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There’re two things about political ads a normal ‘Joe’ sitting at home watching TV could tell you that a lot of campaigns haven’t figured out – here’s an example: Americans for Prosperity just launched a new tv ad attacking Roy Cooper and like a lot of political ads it begins with a shadowy black and white photo of Cooper, red, yellow and black graphics, tense music, and an announcer saying in a dead-pan voice, North Carolina families can’t afford Roy Cooper.

The ad looked a lot like the Democratic ads attacking Pat McCrory except the message was different – and that’s the first problem: As soon as a political ad with shadow pictures pops-up on TV people think, Here’s one more politician trying to fool me. They don’t assume the politicians telling them the truth, they assume he’s not telling the truth.

The second problem’s called ‘clutter’ – which is what happens when a fellow turns on his TV and five or six political ads run back to back: If you’re the third or fourth ad in that sequence you’re toast no matter how good your ad may be because by then the voter you’re trying to reach has headed for the refrigerator, the bathroom, or clicked to another channel.

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Teresa Leonard’s Past Times feature in the N&O today took me back to a night in 1960 when, as an 11-year-old, I shook John F. Kennedy’s hand.

The N&O reported on September 18, 1960:

“A swarm of wet, cheering citizens almost mobbed Jack Kennedy in their enthusiasm as he entered Raleigh Saturday.

“It happened at the Glenwood Shopping Center at the edge of the city as the Kennedy caravan from Raleigh-Durham Airport stopped for the candidate to change from a closed sedan to an open car.”

That night, my mother packed my two younger brothers and me into the car and drove us to Glenwood Village, just five minutes away.

Somehow, she squeezed us up to where Kennedy was to change cars.

The N&O story went on:

“For several minutes, the crowd pressed so tightly around the closed car carrying Kennedy that he was unable to get out.

“When he did, wearing his ever-present smile, a great whoop went up from the people pressing tightly around him. Governor Hodges and Terry Sanford, the Democrats’ candidate for the State’s next Governor, were squeezed up against the side of the car with Kennedy.

“With the door slightly ajar, Kennedy stood and waved. The crowd roared again. Hands pressed from all sides, grasping the hand of the presidential candidate.

“Kennedy changed from the closed sedan to an open convertible at the Glenwood Village stop, but it took him almost 10 minutes to make the switch.

“Police, local officials, and top State party leaders were unable to help the cornered candidate.

“Finally, Raleigh Police Chief Tom Davis, driving a white Ford Thunderbird with the top down, moved his car up next to the vehicle carrying Kennedy.

“Davis literally had to ease the cheering crowd out of the way with the vehicle.

“When the Thunderbird got alongside the Kennedy car, the man seeking the presidency vaulted the side of the new vehicle.

“With the candidate perched on the back seat of the Thunderbird, the Kennedy caravan started moving inch by inch away from the crowd that had come to see him. But not before many more hands grappled with his or slapped him on the back or merely reached out to touch.”

Our hands were among those reaching out. Kennedy shook my hand and my mother’s. She was carrying my brother Fred, who was just two. Kennedy pointed at him: “There’s a little one.”

From there, the motorcade took Kennedy to the Governors Mansion. Later he spoke at Reynolds Coliseum.

Three years later, he was riding in another convertible in Dallas.

Sixteen years later, I went to work for a candidate for Governor who in 1960 had organized college students for Kennedy and Sanford. That was Jim Hunt.

Some years after that, I worked for Senator Sanford.

Today, Kennedy is sometimes dismissed as a lightweight with a thin record and an unsavory personal life.

But his youth, energy and idealism were refreshing and uplifting at a time when politics and politicians seemed old, stuck and stodgy.

You can’t dismiss the impact he had on those of us he inspired to get involved in politics. He made us believe we could make a difference for our country.

We still believe it.

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Monday morning, I have the honor of being on CSPAN’s Washington Journal call-in show from 9:15-10. Please call in and ask me something easy.

The host, Pedro Echevarria, wrote: “While we focus on the top-of-the-ticket race between Clinton and Trump, we also would want to focus on NC’s Senate race and topics such as voting rights and in the state’s case, impact of the passage of HB 2.”

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Donald Trump’s hammered away saying the election’s ‘rigged’ and 24 million people are registered improperly including 1.8 million dead people;— the first time I ever laid eyes on a list of registered voters back in 1976 it was filled with dead people and people who didn’t live at the address where they’d registered to vote. The same thing’s been true of every North Carolina voting list I’ve seen since and the reason’s simple: When a voter moved from Raleigh to Durham he didn’t write the Elections Board in Raleigh and say, I’ve moved. Take me off the voter list, and the same was true when folks died – on their deathbeds they didn’t smile at their loved ones and say, Remember to write the Board of Elections.

When Donald Trump declared 24 million people were registered improperly he simply stated a fact that wouldn’t surprise anyone who’s worked in campaigns – the real question is: ‘How many of those people voted illegally?’

And, of course, a lot of campaigns check on that fact. Because if someone who’s registered improperly votes you can challenge their vote. Years ago a candidate I knew, after losing a close election, went to court and said, Judge, I’ve found evidence people in Durham voted illegally.

The judge said, Alright. Make your case. If you prove enough people voted illegally to change the outcome of your election, I’ll order you a new election.

In other words, if a candidate loses by, say, a thousand votes he has to prove a thousand votes were cast illegally – and, if he does, a judge can order a new election.

There was a story in the newspaper the other day about a man who registered in three different places and voted 12 times in three elections. When he got caught, to defend himself, he plead ‘insanity’ but a judge sent him to jail and fined him $5,000.

Once I worked in a U.S. Senate election in North Carolina where the Republican candidate won by just 6,000 votes. Were we worried about voter fraud? You bet. Did voter fraud change the outcome of the election? No.

If a major election’s close it’s a safe bet an army of lawyers and researchers will descend on Boards of Elections, pouring through voting lists looking for people voted improperly, and if they find enough fraud to change the outcome of the election it’s a safe bet they’ll head to court.

One other relevant fact (for Mr. Trump) in North Carolina: Every Elections Board is now controlled by Republicans – all 101 Republican controlled boards would have to sit idly by twiddling their thumbs for Democrats to steal an election.

Donald Trump’s said flat-out it’s no longer true the candidate who receives the most votes will win – that this election’s rigged. The next question to ask him is the same one that judge asked years ago: Alright. Make your case. Show us your proof. We’re listening.

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As this sad, dispiriting campaign winds down, one man looks like he’s having fun: President Obama.

You see it when he speaks at rallies, when he chides Trump for “whining” and when he pokes fun at himself in interviews.

So here are the imagined ruminations of the President during one of those late nights at the White House when he’s reading state papers, watching ESPN and enjoying an adult beverage and a handful of almonds:

“Man, life is great. In three months, I’m out of here. I’ll walk out with my head high and my approval ratings even higher.

“If Hillary wins, only three Presidents since 1900 have served two full terms and seen their party win the next term. FDR, Reagan and now ol’ Barry. Not bad.

“After watching Hillary and Trump, the American people would gladly take me for a third term. But I’m good. I’m going to sleep late, play all the golf I want and go to Hawaii anytime I want.

“The girls survived eight years in the White House. They’ll be off to college soon, and Michelle and I will be empty-nesters.

“Speaking of which, how about that dress she wore to the state dinner the other night? Wowzer!

“We’ll make a gazillion dollars. We’ll travel the world. We’ll find some good causes to help. Be like Jimmy Carter. Maybe write a couple of books. We’ve probably got at least another three decades to enjoy life.

“That’ll drive the haters crazy. Maybe I’ll go to Kenya and put on a dashiki just to torment them.

“I’ll call up old Boehner. We’ll have a drink and a smoke and laugh about those fools in Congress. I’ll even let him take a few bucks off me on the golf course.

“Best of all, I’ll walk away knowing that America is greater, more peaceful and more prosperous than when I walked in here.

“And I’ll know there are thousands of young people across America who got inspired to do something for their country. They’ll be around long after I’ve gone.

“So I think I’ll cut loose and celebrate. Have me another handful of almonds.”

Thanks, Obama.


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Donald Trump soundly defeated Donald Trump last night.

For a while at the start, Republicans had reason to hope he would arrest the free fall. Then Trump slipped out of his handlers’ leash. Or the drugs wore off. And again we saw the real Donald Trump.

The headline, of course, is that he is the first politician ever to refuse to concede before he even lost.

But that’s no surprise. Trump, as he always tells us, is a winner. He wins and wins big. Everybody else is a loser. So if he loses, by definition, it’s rigged, it’s corrupt, it’s crooked. QED.

More revealing were two other things he said.

First, “nobody has more respect for women than me.” Seriously. He said that. It ranks with Richard Nixon: “I am not a crook.”

The second came when Hillary Clinton smilingly jabbed him for not paying taxes. He scowled, then growled: “Such a nasty woman.”

At that moment, the X-ray of television showed us Trump’s true character.

Once again, just as before, he was rude, boorish, arrogant and dishonest. He interrupted, interjected and talked over Clinton and Chris Wallace. Time after time, what he said made absolutely no sense at all.

It is striking that throughout three 90-minute debates – four and a half hours on camera – Trump almost never smiled. Never a real grin or a simple smile of true joy, pleasure or amusement. The closest thing was a smirk or a sneer when he got off a line mocking, attacking or insulting somebody.

You realize that this is a deeply angry and insecure man. He is, truly, a sad man. You almost feel sorry for him.

But no. Not really.

You almost feel sorry for the Republican Party he is supposed to represent. But Republican politicians brought this on themselves with years upon years of race-baiting, immigrant-bashing, LGBT-bashing, women-warring, birther-conspiring, Obama-obstructing and big-money trough-feeding. Not to mention perpetrating the myth of voter fraud.

They have reaped what they sowed. Now Trump will launch a civil war that will leave their party bloody, divided and decimated.

You do feel sorry, though, for the millions of Americans whose concerns are supposed to be Trump’s cause.

There are many good, decent, intelligent citizens who distrust the Clintons, abhor abortion, worry about the Second Amendment, worry about our country’s moral and religious foundations, live in fear of crime, dislike big government, distrust trade deals, want a stronger war against ISIS, and want no more politics as usual.

They deserve a leader. Instead they got an egomaniac who cares only for himself, his possessions and his position.

They got a man who, in just three weeks, will stand exposed for what he is.

A nasty loser.


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The ‘Last Great Debate’ starts in a few hours.

In a nutshell a political debate like this one boils down to a simple fact: It’s a confrontation between two people – who’re facing each other across a stage – who each want to prove he or she will be a better President or Governor or Senator.

To quote a cliché Donald Trump’s problem is his ‘temperament’ – a lot of people aren’t voting for Trump because of his tendency to end up in shouting matches with beauty queens and Gold Star families. When a woman accuses him of molesting her, Trump can’t solve that problem by pointing fingers at her and saying, She’s a liar. He needs facts.

The other day one of Trump’s campaign aides claimed that first class seats on Braniff Airline’s planes in the 1970’s were immobile – that they couldn’t be lifted. If that’s true, it’s a fact Donald Trump can cite to prove the story one of his accusers told, about him molesting her on an airplane, was not true.

The same holds for Trump’s oft-repeated mantra that ‘this election is rigged.’ Anyone can stand up and say, My opponent’s stealing the election. To make his claim believable Trump needs facts: Who’s voted illegally? Where? When? Trump needs to give specific examples of people voting illegally.

Hillary’s facing the other side of the same coin but her task is a bit different: She needs to confront Trump – to goad him, if you will – by asking questions. She might ask: Can you name one election, just one single election, that was lost because people voted illegally? Or she might ask: Six women have accused you of unwanted sexual advances – can you give a fact that shows even one of their stories is untrue?

The ‘Last Great Debate’ is going to be the last opportunity Donald Trump will have to look Hillary Clinton in the eye and prove he’d make a better President. Hyperbole, bluster, and political slogans won’t cut the mustard: Tonight Donald Trump (and Hillary Clinton too) needs to get down to the facts.  

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As Donald Trump continues to escape Earth orbit, Hillary Clinton’s election appears increasingly likely. Yet…why do we still fear that Trump will turn into an asteroid, slam into us on Election Day and pulverize life as we know it?

Let’s look at two exhibits.

In a perceptive analysis, Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote that one of Clinton’s challenges in tonight’s debate is to do the simple thing that too many campaigns forget to do: “…make a strong, affirmative and compelling case for a possible Clinton presidency.”

He added:

“No one doubts her grasp of policy. Earlier in the campaign, policy discussions were blocked off for hours, rare for a presidential candidate. She was not one for a once-over-lightly look at what the policy team was advocating. She loves being in the weeds.

“But there’s a difference between that and finding a way to explain positively why she wants to be president….The best politicians know it and find a way to project it. Clinton has struggled throughout the campaign to do so.”

The other exhibit is a Politico blog about emails hacked from the Clinton campaign. It showed how many Clinton campaign staffers it took to compose her tweet about the Puerto Rico debt crisis.

Answer: 11 staffers. For one tweet. Of 140 characters. On Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.

Now, there’s nothing bad and a lot good about a President who has a deep knowledge of policy and a deep team of loyal, committed and equally policy-obsessed aides.

Trump has neither.

The challenge for Clinton tonight is to do more than bait Trump into more offensive and off-putting behavior.

That will go a long way to nailing down her win. But if she can also introduce Americans to a likeable, admirable character with a sensible plan for the future, she’ll do more than win. She’ll get her Presidency off to a good start.

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What should Clinton and Trump do tonight? Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer put that question to several North Carolina talking heads, including Carter and me.

Read Here’s what NC experts say Clinton, Trump need to do in last-chance debate.”

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Not that long ago, Carter and I didn’t know what a podcast was. Now we’re on one.

We talked for about an hour last week with Jeff Tiberii of WUNC Radio. You can listen here.

Jeff asked us about most everything in this year’s elections – from President to the legislature. He tried to keep us on topic, but we got to telling war stories and offering unsolicited advice to campaigns.

A friend texted me that he enjoyed hearing our “wisdom.” I texted back that Wisdom=Experience=The sum of all the mistakes you’ve made.


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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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