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Back in June, Gary wrote about an odd phenomenon: How, in the Presidential election, the candidate who dominated – who received the most press – dropped in the polls. It was as if voters thought, I dislike them both but the one I dislike most is the one I see most. Watching the Sunday morning talk shows, yesterday, that idea is now a mantra with the pundits.

Which probably means the FBI’s announcement about Hillary’s emails is a threat to her. Because she’s back in the press.

It’s contrary to all past practices but the candidate who disappears for the next eight days – at the end of the campaign – may win the election.

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Down in an office building in San Antonio there’re over a hundred Internet gnomes working day and night to elect Donald Trump; until now they’ve been flying below the radar screen but the other day they opened their doors and invited Bloomberg News inside and the result was a story that sent a tremor rolling from Texas to the Republican Establishment in Washington.

Bloomberg reported these folks have raised $275 million to elect Trump.

And that, whether Trump wins or loses, the gnomes will end up with one list of 2.5 million Trump contributors and another list of emails of 12 million ‘disenfranchised Trump Republicans.’

Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager, got right down to the bottom line when he told Bloomberg Donald Trump has built the infrastructure for a political movement. A movement that, in Bannon’s words, will win the election and “dominate Republican politics after that.”

The part about ‘winning the election’ sounds a bit like wishful thinking right now – but what about that other part?

They say old soldiers just fade away. But with 2.5 million donors and 12 million ‘disenfranchised Republicans’ he can talk with by clicking a send button, Donald Trump may not fade away.

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Most any political pro worth his or her salt will agree: Nothing in a campaign consumes more time, energy and discussion – to less avail – than yard signs.

Candidates obsess about them. So do their families. And their strongest supporters.

But no voter in the history of our democracy has ever seen a sign along the road and said: “I really like that sign. I’m going to vote for that candidate.”

Campaigns are about getting information to voters. Educating them about a candidate’s record and issues.

Signs say nothing. Today, they rarely even tell you the candidates’ party.

Maybe you are influenced if a neighbor supports a candidate you know nothing about. But that could help or hurt the candidate, depending on the neighbor.

When I ran campaigns, I loved having opponents who spent a lot of time and money on yard signs. Especially big signs with big sticks holding them up. Yes, please, spend your money on signs instead of TV, mail or something that might get you votes.

And what possesses a candidate to think: “I won’t just put up one sign along the right of way here. I’ll put up a dozen! One right after the other!”

The worst miscreant around here is John Alexander. As one undecided voter said, “I’m voting against him. He’s a litterbug.”

My favorite is Kenn Gardner, who is running for something here. His signs say, helpfully, “Double N.” As if some voter would see it and say, “That’s what I’m talking about. All my life I’ve been looking for a politician who spells Ken with two Ns.”

Now, one caveat. Signs are important to the candidate’s psychology, and that’s not to be underestimated. The most important person in the campaign is the one who puts up the signs along the route the candidate takes to HQ or an event.


Posted in: General
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That’s Latin for “Thus passes the glory of the world” – or, “Worldly things are fleeting.”

But they’re not fleeting on roads and highways around the Triangle. There are just too many damn cars on the road. So Wake County is voting on a 10-year Wake Transit Plan that will:

  • Triple bus service
  • Start a frequent “Bus Rapid Transit” network in high-traffic areas, and
  • Provide passenger train service from Garner to Durham, with stops in Raleigh, NCSU, Cary, Morrisville and RTP.

You can find out more here. When you vote, you need to look for the referendum on the ballot. It’s easy to miss. And the wording on the ballot gives you no clue about how important the issue is.

The measure has broad, bipartisan support, including from Republicans like John Kane of North Hills. Here’s the main reason I like it: It reflects the vision of energetic Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson, who was the driving force behind the Wake County Greenway.

More greenways. Less traffic. Sounds like a great place to live.

Naturally, some Republicans have a kneejerk reaction against public transit. It’s like climate change; they just don’t believe in it.

They frame it as a tax increase. But I’ll gladly pay an extra half-cent sales tax to stop the Triangle from choking on growth and traffic.

I might take that train myself. Will it have a bar car?

Posted in: General
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You meet the most interesting people on CSPAN call-in shows.

I did a 45-minute turn on Monday’s Washington Journal. We had callers from California, West Virginia, Oklahoma and exotic locales like Cary, Chapel Hill and Monroe.

Now, I’m used to media interviews. The questions are usually about ads, polls, strategy and predictions.

Not here.

The first caller lectured me about abortion. A couple schooled me on religion: “Let me tell you something about the Bible.” One caller warned darkly, “There’s going to be a war in America” because he believes Hillary will try to do away with the Second Amendment.

There was a lot of fear and anger among the callers. That was especially true with the Trump supporters. But Democrats were angry, too, about Governor McCrory and the legislature.

I came away with some insight into the Trump voters. They see an America in decline. They’re fearful of crime, of immigrants and of economic change. They fear and despise Hillary Clinton.

By the end, I realized that I’m just not as pessimistic as they are about America. We’ve got plenty of problems. But we have plenty to be thankful for.

Like the right to call CSPAN and complain about the government. I wish people worried as much about the First Amendment as the Second.

After the show, a couple of people complimented me on not laughing at – or exploding at – some of the callers. I learned that from Jim Hunt. Always listen to people, even if you don’t agree with them.

It’s also in the Bible. “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” You could look it up.


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Donald Trump’s worst brought out Hillary Clinton’s best.

The finest moments in her entire political life came in the last debate when, clad in white like an avenging angel, she slew the Donald dragon for his sexism, stood up unapologetically for all women and schooled us men about the right and wrong way to behave toward women.

Clinton’s answer on abortion was free of the too-frequent two-steps forward, one-step backing-and-forthing you hear from most pro-choice politicians. She was clear and strong: it should be the woman’s decision. Period.

She did it again when she flayed Trump for the way he treats and talks about women:

“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.”

In those two moments, Clinton ceased to be the cautious, ever-calculating and sometimes clunky campaigner we often see. She was genuine, sincere and passionate. She was real.

But there’s another reason history will remember the three debates as decisive for Clinton. For four and a half long hours, she stood up to Trump’s constant efforts to bait, bully and belittle her.

It was exhausting just to watch. Imagine having to stand there and go toe to toe with that lying fool, with 70 million people watching, for four and a half hours.

Clinton didn’t just survive it. She dominated it. She never lost her cool. She never snapped. In fact, she baited him. She got him off script. She did what 16 Republican opponents couldn’t do. She beat him.

Her performance in the debates proved that Clinton has the stamina AND temperament it takes to be President. She showed she has the cool head and steady hand we need in a dangerous and unpredictable world.

It’s a lesson that surely isn’t lost on Trump’s pal Putin.

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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.”

Posted in: General
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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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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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