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21
Rob Christensen’s column about “Walmart Moms” shows that this election is more about personalities and less about Medicare, the debt, competing budget plans, taxes or any of the issues that animate the media and political chatter.
 
The focus groups Christensen went to focused not on “issues,” but on personal impressions of the candidates and their strengths and weaknesses.  The moms’ verdict: they’re disappointed with Obama on the economy, but Romney is “too rich, too aloof, and… somebody who did not understand their lives.”
 
They described Obama this way: “disgusted,” “frustration” “indifferent,” “it’s not getting better,” “disconnect” and “loss of jobs.”
 
But Christensen noted they “did not seem to be closing off the option of voting for Obama. Several mentioned that Obama couldn’t solve all the nation’s problems alone, and that he needed the help of Congress, who they also blamed. Several noted that Obama had inherited a difficult situation.”
 
One said: “I feel more compelled toward him (Obama). I feel he is more real. I don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings toward Romney.”
 
They described Romney this way: “clueless,” “fake” and “deceitful.” “One woman doubted that Romney had ever been in a grocery store.”
 
Another: “He is so beyond wealthy. And he has these accounts offshore and is secretive and shady. He’s just this billionaire, shady kind of mess.”
 
One spoke up for Romney:  “I personally think when it comes to the economy you’re probably not going to get anyone better suited. And to me I feel that the economy is a big part of this election. You can’t be that rich, like everybody’s saying, without knowing a thing or two about money. Granted he may have screwed people over somewhere along the line, but probably Obama has and anyone else.”
 
This is why all the TV ads – competing, confusing claims about who said what and did what about Medicare and the debt and taxes and all the rest – may make little difference.
 
It will all come to down a Moment – or two. A moment in the debates or at the conventions or in some setting we can’t predict. A moment when these swing voters – and there are precious few of them – see something in Obama or Romney that pushes them over an edge.
 
It will come down to: Who do I like, and who do I trust?

 

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20
UNC-Chapel Hill’s biggest mistake in handling its academic scandal: Treating it as a PR problem (“How do we put a stop to these stories?”) instead of a leadership problem (“How do we find out what happened and make sure it never happens again?”).
 
The Jim Martin investigation is a good step. But way past overdue.
 
Worst of all, the N&O apparently believes the school has been more interested in playing down the problem than getting to the bottom of it. Those seeds of suspicion never go away.
 
Plus, the N&O can’t go soft on Chapel Hill. N.C. State fans still believe the N&O unfairly hounded out Jim Valvano and Bruce Poulton two decades ago for lesser violations.
 
Even in announcing the Martin audit, Chancellor Holden Thorp’s language wasn’t strong enough. He said it would review “any additional academic irregularities that may have occurred.”
 
That sounds too much like the faux apologies politicians offer after a gaffe: “I apologize if anyone was offended by my remarks.”
 
He should have said: “I want this audit to find every single thing that was done wrong, so we can fix it.”
 
The most unfortunate thing here is the racial aspect. Would that the program in question had been something like the “Sports Communications” department or “Physics of Athletics” rather than the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.

Nor were matters helped by Julius Peppers’ written statement. One wit dismissed it as “just another paper that somebody else wrote for Julius Peppers.”
 
I know my fellow Wolfpackers. They’ll hunt down any morsel that embarrasses UNC – whatever obscure website corner it’s hidden away in.
 
And what are the chances a disgruntled UNC employee posted Peppers’ transcript, then made sure the world saw it?

 

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20
It doesn’t take a great deal to turn a fellow’s head – a blonde whispering in his ear, unexpected praise from a stranger, a new sports car. Humility’s hard to come by and harder still to hold onto which, I guess, is one reason the Good Lord made the world such a difficult place to live in.
 
When it comes to humility, we Republicans have had a couple of head-turning years. Obama’s been unpopular. The 2010 election was a blessing beyond our wildest dreams. We’ve had veto overrides in the state legislature. Pat McCrory’s been ahead in the Governor’s race. And Republicans draw the new legislative districts so the future looks bright.
 
So, maybe, it’s just waywardness to think, It looks too good to be true.
 
But, that said, I’m beginning to have an uneasy feeling that in subterranean caverns political tides are turning in a not good way and since our hopes this election rest on the single political fact of President Obama’s unpopularity we Republicans may be a bit too blissful.
 
Anyhow, there is an antidote: I’ve taken to reading about Harry Truman and the election of 1948 that Republicans were sure to win.
 

 

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20
Betty Owen, a valuable aide and adviser to Governor Hunt both in and out of office, died Friday. Click here for her obituary.
 
Betty was a schoolteacher, a mom and an activist in Charlotte when Hunt first ran for Governor in 1976. He brought her to Raleigh as his education adviser. Through his first two terms, she played a key part in shaping and advocating for his education program.
 
When he left office in 1985, Betty went to N.C. State University, where she put together the first Emerging Issues Forums with Hunt. The forums became a huge success. They led to the organization of the Institute for Emerging Issues.
 
Betty was soft-spoken and, at the same time, steely. She never hesitated to firmly but politely disagree with Hunt. She was always a teacher – for him and for all of us who worked with her.

 

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18
The author of a recent guest blog (“GOP Sex Change 2012”) was amused by the comments she provoked. She responds:
 
“Your readers' comments about my Shirtless Paul Ryan guest column demonstrate the depth at which the True Believers have their collective pointy little heads stuck in the sand.  In no way was I implying that the biggest problem in our country is whether or not there are pics of a shirtless Paul Ryan showing up all over the place.  One of our many problems in the age of sharing every salacious detail and potentially compromising photo that can possibly be unearthed about candidates of both parties:  that the media (mainstream and just plain weird alike) seem to THINK that the people of America WANT to see a picture of a shirtless Paul Ryan.  I base that assertion on the number of times I've seen these pictures on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, Inside Edition, Facebook, Twitter, etc. 
 
“I'm just glad Mitt didn't choose Newt Gingrich for his running mate.  We know the guy's been to the beach somewhere along the line, and there's just no way to ‘un-see’ a shirtless Newt when that photo gets out.”
 

 

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17

 

Guest Tapster blogger Joe Stewart writes:

People don't want more government or less government, they want just enough government and no more.
 
I heard then-president Bill Clinton say that during his visit to North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Fran in 1996, when I was legislative liaison in the NC Department Crime Control and Public Safety. His words came in response to the comment of a local elected official (Democrat) about how some of their counterparts (Republicans) who had 'all campaigned on less government' seemed mighty comfortable with asking for as much in federal disaster aid as they could get for their city or county. In truth, it would be just about impossible for any state to refuse federal assistance to get back on their feet after a major storm.
 
Throughout my career - which has included stints in the public sector as well as in the private sector - I have seen how government can do good for people in need, and how government can get in the way through ill-conceived laws and unnecessarily burdensome regulations. However, I (and I suspect most folks would agree) do believe that in the same way citizens and businesses count on government to respond to and provide recovery from devastating natural disasters, there are some things government must provide - and even some things ONLY government can provide.
 
Republican legislative leaders are talking now about the need to return in 2013 with making state government smaller as one of their topic priorities. But what I hope 'making state government smaller'  means is an effort to make state government more efficient and effective, and thus less costly to operate in the long run while providing greater value to those served.
 
Creating greater efficiency and effectiveness cannot be achieved simply by cutting (smaller always means less, but may not always mean better), but by engaging the new governor and the Council of State, and the judicial branch in a serious conversation that puts everything on the table for consideration, including whether the current state personnel system is allowing agencies to attract and retain those with the skills and abilities we need to run a 21st Century state government.


 

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17
When Carter and I were beating up on Jim Hunt and Jesse Helms, respectively, in 1984, we said some tough things. But we always stuck to some semblance of the truth. Not that we were all that noble; we feared the backlash from the media and the voters if we went too far.
 
Something has happened since. This year we see a breathtaking flood of ads and attacks that are either totally baseless or demonstrably untrue – from both sides.
 
It’s not just that consultants today are more dishonest than we were, although there inevitably is a race to be the meanest SOB in the valley. And it’s not just the oceans of information and misinformation easily available in a wired world.
 
It’s just one more sign of how divided we are.
 
Take the birther and “Obama is a Muslim” phenomena. Both allegations have been proven false. Yet, a significant percentage of the population still believes they are true.
 
Take Harry Reid’s much-publicized charge that Romney didn’t pay any taxes. Reid offered no proof. Yet I’ll wager that a significant percentage of voters believe it’s true.
 
Why? Simple: Obama-haters believe anything about Obama. Romney-haters believe anything about Romney.
 
It has nothing to do with facts. It’s all about faith – or hate.
 
We are deeply divided. We live in red states and blue states. We have red communities and blue communities. We have red churches and blue churches. Now we even have red and blue fast-food restaurants.
 
Maybe it’s a function of hard times. Maybe it’s a result of our media-online information world. Maybe, as Carter blogged the other day (“Worlds Colliding”) it stems from wrenching change and the resulting tension.
 
You wonder: Does it go on and on like this? Or is there a breaking point?

 

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16

 

Guest Tapster blogger Joe Stewart writes:

In the same way my daddy has a saying that manners are not all that matter, but what they do matter matters a lot, the relative financial advantage of one candidate over their opponent, or one party versus their rival, doesn't make all the difference but the difference it does make makes a big difference.
 
I know, I know ... there are certainly tales of Mr. Smiths coming to Washington, with shoe leather political equity earned going door to door in the threadbarest of grassroots-oriented, volunteer driven efforts, but when it comes the modern techniques of conducting scientific and comprehensive public opinion research, mounting a well-staffed and exhaustive voter contact program, being able to communicate out the right messages to the all important undecided or swing voters, ain't nothing replaces the value of the good old greenback.
 
Second quarter campaign finance reports show Pat McCrory with a significant pile of cash in his coffers ($4.4 million) to the bare cabinet of Dalton (just $700,000 on hand), and recent analysis by the NC FreeEnterprise Foundation (www.ncfef.org) reveal the Republican state House and Senate caucus candidates with comfortable multipliers above their opponents (House GOP with $2.3 million has 1.5 times more than House Dems, and Senate GOP with $3 million has 3.5 times more than Senate Dems). And, the Republican Party as of June 30 had $966,000 on hand to the Democratic Party's $188,000. Pretty considerable difference.
 
In terms of resources, the North Carolina Republicans clearly have an advantage in the resource department as we head toward Labor Day and the sprint to Election Day, with all that must be done to motivate base voters and get the swingingest of the swing voters to swing your way - the two things in a campaign that are very hard to accomplish without the necessary cash.


 

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16
I had to laugh when Republicans claimed credit for North Carolina’s high-school graduation rate topping 80 percent. And I have to stake a claim for Jim Hunt’s role.
 
Over the last six years, the state’s graduation rate has gone up nearly 12 percentage points –from at 68.3 percent in 2006 to 80.2 percent.
 
It’s laughable for Republicans, who have been in power for two years, to claim credit. It’s more logical for Governor Perdue and Superintendent June Atkinson to credit investments and programs put in place during the last decade.
 
But think about this: Students graduating last year are 19 years old now. They were born in 1993. That’s the first year of Jim Hunt’s third term as governor. It’s the year he started putting Smart Start in place – stronger early-childhood programs for all pre-school children, not just poor kids. It’s the year he put in the ABCs standards and accountability program. In 1997, when these students were four years old, he pushed through the Excellent Schools Act. That committed North Carolina to raising teacher pay to above the national average, which we did.
 
When Hunt left office in 2001, the students whose graduation rate would top 80 percent were eight years old – about to enter third grade. For the next 10 years, they enjoyed the benefits of the programs Hunt put into place.
 
Obviously, I’m no unbiased source here. But too often in politics, we fail to consider the long haul. It’s an instant-gratification business. Education is a long haul.
 
Twenty years ago, Jim Hunt planted seeds. The crop is coming in.

 

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15
Forget the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Forget the attacks on Erskine Bowles when he ran for Senate. Republicans now desperately embrace Bubba and Bowles.
 
Why? Because they can’t find a respected Republican to cite. Certainly not George W. Bush, who blew up the Clinton-Bowles balanced budget and gave us this recession.
 
Instead, they slobber over Clinton’s welfare reform. And (mis)quote Bowles to bolster the Romney-Ryan budget. Never mind the facts: do anything to make it look like we’re just like our buddies Bill and Erskine.
 
Clearly, Republicans realize they’re in danger of going too far right. So they reach for a centrist lifeboat and – behold – find two Southern Democrats.
 
But this opens Republicans up to the inevitable counterattack. Wait until Clinton lays into them at the convention. And read how Bowles compares the Romney-Ryan budget plan with Obama’s:
 
“This month, Romney said that his tax reform proposal is ‘very similar to the Simpson-Bowles plan.’ How I wish it were. I will be the first to cheer if Romney decides to embrace our plan. Unfortunately, the numbers say otherwise: His reform plan leaves too many tax breaks in place and, as a result, does nothing to reduce the debt.
 
“The ‘zero plan’ our commission recommended offered both parties an appealing bargain: lower tax rates for everyone in return for sweeping reduction in tax loopholes of every stripe. Taxpayers and the economy would benefit from a vastly simpler Tax Code, and getting rid of loopholes would produce more than $1 trillion of the $4 trillion needed in deficit reduction. Our commission produced an alternative plan showing how much individual rates would need to go up, and who would have to pay for them, if lawmakers decided to preserve certain tax expenditures.
 
“The most important lesson Al [Simpson] and I learned on the commission is that to fix the debt, everything must be on the table. Americans everywhere have told us that as long as the sacrifice is shared, they are ready to do their part. The surest way to doom deficit reduction is to play favorites by taking things off the table.
 
“So although I give Romney credit for pledging to reform the Tax Code to reduce loopholes, his current proposal will not take us to the promised land. Our commission’s tax plan broadens the base, simplifies the code, reduces tax expenditures and generates $1 trillion for deficit reduction while making the Tax Code more progressive. The Romney plan, by sticking to revenue-neutrality and leaving in place tax breaks, would raise taxes on the middle class and do nothing to shrink the deficit….
 
“Obama hasn’t gone as far in cutting spending, particularly in health care, as is necessary to stabilize the debt at a reasonable level and keep it on a downward path as a percentage of the gross domestic product. But in contrast to Romney, the president — like the ‘Gang of Six’ and other like-minded members of both parties — has embraced the central principle of Simpson-Bowles: that America will turn the corner on its debt only if Republicans and Democrats come together to support a balanced deficit-reduction plan. For the numbers to work, both parties need to put aside partisanship.”

 

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