word from PPP yet on new numbers in the race for governor just yet, but the last poll released last week showed good news for Republicans with Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory leading Democratic Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue by 3.

Here's a link to the presidential race poll:

And here's a link to the Senate race poll:

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Honors for 'Paradox of Tar Heel Politics'

This has been a terrific year for new books about North Carolina, what with Bill Link's biography of Jesse Helms and Anna Hayes' book about former N.C. Chief Justice Susie Sharp and her surprising private life. There are a number of other good books, too, that I've written about before and intend to write more about them. But today's news I spotted in Peder Zane's blog on the N&O's website:

"The North Carolina Literary and Historical Association has announced the winners of the 2008 North Carolina Book Awards.
"The News & Observer's chief political reporter, Rob Christensen, won The Ragan Old North State Award for his history, 'The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events that Shaped Modern North Carolina.'"

Here's a link to Zane's blog and the other winners.

The Regan Award for Rob is well-deserved recognition of a tireless reporter's hard work over a long time to bring to print the stories that helped make North Carolina what it was in the 20th century and what it is in the 21st. Rob's an outstanding reporter with an unerring sense about context, which is what makes his new book so useful. If you haven't seen it and you want to know how we got to this point, read The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Coulda, woulda, shoulda in Senate race?

Do you suppose any well-known Democrats are kicking themselves in the rear, at least mentally, over what's happening in the U.S. Senate race? Remember last year, when such Democrats as Mike Easley, state Rep. Grier Martin, U.S. Rep. Brad Miller and state Treasurer Richard Moore were still pondering their political futures? And whether they ought to tackle incumbent U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R- N.C. in her first re-election campaign?
None of them wanted to challenge her, and for good reason. She looked hard to beat a year ago. She was a good campaigner in 2002 when she dispatched Erskine Bowles for Jesse Helms' old seat. And even with the war in Iraq, a lot of folks thought she'd be hard to beat in 2008. Me, too.
But Sen. Kay Hagan, D-Guilford, wanted in. She got talked out of it for a while when it looked as if someone better known would run, and then Gov. Jim Hunt, among others, talked her back into it when the only enthusiastic candidate was Chapel Hill businessman Jim Neal.
Hagan beat Neal last spring in the Democratic primary and has run a hard campaign against Dole, who suffers from her connection to an unpopular president, a sinking national economy and an impression that she hasn't spent all that much time in the state.
How's Hagan doing? In one poll -- Public Policy Polling's latest -- she's up by 8 points.
"Kay Hagan now has her largest lead yet in North Carolina's Senate race. She led by 5 points a week ago and a single point three weeks ago," writes Tom Jensen of PPP. Here's a link to the poll.
That may not mean anything on Nov. 4. It's several lifetimes between now and the election. But in this poll she's up 8 just 17 days before early voting begins. I imagine Dole's worried, Hagan's happy and those guys who didn't get into the race? They could be thinking about what might have been.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCrory-Munger: A different kind of debate

Wednesday's debate between Republican nominee for governor Pat McCrory and Libertarian nominee Mike Munger was a different look at Tar Heel politics from what we've seen in previous debates. One obvious reason: the decision of Democratic nominee Bev Perdue not to participate. Without the lieutenant governor's presence, the tilt between the Charlotte mayor and Duke University's political science department chairman was a more congenial affair, with the candidates often agreeing on issues.
Munger -- an economist who used to teach at UNC Chapel Hill -- is an interesting man whose classroom presence shows in his debating style. He's able to explain what he thinks about issues in a pretty clear way, and those watching the debate, broadcast statewide by UNC TV, may have seen something they like in his thoughts. He needs the help. Polls have shown him with just a few percentage points, trailing far behind McCrory and Perdue in what is seen as a tight contest.
I don't think I heard much new from McCrory, except that he went out of his way to say he likes the state's early childhood programs but wanted more evaluation of them. Just a week ago he was getting some criticism from Perdue and former Gov. Jim Hunt for tossing off a line about too many programs that rhyme, interpreted by some as slams on the Smart Start pre-school initiative of Hunt and the More at Four program championed by Gov. Mike Easley. McCrory also repeated something that makes little sense. He argues a new ethics law prevents him from even getting a bottle of water at some events. He's right that the law may be drawn too tightly and needs revision, but I don't think anyone takes seriously the claim he cannot get a bottle of water at a speaking event. It probably would be mighty hard to find a district attorney who'd prosecute him on a misdemeanor charge of illegally taking a drink of water. Please.
Everything Munger said was probably new to most listeners who may never have heard him before. He poked fun at the Global TransParking Lot, asserted that China has lost more jobs than North Carolina, said he was in favor of school vouchers and lifting the cap on charter schools and aimed a jab at Perdue. In previous debates, he said, she claimed she wasn't a member of the legislature and couldn't be held responsible for its excesses, and implied she wasn't part of the executive branch administration either. "So unless she's a judge, she's not in government at all," Munger joked.
Munger also said he didn't believe in capital punishment and that as governor he'd commute the sentences of all those on Death Row to life in prison. "I want the killing to stop," he said. McCrory wants to end the moratorium on executions. There have been horrendous murders in Mecklenburg and folks there have been waiting for more than a decade for the execution of two cop killers.
Munger also labeled the use of economic incentives to attract new businesses such as a Google plant to the western Piedmont as "economic prostitution." He said he supported allowing illegal immigrants to attend community colleges. McCrory opposes that.
Without Perdue's presence, McCrory perhaps was not as effective as he has been in some previous debates -- or perhaps it was harder for him to draw the distinctions between himself and Perdue, especially when it comes to his favorite lines about the "culture of corruption" in Raleigh. And I'm not sure he fully made his case when he said this election was the last opportunity to fix what's wrong. It may have sounded good as a rhetorical point, but the genius of our system is that we get to vote on a new government pretty regularly. If not now, there's always the next time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

McCrory v. Munger for governor

UNC Television will host a live broadcast debate Wednesday night at 8 p.m., but one of the key players won't be there. Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue has declined the invitation to participate, UNC-TV's Steve Volstad announced Tuesday morning, so the two contestants will be the Republican nominee, Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, and the Libertarian nominee, Duke University political science department chairman Mike Munger. This may be a good opportunity for Munger, a smart and engaging fellow, to persuade voters who don't know about him that there's an alternative to the major political party candidates.
It's also interesting that the Perdue campaign chose not to have the lieutenant governor, the Democratic nominee, participate. It may confirm in some folks' mind that her advisers don't want her to participate in too many debates because it doesn't play to her strengths. I used to think her advisers were wrong, that after presiding over the Senate for nearly eight years and having to deal with such challenges as former Sen. Hugh Webster or Democratic leader Sen. Tony Rand, she wouldn't have any trouble with her opponents. But McCrory's the more polished campaigner in such head-to-head confrontations, though Perdue has improved some. And, as my colleague Ryan Teague Beckwith points out at Under the Dome, there will be one more debate, on Oct. 15 in Charlotte, sponsored by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg League of Women Voters.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A mayor's missed opportunity

One goofy moment at Friday's gubernatorial candidates debate sponsored by the Everybody's Business Education Coalition in Cary came when moderator John Dornan gave each candidate one question to put to the other candidate. Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, the Democrat, went first, asking Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory why he was critical of such education programs as Learn and Earn, a high school program that allows students to enroll in community college courses, or Smart Start, the program that aims to help get children ready to go to school. McCrory answered that he was not against those programs but didn't think the state should start new programs that rhyme without first assessing whether existing programs work.
But in what must be one of the strangest moments in the 2008 campaign, McCrory flubbed the opportunity to ask Perdue a hard question. Instead he sort of shrugged and asked, "Do you love education as much as I do?" Perdue laughed almost with relief and batted that softball out into the bleachers.
Why McCrory didn't take that opportunity to put Perdue on the spot is beyond me. Perhaps the question he wanted to ask had already been put by the moderator earlier, or perhaps he thought it wasn't much of an opportunity. But in a campaign built around his theme of challenging a culture of corruption in Raleigh, which he usually mentions at every opportunity, he missed a chance to throw a hardball.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Correcting the 'culture of corruption'

A forum Tuesday sponsored by the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform gave the leading candidates for governor an opportunity to talk about ethics in government and what they'd do to restore public trust in Raleigh.
Both candidates had some good ideas on what to do. Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, for example, would create an endowment that would tap private donations to provide candidates with funds to run for office. She's put state government bids and contracts online so anyone could take a look at how it works and who's getting state business, and put more state meetings online so folks can watch.. She said she'd change the way the state does its budget, and set up an efficiency commission that would make 10 proposals each election cycle that the legislature would have to vote up or down. She'd shut the revolving door between government and business or lobbying, and she'd stop legislators from soliciting money for charities -- a process that allows lobbyists to curry favor with lawmakers.
A good but unasked question was why she had not pressed to put in place these reforms when she was presiding over the state Senate -- or when she was a member herself. She'll have that opportunity in future public appearances.
Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who has made cleaning up a "culture of corruption" in Raleigh that, he says, includes state officials intimidating local officials who press for improvements in such areas as transportation and criminal justice, had his own list. He wants to require political campaigns to update their financial contribution reports regularly and make them available online, so voters can monitor and know immediately who's getting money from whom. He wants to eliminate all cash contributions because they pose a risk of small contributors putting together a big bundle of little cash contributions to influence candidates. He also wants to stop elected officials from raising money for charities. He wants to beef up financial disclosure by requiring state officials to announce potential conflicts of interests before votes. He would veto budgets that include measures that neither the House nor Senate passed in their original budget bills, and he would eliminate fund-raising by members of major boards such as the Board of Transportation, the UNC Board of Governors and the state ABC Commission.. He'd also list all bids and contracts online, and he'd make all his office e-mails available.
There's more to these lists. Watching them explain their proposals at the forum -- where the candidates made separate appearances rather than a head-to-head debate -- it struck me that Perdue and McCrory both had a pretty firm handle on what they would do. Perdue was more relaxed and a little more effective in explaining hers; McCrory was more passionate -- and also willing to point out that sometimes ethics reforms go too far, such as prohibiting officials from eating a brown bag lunch provided by the sponsors of the forum. Many folks are confused about how far the law goes. But the forum was announced in advance and open to anyone who wished to attend, and the law allows officials and candidates to eat meals in those circumstances. Still, this is a question that keeps coming up.
But he's right about this: our problem was not that a politician might be influenced by eating a turkey sandwich and drinking a Diet Coke at a public meeting. Our problem was bribes, influence-peddling, vote-buying and illegal campaign contributions, among other things.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Addicted to political campaigns

Gary Pearce, the former political reporter who cut his eyeteeth as a campaign strategist with Gov. Jim Hunt and then helped engineer John Edwards' upset of U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C. in 1998, is a great storyteller who co-authors one of the best blogs about North Carolina politics with his one-time adversary, Carter Wrenn. Their Web site is
The other day Gary wrote about the stress, fatigue and sheer terror of a political campaign at this stage, seven weeks before an election. Among other things, he noted:
"On top of the mental strain, there is the mind-numbing stress and physical fatigue. You go from before sunrise until you collapse at night. The cell phone and the Blackberry never stop. The conference calls stack up like planes at O’Hare. You’re fueled with coffee and Diet Cokes all day long. Your first thought every morning: 50 days to go. Can I make it? Weekends? Forget them.
"Only the most disciplined find time to exercise. And when it comes to food, there are two schools: Scarfers and starvers. The scarfers (like me) eat everything, especially doughnuts and burgers. Average weight gain per campaign: 15 pounds. The starvers can’t eat, and their clothes hang off them.
"Weighing over it all is the sheer terror of losing. As James Carville once said, the best thing about winning a campaign is that you didn’t lose.
"It’s a wonderful life. I miss it so."