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Here’s the harsh reality of 2016 politics, as demonstrated by Hillary Clinton last week and Pat McCrory over the past many weeks: If you lead the news, you lose in the polls.

You’re news, you lose.

In an angry, negative political environment, more media attention translates directly into more negative feelings from voters.

The ongoing HB2 controversy – business losses, NCAA losses, ACC losses – upended the governor’s race. It has dominated all North Carolina political news. And McCrory has gone from leading to losing to Roy Cooper.

Democrats should wish Republicans would call a special legislative session on HB2. By the time legislators finish thrashing around, McCrory would be down by double digits and Republican seats at risk would be up to double digits.

The same thing has happened in the presidential race. Hillary Clinton took a solid lead after the Democratic convention, when media coverage focused on Trump attacking the Khan family, plus his other outlandish statements.

The media, of course, eventually tied of writing Hillary-is-winning stories. So Hillary gave them a chance to change the “narrative” when she called Trump voters “deplorables,” nearly collapsed after a 9/11 event and withheld news of her pneumonia.

That dominated the news last week and, sure enough, the race got closer.

Maybe everybody just needs to shut up.


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Pat McCrory just got slam-dunked by the ACC. His teammates are starting to switch sides. Tamara Barringer was the first legislator to undergo a deathbed conversion. More will surely follow.

But a long-time veteran of the legislative sausage-making machine doesn’t expect much from the Jones Street crowd:

“The latest HB2 shame on North Carolina will be apocalyptic for Republican legislative leaders, but they won’t act.

“They don’t care what the NCAA thinks, because nobody from the NCAA lives in a doublewide in their rural legislative districts or attends one of the local snake-handling tent revivals. The Greensboro Coliseum isn’t in the districts of Phil Berger or Tim Moore, so why should they care? The NBA is black. Entertainers are gay. That’s the apparent attitude of Berger and Moore.

“In a state of 10 million people, Berger got elected last time by 40,000 of them. Moore got 15,000 votes and only needed 1 because he had no opponent. Less than one half of one percent of the state’s population elected these guys. They are not statewide leaders. These are small-time, isolated bumpkins who have their heads so buried in the red clay of their districts’ dirt roads that they are incapable of leading a large sophisticated state.

“So, expect no action from these heroes, even though the state’s actual thought leaders are unanimous in their screams to fix the HB2 disgrace.

“There’s a bright side: the GOP brain trust’s inflexibility on HB2 will speed their demise and hasten their replacement with leaders who care about more than the dusty, dark corners of the backwoods where bigots fear enlightenment, tolerance and good sense.”

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Now HB2 has gone too far. It’s interfering with our state religion: NCAA basketball. It’s one thing to lose the NBA All-Star Game or PayPal. But March Madness?

And Potty Pat McCrory wonders why we’re still talking about this. Maybe because he keeps talking about it.

He’s lurching. Defending HB2 one day, dropping it the next. It looks like he’s his own campaign consultant. Clearly there is no strategic brain, no Carter Wrenn or Paul Shumaker, in McCrory’s campaign.

And Republicans can’t help digging deeper. GOP spokeswoman Kami Mueller defended HB2 by invoking “the women who were raped at Baylor.”

Let’s pause here to note that the Baylor incident was overseen by that famous Republican morality policeman Kenneth Starr.

Meanwhile, McCrory is scrambling for somebody to blame. First he blamed Charlotte’s mayor and city council. Then he blamed “the liberal-left-politically-correct crowd.” Last week, he blamed both Roy Cooper and the N.C. Chamber of Commerce. A twofer.

He didn’t blame the two men he should blame: Phil Berger and Tim Moore.

Moore blamed it all on “the messaging.” Ah, the last refuge of a political scoundrel. Shoot the messaging!

Or McCrory could just blame himself. He had smart people telling him not to sign HB2, but he didn’t listen.

Now, HB2 has strangled his “Carolina Comeback.” If he doesn’t solve his HB2 problem, he’ll lose. But he keeps making it worse, not better.

HB2 is why he’s losing the voters around Raleigh and Charlotte who elected him four years ago. He made his stand on the wrong side of a stark moral, social and cultural divide.

Meanwhile, Roy Cooper is sitting back with more money than McCrory and a few bombs yet to drop: (1) ex-Duke executive McCrory wants ratepayers to pay for the coal ash cleanup; (2) McCrory supports fracking, which may cause earthquakes; and (3) remember the Quicken Loans sweetheart deal?

There’s still almost eight weeks to go. But this race is going bad for HB2 and McCrory.


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Now Hillary Clinton has two problems: a treatable case of walking pneumonia and an incurable case of raging media fever over her honesty. See my blog “Hillary’s scars and secrets” last week.

By all means let’s have more transparency on her health records – and on Trump’s. He’s an overweight 70-year-old man who never exercises and gorges on junk food. See my blog “Donald Trump Illness” two weeks ago.

And, while we’re at it, more transparency on his tax returns, his actual – not promised – charitable giving and his financial ties with Russia. Does Putin have a hook in him?

For now, let’s stick with health. After all, the choice this year is between two older-than-average candidates.

Ronald Reagan was the oldest President. He was almost 70 when he took office. Trump would be older. Clinton would be a bit younger.

The average age of Presidents when they took office is just under 55. That’s how old President Obama is now.

Of course, we Baby Boomers will tell you 70 is the new 55. (Our generation may have lost a few steps and more than a few brain cells, but our sense of entitlement remains intact.)

Remember how old FDR looked in photos taken at the end of his Presidency? He was just 63 when he died.

Granted, a Depression and a world war will age a President. But it’s a tough job.

Running for President – or running for anything – is a tough job. Most every candidate I’ve worked with got sick during a campaign. Stress, lack of sleep and long hours will do you in.

Reagan’s age became an issue when he ran for reelection in 1984 and stumbled in a debate. He put the issue to rest with a good one-liner in the next debate.

Richard Nixon was sick during his first debate with John Kennedy. Nixon looked awful. JFK looked great, though we later learned he probably had more health problems than any other President. Nixon got well, but he still had a sick mind.

Clinton will have to come back strong in the first debate, less than two weeks from now. Rest and antibiotics should take care of the pneumonia. The media fever is another matter.

But, as one Clinton supporter said, “Even if she’s dead, I’ll still vote for her over Trump.”


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Every great saga has a hero. The hero of the Wake County early-voting saga is Mark Ezzell.

With persistence and persuasiveness, Ezzell, the lone Democrat on the Wake County elections board, prevailed in his effort to expand early voting here.

He persuaded the GOP-majority state board to vote 3-2 to expand the number of voting sites in Wake from one to nine during the first week of early voting, which starts Oct. 20.

The villain here is GOP attack dog Dallas Woodhouse, guilty of a naked attempt to use government power to tilt an election. The kind of thing Donald Trump’s pal Vladimir Putin would do.

Let’s also salute the Republican county and state board members who shunned the worst of Woodhouse’s shenanigans. They put what’s right for North Carolina ahead of a narrow view of what’s right for the Republican Party.

Note to Roy Cooper: If you are elected Governor, Mark Ezzell would make a fine chairman of the state elections board. Just saying.


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He’ll be the first to say he’s a Master Dealmaker. And looking at the money he’s made there’s not much doubt he’s correct.

But will a gift for dealmaking lead Donald Trump to the White House?

When making a deal to buy or sell real estate, no doubt Donald Trump asked the fellow sitting across the table for more than Trump ever expected to get – then accepted a counter-offer for less and still made millions. It was shrewd dealmaking.

Last winter during the Primary Donald Trump said he was going to deport every illegal alien. He said that was the right thing to do. It would cure the problem. But he now says deporting every illegal immigrant may not be the answer – and calls his new stand a ‘softening.’

But what works in real estate doesn’t necessarily work in a Presidential campaign: Instead of a shrewd negotiator Trump suddenly looks like a politician changing with the wind – like a candidate telling people who support deporting illegal immigrants one thing while telling voters who oppose deportation something else.

Trump’s deals have made him wealthy. He sees no problem when he says a parcel of real-estate’s worth a billion dollars one day then turns around and agrees it’s worth a hundred million dollars less the next day. That’s savvy negotiating. But when a Presidential candidate says the right cure for a problem is to deport every illegal immigrant one day then makes a new deal the next day and changes his stand voters look at him and ask, Why should we believe a word he says?

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You watch the Commander-in-Chief’s forum, and you see clearly that Donald Trump is dangerously unfit for office. But the race is too close for comfort. Why?

First, Hillary Clinton is a woman. It’s that simple. And it’s unfair. But it’s a fact.

Second, she and Bill have been on the front pages of national politics for a quarter-century. That’s a long time. You build up a lot of negatives, and you pile up a lot of haters.

But a lot of people who’ve been on that stage a long time have a happy-warrior aspect to them. Bill, for one. Joe Biden. The late Ted Kennedy. Not Hillary. When she smiles, it’s through gritted teeth. And you get that, given all the hits she’s taken.

And there’s something else here, something that doesn’t have to be here.

That something traces back to her suspicious nature, her penchant for secrecy and her ill-concealed hostility to the media.

I have learned one lesson from being around the media for fifty years (I started when I was seven): If you treat the media with suspicion and hostility, they will repay you with suspicion and hostility.

That’s why the media won’t let go of the email questions. They say, “There are still unanswered questions!” And “she can’t put away this issue!” (Of course not. You won’t let her.)

When Clinton makes herself available for questions, reporters pursue her more relentlessly on her emails than they pursue Trump on the hundreds of questionable things he’s said and done.

The Washington Post says all her problems go back to a fateful White House meeting on December 11, 1993, when the Clintons rejected aides’ advice that they release documents relating to the Whitewater real estate deal.

From then on, the Clintons have stuck to a strategy of defiance and stonewalling, based on the perfectly rational rationale that their enemies would use anything they released against them.

So the media always assumes the Clintons are hiding something.

And the cycle feeds on itself.

Hillary worked on the Watergate investigation, so she should learn a lesson from Richard Nixon.

In his maudlin farewell speech, Nixon said, “Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

That was good advice, though Nixon lacked the self-awareness to take it himself.

Hillary needs to heed it. She probably will win the election even If she doesn’t. But then what happens? Will she survive four more years of this?


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Trump squints. Shakes his head. Raises his hand and gestures, pointing his index finger upwards into the air. The crowd roars and he says, ‘I love you Arizona.’

In the Primary Donald Trump pledged to deport every illegal immigrant but then, in the General Election, he back-stepped, calling it a ‘softening.’   

If tomorrow Hillary said, suddenly, she would repeal Obamacare her own people would say in disgust, ‘She’s just doing that to get elected,’ and Republicans would say, ‘See. We told you. You can’t believe a word she says.’ Deporting illegal immigrants has been as much a part of Trump’s creed as Obamacare is of Hillary’s, so his retreat left his supporters scratching their heads. But last Wednesday in Phoenix he meant to fix the problem.

‘Countless innocent Americans,’ Trump said, ‘Have been killed by illegal immigrants. So many people. So many, many people. So sad.’

He said he’d build an ‘impenetrable, physical, tall, beautiful wall.’

‘There’re two million criminal aliens here,’ he said. ‘And day one, my first hour in office, those people are gone.’

‘Sixty-two percent of the illegal immigrants get welfare like Food Stamps,’ he said. ‘Tremendous costs. Tremendous costs. Remove them.’

He scowled. The crowd cheered. He was the old stout-hearted Donald. 

Then having reassured the faithful he said almost as if it was an afterthought, “In several years when we have accomplished all our deportation goals… we will be in a position to consider the appropriate disposition of individuals who remain.”

Those who remain?

He had said deport, deport, deport. Then turned around and said years from now there’ll be illegal immigrants here he hadn’t deported.

And tried to have it both ways.

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We’re in the throes of the most rip-tide tormented, sands shifting beneath our feet election anyone’s seen since who knows when; four years ago during the Presidential Election when the pollster came to town he said, The key undecided voter this election is a 45 year old woman with two children who lives in the Raleigh suburbs.

It was a nightmare. I’d spent 30 years trying to figure out the woman I’d married with no luck at all and, suddenly, a pollster was telling me to figure out a 45-year-old woman I’d never laid eyes on.

This election when the pollster came to town he told a different story: The key undecided voter this time, he said, is a Yankee who migrated to Raleigh, who voted for Mitt Romney but loathes Donald Trump.

Another nightmare. Women may be mysteries but Yankees are enigmas to a southerner who grew up near Appomattox.

More shifting sands… it’s got me looking back with nostalgia on the old days when the pollster would come to town and say, All you have to do to win this election is convince a Conservative Democrat to vote for a Conservative Republican.

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Donald Trump has figured out, or been convinced, that Americans don’t want a bigot in high public office. Petulant Pat McCrory hasn’t learned that lesson yet in his reelection race.

Trump’s “pivot” (actually more of a lurch) on race and immigration was an act of desperation. His new campaign team obviously told him he couldn’t win unless he radically changed course.

Some polls show that one in five Republicans don’t want to vote for Trump. Why? Many of them believe he’s a bigot.

For good reason. He is a bigot. He’s bigoted against African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, women, POWs, people who are disabled, people who aren’t rich – pretty much everybody who isn’t named Trump or married to a Trump.

I know Republicans who are troubled about Trump. They are small-government, low-tax, pro-free enterprise, strong national defense Republicans. Reagan Republicans. I don’t agree with them a lot. But they’re not bigots.

A similar dynamic is hurting McCrory on House Bill 2. His mistake is equating transgender people – and gays – with criminals and sexual predators.

That’s why his TV ad backfired. Featuring a sexual-abuse victim made McCrory look like he’s calling all gays predators.

That’s bigotry.

That’s why he’s losing moderate-to-conservative voters in the suburbs, especially women, who elected him in 2012.

Then add in the economic damage and lost jobs from HB2. It’s a formula for failure.

Now, there is still – obviously – a big bigot vote out there. It’s Trump’s base. It won him the nomination.

So there may be some validity to the theory that there’s a “hidden” vote for Trump, one that doesn’t show up in the polls. Those voters know it’s not acceptable to be a bigot, so they don’t admit they will vote for one. But they will.

Still, Trump seems to realize now that there aren’t enough of those voters to put him in the White House. Thus his painfully uncomfortable visit to an African-American church and “softening” (or was it?) on immigration.

McCrory hasn’t realized his risk yet. Or, he knows it and is too afraid of the bigots to pivot.


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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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