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27
An African-American minister proclaimed that a gay person should not be a judge. He also joined Rep. Skip Stam-and apparently 27 other House Republicans-in proclaiming that magistrates, who are officers of the court, should not have to carry out laws and court decisions they don’t like.
 
Forty years ago, several magistrates in North Carolina refused to perform interracial marriages, which they said violated their religious beliefs.
 
A question for the minister: What is the difference?
 
And a question for Rep. Stam, since he apparently did not take issue with the minister’s statement about gay judges: Let’s say, hypothetically, that there is a judge in North Carolina who is Republican and gay. And let’s say that judge is on the ballot for a court office. Should that judge resign and abandon his or her candidacy?
 
Just asking.

 

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27
As bleak as Governor McCrory’s job approval numbers were in the WRAL poll, that wasn’t the worst news. Consider how Republicans, Democrats and Independents feel about the General Assembly.
                                   
                                             Republican Voters
                                             Approve 35%
                                             Disapprove 38%
 
                                             Conservative Voters
                                             Approve 33%
                                             Disapprove 37%
 
                                             Independent Voters
                                             Approve 20%
                                             Disapprove 54%
 
Now I can imagine Republican leaders over in the legislature pooh-poohing and saying,  Ah, well, that doesn’t really matter. We drew the districts.
 
But how long can a Republican state legislator in any district remain safe if Republicans and Conservatives think he’s doing a poor job?
 
Four years ago, Republicans won a majority in the General Assembly because voters were angry at Obama. Back then, two numbers ran through polls like plum-lines: Two-thirds of the Independents disapproved of the President – and almost to a man they voted Republican down the line. The correlation between the President’s job disapproval and the Republican vote was nearly absolute.
 
Which, after the election, led to a miscalculation: Human nature being what it is Republicans, naturally, figured the real reason they’d won was because voters had discovered their virtues, seen the light, converted to the true faith and agreed with Republicans down the line on issues from tax reform to education spending.
 
Next, naturally, as soon as they were sworn in Republicans started passing bills but before you, say, tell a senior citizen you’re going to start taxing his prescription drugs (as a part of tax reform) you have to explain to him pretty clearly why that’s a good idea and how he’s going to be better off in the long run – because if you don’t you may end up with approval rating of 23%.
 
When Reverend William Barber and his Moral Monday cohorts starting telling voters Republicans hated children and women and old people and dogs and cats, silence wasn’t the answer. Republican leaders needed to stand up, sound off, and make their case explaining why Reverend Barber was dead-wrong.
 
But that never happened. And it won’t happen before November 4th.  So the next question is simple: How do Republican legislators turn those numbers around before the next election?
 

 

 

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24
The Republican effort to suppress votes at Appalachian State University may have backfired.
 
More than 700 people voted yesterday at the Student Union polling place that the State Board of Elections tried to shut down. Now we know why the board didn't want it.
 
An App student said, “It sends a clear message about how we respond to being suppressed. College students are obviously listening.”
 
A tip of the TAP hat to the 20-somethings in the ASU College Dems and the 20-plus-somethings in the Watauga County Dems who fought so hard for this.
 
Ian O’Keefe, the coordinated-campaign manager, was supposed to be on Rachel Maddow’s show last night to talk about it, but got bumped by Ebola.
 
Now Republicans might get bumped by an epidemic of their own making.

 

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24
 
 
36% Approve
46% Disapprove
 
The WRAL Poll painted a bleak picture  of a Governor caught between a rock and a hard place.  As Mark Binker wrote, only a little over a third of the voters approve of the job Governor McCrory is doing.
 
But worse news lurked beneath the surface.
 
These days you see polarized groups of voters everywhere. Left, right, up, down, Republican, Democrat; everyone is mad at someone and can’t wait to vote ‘em out of office: Republicans don’t like Obama so they’re voting against Kay Hagan. Democrats don’t like the state legislature so they’re voting against Thom Tillis.
 
But, buried in the crosstabs of WRAL’s poll, two pitfalls lie in wait for Pat McCrory. Consider the Governor’s job approval rating among Republicans:

    Approve 64%
    Disapprove 22%
 
Almost a quarter of the Republicans believe Governor McCrory is doing a poor job. That doesn’t mean they won’t vote for him but whoever heard of a Republican winning a statewide election without winning 90% plus of the Republican vote.
 
One last statistic: The Governor needs half the Independents vote for him to win. Here’re the numbers:
  
Independent Voters
Pat McCrory Approve: 33%
Pat McCrory Disapprove: 46%

 

 

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24
Headline (two weeks ago): Thom Tillis on Life Support. Campaign Dying. 
 
Headline (this week): Tillis Makes Miraculous Recovery. Campaign Surging.
 
Now, as a storyline, that’s just about unbeatable. It’s like Lazarus rising from the dead.
 
The problem is two months ago, two weeks ago, and today (in WRAL’s latest poll), Thom Tillis has trailed Kay Hagan by the same number – 3 points. He hasn’t moved.
 
He wasn’t dead then and he’s not resurrected now which brings me to a terrible devilment: Temptation. And reporters love of a good story.
 
Tillis Dying was pure melodrama and the press (especially the Washington press) bought the story hook, line and sinker.
 
Then the press needed a new story and temptation bit again. Tillis Makes Miraculous Recovery was even greater melodrama. And it beat writing: No Change in Election. Nothing new. Or explaining: Election Mystery: Undecided Voters Dislike Both Tillis and Hagan. Who will they Choose?

 

 

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23
I watched the ‘empty chair’ debate too (see Gary’s blog below).
 
And it brought back old memories. Of old foibles.
           
Years ago, in 1980, when John East ran against Robert Morgan he challenged Senator Morgan to a debate. And challenged Morgan to debate. And challenged Morgan to debate.
 
And Morgan said No, No and No.
 
So we had a great idea – we’d do an ad with John East debating an empty chair.
 
The other night Time Warner Cable TV did the same thing – held a debate with Thom Tillis and an empty chair (because Kay Hagan didn’t show up).
 
Which brings me back to what happened to John East 34 years ago.
 
We ran our great ad from Manteo to Murphy, blanketed the airwaves – then polled and nothing had changed.
 
No one cared.

 

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23
Time Warner Cable News made more news than it intended with the “empty chair” debate.
 
One media critic said TWC “orchestrated a phony scandal and boosted Thom Tillis's North Carolina Senate campaign by placing an empty chair for his opponent, Democratic Senator Kay Hagan, at an event it billed as a ‘debate’ -- though it had known for months Hagan would not attend. TWC's stunt resulted in widespread negative media coverage of Hagan and helped amplify GOP attacks on the senator in the midst of a race some experts consider a toss-up.”
 
The criticism came from Media Matters, a watchdog group that leans left. Yes, you could dismiss its critique as “liberal bias,” but reporters and editors here are asking the same questions.
 
The empty chair – one of the oldest and tiredest clichés in politics – led The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer to pull out of the debate.
 
The N&O’s executive editor, John Drescher, said, “We had an honest miscommunication with Time Warner Cable News. We wanted to have a serious discussion with Mr. Tillis about the issues without any gimmicks. My understanding was that we would tell viewers every 15 minutes that Sen. Hagan had declined our invitation but that we would not have an empty chair.”
 
TWC’s interviewers certainly didn’t kowtow to Tillis. Tim Boyum and Loretta Boniti asked tough questions and had a chance to follow up and pin him down. Some viewers may think Tillis lost the debate to the empty chair, much like Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention.
 
TWC may have lost the debate, too. It’s in the difficult position of making news, not just reporting it. And the affair gave Media Matters a chance to dredge up “accusations of a cozy relationship between Tillis and the telecom company.”

 

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22
My last blog raised the possibility that big money and negative TV ads increase voter turnout. Now let’s consider the radical idea that the same two evils have another happy effect: increasing the level of voter information.
 
Denouncing the money and the ads, an N&O editorial said, “The ‘assault ads’ that bombard the viewer with dubious claims about the other candidate aren’t about informing voters at all but about appealing to the worst instincts of Republicans and Democrats, going for the emotional jugular.”
 
True, the ads go for the jugular. But is it true they don’t inform voters?
 
Actually, if you paid attention to every single ad in the U.S. Senate race, all the candidate ads and outside-group ads, you’d know everything there is to know about both candidates, good and bad: their voting records, their attendance records, their positions on issues, their past statements, their business records, you name it.
 
Now, are all the ads true? Of course not. They slant and distort. They gild the lily and stretch the truth. As do all paid ads, whether for cars, brokerage companies or weight-loss products.
 
But that’s not true of just “assault ads.” Sometimes the biggest lies are in the positive ads. See the ad where the Duke Energy President talks about the company’s commitment to the environment? That’s a positive ad. Do you believe that everything he says is true?
 
No, because we’re smarter than that. Smart enough to sift through what we hear and make up our own minds.
 
Of course, we’re not all paying attention to every ad. Maybe we’re like the Walmart moms that Rob Christensen wrote about: “Despite all the TV advertising, the moms could not recall much about Hagan or Tillis. They could only remember a few of the TV ads, other than they were bashing each other. These are busy people whose lives revolved around their families and their jobs, and watching the news didn’t seem to be a high priority, and they have only a passing interest in politics….Several mothers said they planned Googling for information on the Internet on election eve.”
 
That makes sense. Because everything on the Internet is true. Unlike TV ads.

 

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22
As good citizens, we all know that these two truths are self-evident in politics. First, as both editorial writers and Walmart moms agreed in the paper today, big money and “assault ads” are bad. Second, (as everybody but the Republican legislature, Governor McCrory and the State Board of Elections apparently think) higher voter turnout is good.
 
But suppose the thing we believe is bad produces the thing we believe is good? Suppose more money and more “assault ads” actually increase voter turnout? Suppose more “bad” produces more “good”?
 
Damon Circosta at the Fletcher Foundation started this with a Facebook post yesterday: "Serious question: with a 100 million dollar senate race, awareness of the election has to be pretty high compared to other recent midterms. If (generally speaking) higher turnout is said to benefit Dems, and the supposition that the sheer volume of ads both positive and negative cancel out each other's message, could such unprecedented spending, even if half of it is aimed at defeating Hagan, reached a point where all of this advertising simply serves as a turnout driver and as such a net positive for the incumbent?"
 
Laura Leslie at WRAL responded, “Actually, negative ads tend to suppress turnout, not drive it. Rs are already more likely to turn out for a midterm than Ds. I don't think it will turn out to be a net positive for Hagan. Research is mixed but mostly shows that negative advertising increases turnout, though not by much.”
 
Then the political science professionals jumped in.
 
Steve Greene at N.C. State said the research is “inconclusive and contradictory.” He cited one article that “claims that there is no demobilizing effect of negative ads.”
 
Will Cubbison at George Washington University gave us some interesting stats: “For comparisons sake...1984 with Helms-Hunt (almost this much money, highly negative ads) had 69% turnout. 1980 had 67% and 1988 had 62% so severe limits to effects.”
 
Now, I’m not a political scientist, but it does look to me like turnout was higher in 1984.
 
And if turnout is higher this year – and if your candidate wins – are big money and negative ads really so bad?

 

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21
Here’s the worst thing about all those negative political ads on TV: They mirror our national psyche right now.
 
You can blame the politicians and their consultants. But they’re giving you what they know works on you: fear and anger.
 
On both sides.
 
Democrats are angry about the North Carolina legislature for what it’s done on education, fracking, coal ash and voter suppression.
 
Republicans are angry about taxes, spending, gay marriage and the fact that Barack Obama is still President.
 
We’re all angry about something that government at some level has or hasn’t done.
 
And we’re all scared. We’ve been scared since 9/11. We’ve been scared since the 2008 crash, and we’re scared because the economy hasn’t come back stronger.
 
Now we’re scared about ISIS. And we’re in a full-scale freakout about Ebola.
 
The campaigns are just holding up a mirror. And we don’t like what we see.

 

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