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Pat laid his offer on the table Saturday: Recount Durham’s votes and I’ll drop my request for recounts in other counties, he told the State Board of Elections.

It sounded reasonable. And fair. But like a lot of knotty problems there’s more than one way to look at it.

The chance of a Durham recount overturning Roy Cooper’s 8085 vote lead over Pat is, well, remote. Let’s say, hypothetically, Pat’s facing 99 to 1 odds.

But recounting Durham’s votes is the best – you could argue the only – chance Pat has of defeating Roy. A recount can’t hurt Pat. He can’t end up worse off. And he might just win the trifecta. From where Pat sits he risks nothing by making this offer – and he may get a chance of salvation.

But look at the same puzzle through Roy’s eyes: If Roy goes along with Pat’s offer the odds are Roy’s facing 99 happy outcomes. But he’s also facing a 1% chance of complete doom. And that’s a proverbial risk to avoid. From where Roy sits taking a 1% risk of doom makes no sense at all.

The State Board of Elections is scheduled to decide on Pat’s offer this week.

In the meantime, there’s likely to be a lot of rhetoric from both sides – but remember: It all comes down to two people looking at the same problem and seeing two different outcomes: Pat’s seeing a 1% shot at salvation while Roy’s looking at a 1% risk of doom.

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You can have your Anthony Bourdains and your Phil Rosenthals. If I’m eating on the road, I’m going with North Carolina’s own D.G. Martin.

Now you can drive and dine with D.G. by picking up his new book, “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries: A Traveler’s Guide to Local Restaurants, Diners, and Barbecue Joints,” published by UNC Press.

D.G. likes my kind of food. Namely, all kinds of food. And, for this book, food served in local restaurants “where you find real friends and lifelong memories.”

He tells us about more than 100 BBQ joints, seafood places, country kitchens, Mexican restaurants, Lebanese cafes and Greek diners that offer down-home alternatives to the Interstate fast-food deserts. He introduces us to the people who cook and serve the food, the locals who gather around the table and the nearby attractions you can visit while your meal settles.

Only D.G. would direct you from the country cooking at Pam’s Farmhouse Restaurant in west Raleigh to a store where you can buy a sari.

D.G., who is now a newspaper columnist and host of UNC-TV’s “Bookwatch,” has done his research – on the road and at the table. He flavors his findings with his irrepressible love for North Carolina and its people.

His book makes the perfect Christmas gift for friends and family. Pick up an extra copy to keep in your car. You never know when you’ll need a down-home meal.


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As Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead passes 2 million, the quadrennial question arises: Why elect Presidents differently from the way we elect every other public official? And why not change it?

The practical answer is that it’s impossible today to amend the Constitution. Half the country would automatically oppose it, given how divided we are.

But there is a way Democrats could change it.

Check out a group called National Popular Vote, which has come up with an ingenious way to reform the Electoral College – without amending the Constitution.

Carter and I got to know the founders a few years back when they brought their idea to North Carolina. It’s very simple: Get enough states – states with a total of 270 electoral votes – to enter into an interstate compact. Each of those states enacts a law instructing their electors to vote for the winner of the nationwide popular vote, not their statewide winner.

States can do that. Already, a couple allot their electors by congressional district.

Sound-far fetched? Well, it has already passed more 11 states with 165 electoral votes (CA, DC, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA). It just needs to pass in states with 105 more electoral votes.  

Once enough states agree, it won’t matter what the other states want – or what Congress or the President want. It’ll be done.

It would dramatically change how presidential races are run. Every vote in every state would count. Forget “battleground” states.

Republicans would campaign in California and New York to run up their national vote totals. Democrats would go to Texas and Georgia. Everybody would still come to North Carolina.

Smaller states – like Iowa and New Hampshire – might get less attention. But who cares?

On Election Night, there would be no more “calling” states for one candidate or the other. No more red and blue maps. Just a running vote count. Like the Super Bowl or Final Four. Or every other election we have.

North Carolina Democrats who like the idea should take note: We had a chance to pass it when we had a majority in the legislature. But the House leadership shelved the bill.

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Happy Thanksgiving? Bah, humbug, say a lot of Democrats.

Two weeks after a loss they didn’t see coming, they’re still sorting through four of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and depression. The fifth and final stage, acceptance, is a ways off.

So let’s pause and calmly assess the situation.

Here’s some advice from a psychologist I know who’s struggling with his own feelings – “I’m trying not to let Trump rent out space in my head and ruin my life” – and counseling clients who are upset and even “terrified.”

Looking for the bright side, he notes, “I’m hoping that Trump’s narcissism somehow will work in our favor and that he’ll be so greedy about his image and his legacy and doing deals that he might even go against Republicans. He’ll go against anybody if it serves him. That could work to our benefit at some point, ironically.”

Plus, he adds, “Arrogance usually bites itself in the rear.”

I’m no psychologist, but here’s my political advice to Democrats.

First, rein in the over-the-top reaction to Trump. Don’t make it easy for him to paint his opponents as extreme and himself as mainstream.

The level of hype and hysteria that some Democrats show over anything and everything Trump does could help him by setting expectations so low he can’t help but exceed them: “Gee, Marge, we didn’t have a depression or a nuclear war or concentration camps after all. Let’s give Trump another four years.”

Second, criticize Trump all you want. But don’t attack his voters.

It’s no doubt true that a lot of racists voted for Trump. But it’s not true that all Trump voters are racist. For Democrats to say that is just as bad as Trump saying all Muslims are terrorists or all Mexicans are rapists and murderers.

Third, don’t howl with glee at every little fumble or stumble during the Trump transition. All transitions fumble and stumble. It’s impossible not to when you just finished one marathon and you have to gear up for another one.

Fourth and finally, face up to facts – good and bad.

The bad: Trump and the Republicans won. They own it all in Washington. They’re going to get their way. For a while.

But it’s like I told Carter in 2008, when Democrats won the White House, the Senate and the House: “Don’t worry. We’ll find a way to screw it up.”

They will too.

The good: Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote. For all her problems, she came within a few thousand votes in a handful of big states of winning. Democrats can and will win again.

More good: Roy Cooper won, Josh Stein won and Democrats picked up legislative seats here, despite the Trump tide. And we can and we will win here again.

So be thankful. And Happy Thanksgiving!

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After a year of waking up every morning to listen to name-calling and howling on TV I figured, Enough politics – after the election what everyone needed was a break to calm down.

About a week later I read an article about the demise of journalism during the election, thought, Amen – then a couple of days after that I opened a newspaper and read ‘Klan’s Parade Raises Questions about White Supremacists in N.C.’

The newspaper reported that ‘Within 48 hours of the Trump win…the Loyal White Knights of Pelham” had announced a Victory Parade – but had forgotten to say on their website where the parade was. ‘They seem to be working together with neo-Nazi groups,’ a professor from Pittsburgh told the newspaper.

So suddenly we had Klansmen and Neo-Nazis hand in hand at a crossroads near the Virginia border and, of course, the Reverend William Barber of the NAACP couldn’t resist the temptation to blame that development on “the tribe of Trumpism” which led the newspaper to Trump appointee Senator Jeff Sessions who’d once said he found the Klan “OK, until I found out they smoked pot.”

So here’s the picture: Trump’s President. The Klan’s back. And, connecting the dots, the press reports that’s no coincidence.

The election’s over but I’m afraid journalism may not recover.

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Ole Pat labored faithfully day-in and day-out and did his best to whip Roy for almost two years but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t quite catch up – on Election Night when the first returns rolled in it looked like the polls were right: Pat trailed. But within an hour the world brightened: Suddenly Pat was ahead and for the next four hours he watched his lead grow to 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 votes until midnight when his world turned upside down.

Durham County had struggled for hours to count 94,000 votes but around midnight when it reported, Pat’s lead vanished: He trailed by 5,000 votes. And an hour later Roy declared victory.

But Pat didn’t give up.

Being a press spokesman used to be a job that required a level head but these days most press spokesmen are twenty-something gunslingers and after Pat challenged Roy’s votes in 52 counties the adrenaline was pumping, anxiety was rampant, and both sides were feeling testy.

Roy Cooper’s out to count the votes of dead people, Pat McCrory’s press spokesman Ricky Diaz declared – and Roy Cooper’s spokesman Fred Porter shot back, Pat’s desperate. He wants to undermine an election he lost.

It was like watching two high school drama queens having a cat fight.

Right now, Roy has a 6,600 vote lead which is only a fraction of 1% of the vote but, on the other hand, Elections Boards have counted the votes accurately in election after election. Can you recall a loser turning himself into a winner by challenging votes?

That said, this is the land of the free and the home of the brave so Pat’s got a right to have his say – though it’s not quite as simple as it sounds: His folks can’t just walk into an Elections Board hearing and say, ‘Here’s a list of 100 people we think voted illegally. Disallow their votes.’ They have to also say, ‘And here’s our proof.’

As a practical matter you can all but forget about Pat’s challenges in 51 of those 52 counties. The heart of his case doesn’t come down to challenging a hundred votes in Raleigh or a few dozen votes in Halifax County: It comes down to those 94,000 votes in Durham where something odd – the newspaper reported it was a software malfunction – happened on Election Night.

Even the Governor’s attorney admits he doesn’t expect recounting those votes will change the outcome of the election – but there is one virtue in a recount: It’ll prove to the doubters that vote counts are fair.

So why not recount Durham’s votes – and put everyone’s mind at ease?

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This message is for Pat McCrory AND for Democrats who want the Electoral College to dump Trump: It’s over. You lost. Move on.

Prolonging these fights is doomed, divisive, delusional, self-defeating and just plain dumb.

Doesn’t McCrory know this? He should break free of the lawyers, consultants and spokesmen who want to keep fighting so they can keep getting paid. He should finally show the grace that has been so lacking in his governorship.

His campaign complains about “dead people and felons.” But those dead people and felons apparently also voted for Donald Trump and Richard Burr.

No doubt McCrory was gobsmacked Election Night when he suddenly went from winning to losing. Especially when Trump and most all other Republicans were winning. But he should have known Durham County hadn’t reported yet – and that it would be bad for him.

Now, the more the votes are counted, the farther behind he falls.

Earth to Pat: You lost. Give it up.

The same applies to die-hard Democrats who are pressuring electors to reverse the presidential result. Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. And, yes, that’s the result of a compromise that was forged some 230 years ago to protect us from too much democracy. (The same thinking had legislators electing U.S. Senators into the 20th Century.)

Earth to the die-hards: You lost. Give it up.

At least, give it up this year. Because there’s an ingenious plan out there that would reform the Electoral College to reflect the nationwide popular vote for President. Check it out at National Popular Vote.

We’ll talk more about it in another blog.


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The day after the election, I taped an interview with Chris Fitzsimon on the NC Policy Watch website. I talked about what happened and what comes next, including Roy Cooper vs the legislature, potential splits inside the Republican Party and why Deborah Ross should run against Thom Tillis in 2020. You can hear it here.


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My Facebook page looks like a mass therapy session for Democrats cycling through the various stages of grief.

They not only vent their anger at Trump and his angry voters, they also lash out at other Democrats and lecture them on how they should feel and what they should do.

No. You should feel how you feel and do what you need to do.

And especially for men: Don’t try to tell women how they should feel about the country not electing its first woman President.

Instead, let this scarred, but still standing, veteran of painful defeats and glorious victories offer you a menu of possible coping strategies, in addition to consulting Dr. Jack Daniels and a wide range of bottled and chemical therapies.

First and foremost, remind your friends here and tell your friends out of state what North Carolina Democrats did despite the Trump tsunami. Roy Cooper won, Petulant Pat’s whining notwithstanding. Josh Stein won. Elaine Marshall and Beth Wood won. Mike Morgan beat the Gerrymandering Justice. Cynthia Ball and Joe John unseated incumbent House Republicans in Wake County.

(And pardon a proud father for noting that Cynthia’s campaign was managed by my son James.)

Ask your Republican friends if you should show Trump and his family the same respect and magnanimity that Republicans showed to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Help usher in the new, young blood that the Democratic Party needs. We are now in the post-Obama and post-Clinton era. One reason we lost this year is that millennials, even women, weren’t as enthused about Hillary as they were about Obama in 2008 and 2012. As one young Democrat said, “Obama feels like he’s ours. Hillary feels like our parents, or grandparents.”

Read this excellent piece by my old friend and pollster Harrison Hickman and a colleague, “Dos and Don’ts for Democrats in the Era of Trump.” One Do:

“Listen to the voters, even if they do not fit the notion of our ideal coalition….Let’s admit it: we dismissed the economic hardship of many working class voters because they do not fit into our idealized constituency.”

Read Ruy Teixeira’s essay, “Trump’s coalition won the demographic battle. It’ll still lose the war.” A taste:

“Here’s one way to think about the 2016 election. We are witnessing a great race in this country between demographic and economic change that’s driving a new America, and reaction to those changes.”

As for President Trump, you could enthusiastically support his plan to spend a trillion dollars rebuilding roads, bridges and airports. The country needs it. And a big-spending stimulus program like that will drive half of the Republican Party bonkers.

To balance things out, loudly oppose Paul Ryan’s plan to do away with Medicare. Let’s see how working-class white voters like that.

Finally, take some advice from two battle-wise Democratic warriors.

Jim Hunt once recalled how devastated he was that North Carolinians elected Jesse Helms over him for the Senate in 1984. Months later, shaving one morning, he came to a realization: “Sometimes the people just make a mistake.”

Terry Sanford, right after an election that went bad, was approached by a woman who said, “Terry, I could just cry.” Sanford took her arm and said, “We don’t cry.” Then he looked her in the eye, “And we don’t forget.”


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Is it possible that Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders are so arrogant, corrupt, crooked and power-crazed that they would try to overrule the people’s decision for Governor?

Gerrymandering was one thing. Voter-suppression was another. Setting aside the clear outcome of the election, without even a fig leaf of legitimacy, to keep McCrory in office against the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box, would strike at the very heart of our government.

It would amount to a coup d’etat. It would rival in infamy the Wilmington race riot of 1898 and the lengths to which Southern whites went then to regain political power.

Do you think House Bill 2 has hurt North Carolina’s economy? Wait until you see how many businesses and jobs North Carolina would lose once the rest of America realizes that Republicans are governing like a Third World despot.

Come the next election, be it 2017 or 2018, there would be one and only one issue: Throw the crooks out.

The public reaction against HB2 was so strong that, even in the face of the Trump tsunami, Democrats in North Carolina won races for Governor, Attorney General, Supreme Court and four legislative seats.

That would pale beside this backlash.

It’s hard to believe that the media is reporting this talk with a straight face and no outrage that McCrory & Co. would even float this scenario.

Democrats may be demoralized by Donald Trump’s election. But this would energize them beyond belief.

It would be a tragic day in North Carolina’s history. And it would be a lasting mark of moral shame for all Republicans here.

Let’s look at the facts:

Roy Cooper has more votes than McCrory.

After all the results were in on Election Day, Cooper led by nearly 5,000 votes. After 10 counties reported their absentee vote totals today, Cooper gained 408 votes, building his lead to 5,387.

Provisional ballots are expected to add to the Cooper lead.

The counties with the most provisional ballots heavily supported Cooper on Election Day. Over the years, provisional ballots statewide have traditionally benefitted the Democratic candidate. These ballots are likely to simply add to Cooper’s margin.

McCrory has underperformed in absentees.

In the counties that have reported additional absentee ballots thus far, McCrory has done worse than he did Election Day. Absentees give him no path to victory.

McCrory is attacking his own appointees.

He is blaming the Durham County and State Boards of Elections for his loss. Both Durham County Board of Election officials and State Board of Elections officials are Republicans. The State Board of Elections was appointed by McCrory himself.

Bill Brian, chairman of the Durham County elections board, said today, “I would like everybody to know that we, as of today, and I say this absolutely with no hesitance, we have seen no evidence whatsoever that there’s any inaccuracy or any problem with any of the returns that were reported on Election Day.”

Any legislative interference in this election would be historic and without precedent.

The 2004 race for Superintendent of Public Instruction revolved around contested ballots of registered voters who voted in the wrong precinct and missing ballots. The legislature’s role was simply to decide whether or not those votes would be counted. There are no such contested ballots in this race.

McCrory should concede.

The candidate with the most votes wins. In North Carolina, many Republicans won this year. But in the race for Governor, Roy Cooper received the most votes and defeated Pat McCrory. Instead of trying to steal an election,  Governor McCrory should bow to the will of the voters.

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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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