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North Carolina - Democrats

24
One thing Democrats did right this year was push education onto the public agenda. But will it last? And the key question: Where do they take it now?
 
The Hagan campaign came close largely because they almost turned a United States Senate race into a school board election.
 
The same thing was true in many legislative races. Republicans who were running scared campaigned like Democrats, promising to improve the public schools and even to raise teacher pay to the national average.
 
One path for Democrats now will be to see whether Republicans keep that promise in what looks like a legislative session that will be dominated by a shortfall in revenues
 
But Democrats should be wary of falling into a trap that equates more money with better education.
 
Republicans are learning how to push back against the charge that they “cut $500 million from education.” And, if you Google that charge, you’ll find a series of fact checks that challenge its veracity.
 
Given their ideological preference for vouchers and charter schools, Republicans are not likely to appropriate much more money for the schools. Their position is more likely to be: “We’re spending more money than ever before on the schools, but they’re not getting better. We have to do something different.”
 
Democrats better figure out how to overcome that argument.
 
Same with the universities. Democrats can’t just criticize budget “cuts” – more accurately, cuts in per-pupil spending – when Republicans are already rolling out their riposte: “North Carolina spends more on its universities per pupil than all but three other states.”
 
I saw this movie in the 1990s with Governor Hunt. It’s why he didn’t just say: “Let’s raise teacher pay to the national average.” He also, always, said: “And let’s raise standards for teachers, students and schools.”
 
To win in 2016, Democrats will again have to propose more than more money.

 

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20
Governor McCrory’s political instinct is right, but his choice of battlefield is puzzling.
 
The Governor seems to understand that the best way to get reelected is to pick a fight with the legislature. Governors are always more popular than legislatures. McCrory’s approval ratings are twice as high as this legislature.
 
But why not fight over something the public cares about? Nobody cares which politician appoints the coal ash commission.
 
And McCrory brings a glass jaw to this fight. As Senator Berger put it a while back: “The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer.”
 
“Former employer”! Yikes! Sounds like something a Democrat would say.
 
Or will say next year.

 

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14
Some two-score years ago, I started going to the National Governors Association winter meetings in Washington. These were at the time great bipartisan policy wonk-fests, three days of earnest discussions about issues, ideas and innovations, with plenty of after-hours barroom political gossip.
 
Three young governors stood out at the time (during the day sessions, at least; none of them drank): Jerry Brown, Bill Clinton and Jim Hunt.
 
So I was struck this year when Jerry Brown was elected to his fourth term as Governor of California, Bill Clinton campaigned gleefully across the country in anticipation of Hillary’s presidential run, and Jim Hunt was the most-sought after Democratic headliner across North Carolina.
 
All three have graduated from ambitious young men to senior statesmen, admired for what they did in office, emulated as political icons and still in demand.
 
What did they have – and still have?
 
First is a zest for politics. They live it and breathe it. They’ll stop only when their hearts stop beating. And they love it not just for the game, but for what you can do for people through politics.
 
Second is an innate gut feeling for what moves people, what people care about and what people want from their leaders. Hunt and Clinton always shared a human warmth; Brown was California Zen cool, but then he got a wife and a dog and became almost human.
 
Finally, they’re all smart, and they never stop learning. They read voraciously, vacuum up ideas and information, and think.
 
For any aspiring young pol who wants to be a four-term Governor, a President or at least a much-admired senior statesman in four decades, you’ve got your road map.

 

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10
After last Tuesday, Democrats need a psychiatrist as much as a political strategist.
 
Here’s helpful advice from my old friend and pollster extraordinaire Harrison Hickman, titled Top 10 Least Helpful Democratic Excuses.” Harrison, an NC native and CEO of Hickman Analytics, Inc. in Washington, says, “To learn from our landslide defeat, Democrats should avoid excuses that divert attention from the tasks required to prepare for the next round of elections.” Among his 10 examples:
 
"’All hope is lost.’ Party fundraising emails may say so, but it's not. Ask anyone who went through 1984, 1994, and 2010. Elections are cyclical, and we need to be ready for the next opportunities by learning from our mistakes and moving forward.”
 
"’If only ... [fill in the blank].’ In a wipeout of this magnitude, no one factor would have changed the outcome. A multitude of factors were at play, including many completely beyond the control of the campaigns wrecked by the wave.”
 
"’There's nothing we could have done.’ Actually there are plenty of things we could have done, but most of them should have happened months or years ago. Maybe nothing tactical in the closing month would have changed the outcome, but better messaging and performance leading up to it could have helped. Besides, this type of thinking is self-destructive and presents a horrible image to the audience we most need to convince. Voters who expect courage and performance from their leaders are not going to cast their lot with a party of defeatists.”
 
"’It's all about race.’ Racial attitudes are part of it, but they are not the only reason we lost badly. If we want voters to put us in charge of their government, understand that they expect performance. We simply have not delivered in ways that meet their needs and expectations.”
 
And lastly: "’But so-and-so said ....’ Here's a dirty little secret. With some notable exceptions, most of the people opining about what went wrong and what needs to change are no longer paid to run or advise major campaigns -- if they ever were. You know more about these things than so-and-so does, and you have a helluva lot more at stake in coming up with the right answers. So do it.”
 
Dr. Pearce’s Rx: Take all 10 to heart. 

 

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06
“Anybody who says they knew this was coming – Democrat or Republican, pundit or pollster – is lying,” a veteran campaign operative said Wednesday
 
The polls all missed it. Close races turned into routs. Narrow Democratic wins turned into Republican wins. Turnout models missed the mark, Early-voting hype was misleading.
 
Tillis consultant Paul Shumaker did tell donors last week that internal polls showed Tillis had caught up with Hagan.
 
The instant analysis that it was an anti-Obama vote. But why did it turn so suddenly at the end, when Obama had been the focus of Republican campaigns all year?
 
A theory: A combination of factors – in-state, national and international – came together in late October to exacerbate anti-Obama feeling, energize Republicans and swing most undecided voters to Tillis and the Republicans. Including gay marriage, ISIS, Ebola and the Hagan-stimulus issue, with “stimulus” being a code word for “Obama.”
 
A useful perspective came from a smart young field operative who, unlike many of us, spent a lot of time this year talking to real voters, especially undecided voters. Those voters have very little interest in politics, he noted. Consequently, “they don’t know the legislative candidates, they don’t follow the legislature, they don’t know much about Tillis and Hagan, they don’t know who holds the House or Senate. They know two big things: They’re not happy with the economy and the way things are going, and they know Obama is President.”

 

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05
North Carolina Democrats should push the pause, not panic, button.
 
It was, as George Bush famously said after the 2006 midterm, “a thumpin’.” It hurts like hell, especially when the other team spikes the ball and strikes a pose in the end zone. The temptation is to form up the circular firing squad and start shooting each other.
 
Instead, as Terry Sanford used to say, let’s have a council of war and figure out how to take the next hill.
 
Take it from a scarred old veteran: The seeds of victory often are sown in defeat. Democrats saw their boats swamped in 1984, 1994 and 2004. (What is it about years ending in 4?) Each time, two years later, a rising tide lifted all their boats to big victories.
 
Politics goes in waves these days, and the waves go national. As did this one. From the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast, it was a Republican tsunami. It was a vote of dissatisfaction and discontent with President Obama and the party that was seen as the Ins.
 
The miracle is that Kay Hagan came within less than 1.7 percent, while other Democrats were losing by 10 and 20 points or losing blue states like Maryland and Massachusetts. Legislative candidates like my man Tom Bradshaw came within less than 1 percent of surviving gerrymandering, incumbent money, tough voter laws and the national tide. State House candidates overcame those odds in Dare, Wake and Buncombe counties. Democratic judges, who didn’t have the burden of “Democrat” by their names on the ballot, won statewide. Four Democrats were elected county commissioners in Wake; all seven board seats are now held by Democrats.
 
In the Capitols in Raleigh and Washington, Republicans own it now. The euphoria of victory invites overreach, and there will be few Democrats to blame in 2016. Perhaps by then the public will be so enamored with the performance of state and national government, on the economy and education, that Republicans will win another big victory.
 
Or the tide may turn with a vengeance.

 

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30
Chad Barefoot must have asked his team: “What can we do that will so anger and offend women that they’ll vote AGAINST me?”
 
They came up with an ad that has backfire potential approaching the “child molester” ad against Justice Robin Hudson. It portrays Sarah Crawford’s husband as a cigar-smoking lobbyist laughing about how his little woman will vote the way he tells her to in the Senate.
 
Kimberly Reynolds of the Senate Democratic caucus pounced: “Evidently in Senator Barefoot’s world, corporate lobbyists rule and women are expected to simply follow their husbands’ orders.”
 
The ad could be a caricature of the Negative Ad. It’s not only sexist and over-the-top, it’s hypocritical: Yes, Sarah’s husband is a lobbyist – for the League of Conservation Voters. And, I’m told, Chad Barefoot’s mother-in-law also is a lobbyist – for the outfit that passed Amendment One.
 
In a district where women already are motivated – and make up a high number of swing voters – Chad & Co. may have pulled off one of the biggest bonehead plays of this election year.

 

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30
The term is new to me, but dog whistles are the oldest thing in Southern politics. This election, like all of them, comes down to race.
 
In 1950, it was “White People Wake Up…Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and daughters in your mills and factories?”
 
In 1984, it was “I oppose the Martin Luther King holiday. Where do you stand, Jim?”
 
Today it’s mailers linking Gary Pendleton’s opponent Kim Hanchette to a scary-looking photo of the Rev. William Barber. And Phil Matthews’ supporters criticizing Matt Calabria for supporting UNC’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies when he ran for UNC student body president in 2004.
 
Same old, same old.
 
Republicans, as always, will say it’s Democrats who are “playing the race card.” They’ll say it’s racist for Democrats to link Republicans like Thom Tillis to Stand Your Ground laws, President Obama’s impeachment and voter-suppression laws.
 
Where you come down on this divide pretty much defines where you stand in American politics.
 
Just like it has ever since the Civil War, it still comes down to race.

 

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30
If you’re tired of ads, tired of contradictory punditry and tired of conflicting, confusing and cooked-up polls, here’s a prescription for sanity: Take a dose of the Elon University poll.
 
A warning about side effects: It will calm Democrats and give Republicans heartburn. (Hagan is up 45-41.)That aside, it gives you as clear, comprehensive and unbiased a look at the North Carolina electorate right now as you’re going to get. It isn’t a quickie poll to get the sponsor a headline, and it isn’t a cooked-up poll from a partisan.
 
Best of all for us poll junkies, they give you the full crosstabs. You can see the racial and religious breakdowns, the difference between NC natives and non-natives, voters’ opinions about issues from gay marriage (opposition is up) to abortion restrictions (opposition is also up).
 
You can see what has to be the number of most concern to Thom Tillis and the Republican legislature: 30 approve, 55 disapprove (worse than Obamacare). Nor will Governor McCrory find much comfort: he gets 37 approve, 47 disapprove.
 
A tip of the TAP hat to the Elon poll team!

 

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29
Thom Tillis said Kay Hagan voted for Obama’s Stimulus Bill then her husband’s company got $390,000 in Stimulus Funds as a pay-off. And Hagan fired back Tillis (as Speaker) put a toll road near Charlotte in exchange for $25,000 in campaign contributions and sold three seats on the UNC Board of Governors for $75,000 in donations to his SuperPac.
 
Imagine being an Undecided Independent voter.
 
You don’t like Tillis or Hagan. You’d love to vote against both. But you have to choose one. And a week before the election, you turn on the TV and hear him saying ‘she’s a crook’ and her saying ‘he’s a bigger crook.’
 
How do you decide? Flip a coin?

 

 

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