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North Carolina - Democrats

15
More telling than Kay Hagan’s overall lead in the polls may be her overwhelming lead with women.
 
According to a Rasmussen Poll last week, Hagan leads Thom Tillis by six points, 45-39. But then it gets confusing. The poll said Hagan leads among women by 21 points, while Tillis leads among men by nine points.
 
Say again? If the vote splits 50-50 between men and women, and Hagan leads with women by 21 and trails by men by nine, isn’t she then ahead by 12?
 
Unless Rasmussen assumes that a whole lot more men will vote than women.
 
If that assumption is wrong, and if women turn out heavily, Tillis is – as the fellow Down East once said – “Toast. T-O-S-T, toast.”

 

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08
A TAPster unimpressed by the Hagan-Tillis debate says, “If you want to see a real debate, watch Jim Hunt debate Jesse Helms in 1984. That was like Ali and Frazier.”
 
Ah, take me back to those thrilling days 30 years ago. Here’s a link so you can watch two heavyweight champs. (This is the first debate, which I liked best because Hunt did best in it.)
 
Hunt caught Helms flat-footed. Carter said later the Helms campaign underestimated Hunt. They thought he would be a pushover. And Helms didn’t want to look mean. Hunt started punching Helms in the nose in the first minute and never let up.
 
In three later debates, Helms gave as good as he got. Watching clips now, I’m reminded how smart and tough they both were – and how much they truly disliked each other. I’m reminded of the tension in the rooms where just the TV crew and a few staff members were allowed. I remember thinking: I’m glad I’m not the one who has to stand up there.
 
Carter and I first met negotiating the rules of the debates. We were the junior partners in the room; Tom Ellis represented Helms and Phil Carlton, Hunt. We met under the auspices of the N.C. Broadcasters Association.
 
Our meetings started in a climate of mutual hostility and suspicion. But after a couple of sessions, an odd dynamic emerged. The two campaigns realized that we were more in tune with each other than with the broadcasters on the format we wanted. So we asked the broadcasters’ representatives to step out of the room. We quickly settled on a format that let the two men go at each other freely without a lot of rules, time limits and moderator-posturing. We told the broadcasters: take it or leave it. They weren’t happy, but they took it.
 
Hunt prepared like a boxer in training. He went through sparring sessions with Harrison Hickman, a native North Carolinian with an uncanny ability to ape Helms’ voice and style. Hunt had some rough spots during the prep, but he worked hard and did his homework, as always. He was ready when the debates began July 29, 1984.
 
After four debates, the candidates, their campaigns and the voters were worn out. But nobody could say we didn’t give them their money’s worth.

 

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05
Candidates and their advisers spend a lot of time during debate prep thinking about how to address their opponent, so it was no happenstance that Tillis called Hagan “Kay” and she called him “Speaker Tillis.”
 
Tillis didn’t want to give her the benefit of incumbency, so he took the risk of looking sexist and offending women voters, as Laura Leslie noted on WRAL.
 
Senator Hagan wasn’t being “respectful,” as her partisans suggested. She wanted to tie Tillis as closely as possible to the legislature and what it did on education. Tillis knows he has that problem, so he and the Republicans are pushing back as hard as they can on teacher pay raises. But they’re not getting any reinforcement from teachers.
 
Reporters and viewers clearly were frustrated by all the canned lines and talking points, but what the candidates said still tells a revealing story about the hidden forces behind this election.
 
In other Senate races across the country, President Obama’s ever-falling job ratings are hurting Democrats. But in North Carolina, Senator Hagan has an even more unpopular villain to attack (hard as that is to imagine). That’s the legislature, and that’s why he’s “Speaker Tillis.”

 

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04
The Senate race is all about sex. It is Supportive Mommy against Stern Daddy.
 
And the debate may make me amend my rule about how the most comfortable, confident and commanding person in the room always wins: Except when it’s a man against a woman and his “commanding” slips over into “condescending.”
 
Thom Tillis stood for the over-50 white male view of the world: It’s a tough place. I made it and so can you. Put on your big boy pants, get to work and don’t expect any damn handouts.
 
Kay Hagan replied: It is a tough world, big boy, but it’s a lot tougher than when you came up. And sometimes people need a hand.
 
He said: Business will do the right thing and solve our problems if government gets out of the way.
 
She said: Business is great, but it won’t always do the right thing, and that’s why we need government.
 
But what they said wasn’t the story. That was canned, rehearsed and predictable, as all the recaps noted. The story was how Tillis said it, calling her “Kay,” as in, “Kay’s math just doesn’t add up” and “she obviously didn’t read the budget.”
 
How many women thought: “It hate it when men talk to me that way”?
 
These psychological undertones make it hard for the media and pundits to deliver an instant analysis of a debate’s impact. People writing and talking on deadline focus on facts, substance and talking points. It’s hard – and it’s tricky – to gauge emotional reactions. Those take days to take hold in a campaign.
 
You can’t analyze the debate – or the race – without looking through the lens of the fundamental social, cultural and political divide in America today. Republicans target of old white men who are angry about the way things are going. Democrats target women and young men who are angry at the old white men.
 
The old white men took over in 2010. Now there’s a reaction building. The old white men are outnumbered, and their days are numbered. 

 

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03
Several reporters have called to explore “what’s at stake” in tonight’s U.S. Senate debate and “what Hagan and Tillis have to do.”
 
Well, the answer is a lot simpler than we make it sometimes in politics.
 
The media will bravely try to focus on substance and whether either candidate “said something new.” (The candidates and their respective camps certainly hope not.)
 
The partisans will see what they want to see, unless their own candidate either shines or stumbles. And you can always tell, not matter how brave the front.
 
A lot of the back-and-forth tonight will go over most viewers’ heads. Experienced legislators like Tillis and Hagan especially have a bad habit of lapsing into mind-numbing policy and process talk.
 
Here are the two best ways to judge who won and who lost.
 
First, make it a drinking game (two or more participants required): One takes a drink every time Tillis talks about Obama. The other takes a drink every time Hagan talks about the legislature’s cuts to education. Whoever ends up drunkest, that candidate won. (You can also do this by yourself, taking a drink each time each candidate scores. This will ensure you don’t remember a thing from the debate.)
 
The second way: Turn off the sound and just watch. See if one candidate or the other looks more confident, comfortable and in command. That is the winner.

 

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29
WRAL’s Mark Binker says the claim that Senator Kay Hagan votes with President Obama 95 percent of the time is “something of karmic payback for Hagan, who benefited from a similar claim leveled against then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2008.”
 
There is a little-noted back story to the Dole ad: It wasn’t really about voting percentages. It was about age. And it was a devastatingly clever attack on Dole.
 
At the time, serious-minded fact-checkers focused on whether the ad, sponsored by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was correct when it said Dole ranked 93rd in effectiveness in the Senate and voted with George Bush 92 percent of the time.
 
But watch the ad (it’s in Binker’s story) and listen to the two old codgers rocking on the porch. One says, “I’m telling you, Liddy Dole is 93.” The other replies, “I heard she’s 92.” At the end, one asks, “What happened to the Liddy Dole we knew?” The other says, “She’s just not a go-getter like you and me.”
 
The subtle but powerful message: Liddy Dole is too old. Her time has passed.
 
Now, a direct hit on her age (she was 72 in 2008) would have backfired. But the sly hit worked.
 
So don’t expect the 95 percent hit on Hagan by Tillis’ campaign to work like the 2008 ad did. For one thing, voters suspect – as Binker’s fact check shows – that the 95 percent includes a lot of minor votes.
 
Hagan and her allies have run a brilliant campaign so far. They’ve portrayed her as a moderate (“just right, just like North Carolina”) and they’ve painted Thom Tillis into a box with an unpopular legislature in Raleigh.
 
This attack won’t change that.

 

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27
When the pollster asked voters, Who should pay for the coal ash cleanup, Duke Energy or consumers? the answer came back loud and clear: Voters had no doubt. Almost to a man they said Duke Energy.
 
Now that didn’t mean that was the right – or fair – answer.
 
But it did mean any legislator who disagreed was going to have to give voters a good practical or theological or economic or political reason that changed their minds because, otherwise, the moment he said he wanted consumers to pay for the clean-up (in the form of higher electric bills) he’d be committing the political equivalent of walking in front of a firing squad.
 
The Republicans decided not to give voters a reason to change their minds – and the Democrats didn’t need too.
 
Because the moment Duke Energy called for higher electric bills, whether Roy Cooper and Company saw that as corporate wolves preying on hapless sheep or whether they, more practically, asked themselves, Who do we want to stick with the bill – six million voters or one corporation – they immediately rolled out a law saying Duke should pay every penny. And, a month later, when Duke reported a $600 million quarterly profit it looked like the Democrats were standing on solid ground.
 
The Republicans headed down a different track. They didn’t say they wanted six million voters to pay for the coal ash cleanup but they did kill the Democrats’ law dead in its tracks – then passed a law of their own saying Duke Energy couldn’t ask the Utilities Commission for a rate increase for four months  (until January 15) which created two problems.
 
First, a voter who didn’t want his electric bill raised now didn’t want it raised after January 15 either. Second, the Democrats had given voters an unequivocal no rate increase pledge while the Republicans had said let’s wait until after the election and see.
 
I reckon that makes it all but certain before long we’re going to see ads saying Republicans sided with Duke Energy – and then Republicans are going to need to give voters a darn good reason why it’s necessary or right or fair for them to pay to clean up the coal ash ponds. Beyond that, in November, when voters troop to the polls there may be just one question left: Which do they dislike more? Obama? Or paying $10 billion more in electric bills?
 

 

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20
As much as I respect Rob Christensen and the political experts he talked with in today’s column, I disagree with their conclusion that the money spent in the U.S. Senate race has had “little effect.”
 
In fact, I think the ads by Senator Hagan – and on her behalf – have painted Thom Tillis into a corner that he will have trouble escaping.
 
Granted, the movement is small, because the electorate is so polarized. But the shift is small because the pool of swing voters is small.
 
The ads against Tillis – aided by what is happening in this never-ending legislative session – have successfully linked him with two of the most unpopular groups in politics today: the Tea Party and the legislature. And the damage gets worse every day the legislature stays in town.
 
Nor does it help that Tillis can’t get a bill through his own chamber.
 
Maybe he should try a new message: “I’m a leader in a dysfunctional legislature, so I’ll fit right in in Washington.”

 

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19
Republicans strode up to the plate in Raleigh with big bats and high hopes, then whiffed on three straight pitches.
 
Strike one was teacher pay. Their top goal was to stop the bleeding on education. But their so-called pay raise was so full of holes, questions and confusion that nobody is satisfied, teachers are still mad and voters think the Governor and the legislature are anti-education.
 
Strike two was coal ash. They did nothing on the state’s biggest environmental crisis in decades. Nothing.
 
Strike three belonged to Governor McCrory alone. He stepped up to the plate to be the hero on coal ash after the legislature struck out. But he tied himself in ethical knots by wrongly reporting his Duke stock on his ethics statement.
 
How big a sin is this? Well, look at it this way: If Bev Perdue had done it, the legislature would have impeached her.
 
So McCrory is in hot water, Thom Tillis is lagging behind Senator Hagan, Senator Berger’s son lost his congressional primary and – notwithstanding the advantages of incumbency, fundraising and gerrymandering – Democrats may be looking at a good fall season.

 

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15
Governor McCrory’s blast at The N&O got him another day of the “blaring, top-of-the-fold” headlines he blasted. But this is just the beginning of the Coal Ash Saga. We soon will have a U.S. Attorney’s investigation and a fight over who pays: McCrory’s former boss, Duke Energy, or his current boss, the People of North Carolina.
 
McCrory protested that the N&O’s story Thursday “mischaracterized a misinterpretation of a very convoluted form.” It is not a convoluted form. Look for yourself here. In fact, it is just like your income taxes: You file them by April 15 for the prior year ending December 31.
 
Still, I believe Governor McCrory when he says, in effect, that it was incompetence, rather than a conspiracy. But it is breathtaking incompetence. It is hard to fathom how the Governor of North Carolina and his legal counsel misunderstood the form. Or why somebody on the Governor’s staff didn’t foresee the problem.
 
Here’s what former legislative counsel Gerry Cohen says (and remember, he was honored a couple of weeks ago by members of both parties for his reliability and integrity): “How could Bob Stephens have had a misunderstanding that the date of ownership of the stock was as of April 15, 2014, when the 2013 SEI CLEARLY says on the tip of page 2 that the date of stock ownership was to be as of December 31. Was the mistake that he only read page 1? Or missed the penalties provision at the end of the form, which states that it could be a violation of GS 138A-45? I know that the text of 138A-45 tells you that for a constitutional officer, it is malfeasance and punishable under GS 123-5.”
 
The “misstatement” is a small part of the Governor’s problem. As one TAPster noted, he says he sold the stock NOT because it was the right thing to do, but because his “integrity was being challenged” and he wanted to put “this thing to bed.” In other words, it’s about PR, not integrity.
 
Second, as WRAL reported, “McCrory has steadfastly refused to take a position on whether shareholders or customers should pay for it (the coal ash cleanup), saying that decision should be left up to the state Utilities Commission.”
 
That is a dodge. Democrats in the legislature tried to amend the coal ash bill so the Utilities Commission couldn’t let Duke pass the cleanup costs on to ratepayers. Republicans squashed that, and they will answer for it this fall. And Roy Cooper has taken a position exactly opposite of McCrory’s.
 
Finally, away from the cameras, the federal grand jury investigation rolls on. Wait for those blaring, top-of-the-fold headlines.

 

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