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24
President Obama has taken to slipping the surly bonds of office, going out to Starbucks for a coffee, asking friends to set up late dinners with interesting, intellectually stimulating people (as opposed to the people he deals with in Washington, presumably). When he escapes, he jokes that “The bear is loose.”
 
Surely, Presidents deserve a break. But Obama somehow sends out a vibe that he can’t wait to leave the Presidency for good, that he is at wits’ end having to deal with the John Boehners and Mitch McConnells. (Remember his classic response to the suggestion that he sit down for a drink with McConnell: “Really? Why don’t you have a drink with Mitch McConnell?”)

We feel his pain, but …
 
Which brings us to the President who is the yin to Obama’s yang, his sometime ally and one-time antagonist and the looming figure who threatens to overshadow his Presidency – Bill Clinton.
 
You never thought Clinton was ready to leave the Oval Office or give up the combat, the challenges and the sheer high-stakes chaos of politics at the most stratospheric, oxygen-deprived, death-defying levels. He practically had to be dragged out of the office in 2001, spraying pardon-bombs on his way out the door.
 
Obama is more like George W. Bush, who seems deliriously happy to be away from the cares of office and free to pick up a golf club or paint brush.
 
Again, it’s understandable, but …
 
We want our Presidents to enjoy the job. We feel unsettled when a chief executive constantly reminds us of how difficult, lonely and miserable it can be at the top. We want to say: Stop whining! We don’t care! You wanted the job, and we gave it to you. Do it. And look like you’re enjoying it.
 
In a world that seems so complicated and dangerous – think Ukraine, Gaza Strip and child immigrants at the border – we feel better if we feel like the job isn’t too big for the President.
 
Somehow it all reminded me of the difference between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods at the Open last weekend. Last week, and even back when Tiger was winning, he never seemed to be having fun. Certainly last week, but also even when Rory is losing, he seems to be having fun.
 
It also recalls Obama’s listless, lackluster performance at his first debate with Mitt Romney in 2012. He seemed disengaged and disinterested. And that discourages no one more than his supporters.
 
Go to Starbucks, Mr. President. Have a stimulating, pleasant dinner. Get away from the responsibilities every now and then. But then get back to work, and have fun. We’ll all feel a lot better.

 

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23
Here’s another example of how two different journals this week reported on the same political story:
 
“Goodbye to the GOP wave?” The New York Times.
 
“Odds of a GOP Wave Are Increasing” The National Journal.

 

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23
As soon as Conor the Jessecrat sat down at our regular political dinner he unfolded a newspaper, pointed, and said, There’s a headline to strike terror in every Congressman’s heart.
I read ‘Judge Orders Districts Redrawn’ and thought about the half-a-dozen lawsuits in North Carolina about redistricting but it turned out this lawsuit was in Florida where the state constitution makes it illegal for legislators to gerrymander districts for their political advantage. 
 
Mike, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican lawyer, shrugged and said, a Well, there’s no such provision in our state constitution, and Conor nodded and said, But there’slways a reckoning: What are you Republicans going to do if Dan Blue introduces the same law here – vote against  ‘fair districts’ and for gerrymandering?
 
Mike set his lips – then slowly grinned. 
 
Yes, he nodded, in a heartbeat.

 

 

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22
Art Pope’s critics often accuse him of “buying the State of North Carolina.” If he did, he got it cheap.
 
The Washington Post this weekend published its obligatory profile about the mild-mannered retail magnate who became the Superman ruling over North Carolina’s budget, politics and university system.
 
Two numbers catch your eye.
 
First, the story reported that “Pope’s family foundation has put more than $55 million into a robust network of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, building a state version of what his friends Charles and David Koch have helped create on a national level.” That money was spent, the story said, over a “quarter-century.”
 
Let’s see, $55 million over 25 years. That works out to $2.2 million a year.
 
But that investment – or purchase – didn’t pay off until the 2010 and 2012 elections, when Republicans took control of the General Assembly and Governor’s Office.
 
Enter the second number: “Pope and his family played a significant role, donating more than $500,000 to state candidates and party committees in 2010 and 2012, according to an analysis of state campaign finance data by the Institute for Southern Studies, a liberal research group. His company, Variety Wholesalers, gave almost $1 million more to outside groups that ran independent campaigns.”
 
So let’s get this straight. Pope & Co. spent just over $2 million a year for over 25 years, with no real impact. Then they spent $1.5 million over two election cycles to achieve their long-term goal of world (or, least, state) domination.
 
Now, when you think of someone “buying” North Carolina, you think billions of dollars. After all, this is North Carolina! But that’s all, a measly of measly million dollars a year? Not to mention the considerable help of a favorable national political climate in 2010 and Governor Perdue’s late decision not to run in 2012?
 
If that’s the case, there are a bunch of people around who can “buy back” North Carolina. Which leads us to the question: “Where is the Democrats’ Art Pope?”

 

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22

No one’s explained why a Malaysian airliner was flying over a war zone but when it was shot down Senator John McCain had no doubt who to blame: Obama.

It was, McCain adamantly told Fox News, Obama’s fault because he hadn’t given the Ukrainians more guns.
 
I reckon McCain figures if the Ukrainians had more guns they’d have shot (months ago) the varmint who pushed the button to launch that missile but, of course, that’s a lot like saying General Lee would have won Gettysburg if the stars had aligned differently.
 
President Obama has turned out to be Republicans’ worst nightmare. The Uber-Villain of all time.  But, still, you can’t blame one fellow for everything.

 

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22
At breakfast, two of the guys were bemoaning the challenges of life.
 
Tom, a generous contributor to political candidates, sighed, “Having a politician for a friend is worse than having a child in college.”
 
A while later, Phil looked up from his paper. “You need new glasses when you’re drawn to a headline that says, ‘Does Hagan want a condom tax?’ That got my attention. After squinting hard, I realized the story is about a carbon tax.” 

 

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21
They’re not highway numbers, or ages. They are the two big numbers driving North Carolina’s education debate this year.
 
When you take an eight-miles-high view of the legislature, setting aside the partisan debates and vitriol, the most striking thing is that Republicans are arguing this year over whether to raise teacher pay 5-6 per cent (the House and Governor McCrory) or 11 percent (the Senate).
 
Now, set aside for a moment Democrats’ objections that neither 5,6 or 11 is real, as all the pay raise proposals come with big holes and big cuts in other education areas. The point is that, one year after freezing teacher pay, Republicans are competing to claim they raised teacher pay.
 
Enter this story and map by Dave Dewitt and Keith Weston from WUNC radio: “Why is a teacher raise suddenly so important?...In 64 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, a local school system is the largest single employer. A local school system is the second-largest employer in 24 other counties. In only 12 counties a school system not in the top two.”
 
These numbers recall what a long-time lobbyist predicted last year: “The legislators are going to go home and find out that a lot of school teachers and school employees are Republicans.”
 
And so they did.
 
Which leads to the other number: 48. That’s where education advocates say North Carolina ranks in per-pupil spending, and they say we’re in race to the bottom.
 
Behind all this, you can be sure, is another set of numbers that has caught Republican’s attention: the polls on their approval ratings.

 

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18
New Yorker magazine, as I recall, once had a department called: “Which newspaper do you read?” It juxtaposed totally opposite headlines about the same story. To wit this week:
 
“Clay Aiken outpaces GOP candidate in 2nd quarter fundraising” (Sandhills Tribune).
             
“Rep. Ellmers ahead of Aiken in fundraising in 2nd Congressional District” (Fayetteville Observer).
 
In fairness, if you study the numbers hard enough, you might find that both stories are true. But, as it’s beyond me, I’m hoping Representative Ellmers will bring it down to my level. Maybe a pie chart or something.

 

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16
A discerning reader adds a twist to my theory (see “Pat Versus Phil” blog below) that Senator Berger might back a primary opponent against Governor McCrory: It could be Lt. Governor Dan Forest: “Can't help but notice Senate budget included Forest's pet project for more education revenue but they didn't include any of Gov’s pet projects. If I was Phil Berger I could see how Forrest is just the right empty suit for the Governor’s Mansion.”
 
Of course, Phil Berger Jr.’s loss in the Sixth Congressional District might give Forrest pause.
 
On that topic, the same reader reported this nugget: “McCrory controversial former Press Flack is busy rubbing salt in the Berger family wound this morning.”
 
That would be Ricky Diaz – late of DHHS $80,000-a-year fame – who tweeted: “With loss of his son in NC-6, BIG defeat for Senate President Phil Berger.”
 
No love lost here.
 

 

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16
Republican primaries are the best entertainment you can find this summer.
 
First Eric Cantor loses in a monumental upset. Then black Democrats save Thad Cochrane’s hide. Then two former Democrats running for Wake County DA fight over who’s the best Republican. And now Phil Berger Jr. loses big despite outspending his opponent big, plus getting help from every lobbyist, superPAC and special interest his father could line up.
 
You can almost feel the ripples of glee running through the Democratic Party, the Republican House leadership and the Governor’s Mansion.
 
How we love to see the mighty fall.
 
Carter knows far more about this race than I do, but I refuse to let ignorance stand in the way of analysis.
 
John Davis wrote that the winner, Mark Walker, “fanned the flames of resentment of super PAC attack ads run against him and two other Guilford County candidates during April and May, and tied Berger to Washington and Raleigh political insiders wielding outside money.”
 
So maybe it was a backlash against big outside money and negative attacks.
 
Or maybe it was just geography. As Davis noted, Guilford County, Walker’s home, has 43 percent of the district’s voters and Berger’s home of Rockingham, only 12 percent.
 
Or maybe it was resentment at Berger Sr. flaunting his power in the legislature – and fighting with a Republican Governor.
 
Or maybe nobody knew who Phil Berger Sr. is.
 
Or maybe you should never underestimate the power of a Baptist minister’s organization in a low-turnout primary.
 
Or maybe Allen Johnson at the Greensboro News & Record got it: “The Berger Jr. campaign may have turned off some voters by holding too firmly to Dad’s coattails and not running on his own merits. But I’m betting also that Berger Jr. failed to connect on personal level with voters. That they didn’t find him engaging or likable. He seemed in a hurry at times to get on with his anointment…. Berger (Sr.) is a master at wielding his influence through the sheer force of his grip. But that kind of politics will get you only so far. It helps if people like you, too.”
 
(By the way, great headline on Johnson’s piece: “The son doesn’t rise: Why did Berger Jr. lose?”)
 
In the end, I think my wise young friend, consultant Nation Hahn, nailed the essential lesson: “Seems like Berger Jr's loss should cause Renee (Ellmers) some heartburn. Another establishment candidate going down. Walker was really a joke, but he was in the same vein as Brat in VA. Gadfly, who organized, and who tapped in to the incredible anger sweeping the country.”

 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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