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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.


Posted in: General
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It was like watching a fire start – an errant spark lands in the trashcan, the paper ignites, the rug smolders, the flames lick up the wall, the fire spreads throughout the house.

Monday the Wall Street Journal published a poll showing Hillary rolling to an 11-point lead and showing Democrats ahead by 7 points on the ‘Generic Ballot’ question, meaning voters were going to vote for Democratic candidates for Congress over Republican candidates by 49% to 42%.

One. Two. Three. It was like watching a row of dominoes fall. Trump collapsed. The Generic Ballot dropped. The Washington Republicans panicked.

House Speaker Paul Ryan held a conference call with Republican Congressmen, announced he wasn’t going to campaign for Trump, and told the Congressmen if anyone had to un-endorse Trump to get reelected that was fine.

Trump then fired a Twitter broadside back at Ryan calling him weak and ineffective – and another domino fell.  

Ryan’s logic went something like this: Independent voters dislike Trump and if Republican Congressmen have to throw Trump over the side to get their votes, well, that’s what they have to do.

Trump listened to Ryan, did a bit of calculus of his own, and said, You want to dump me? What if I’ll tell Republicans who support me to dump you.

And that’s where Ryan’s gambit ended: With Trump collapsing, the house on fire, and with Republicans inside having a civil war.

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He’s had death threats. He and his wife are being shunned socially. He was verbally assaulted by a 21-year-old drunk student, and she was arrested. Corporate executives and university presidents have abandoned him. The voters don’t understand HB2. Its supporters are being “purged.”

“It gets to me, I just hide it until I go home and sit in a room or walk a dog and I go, ‘Wow, this is depressing.’ So I need to let you know it’s not easy.”

That’s what Pat McCrory told a group of ministers last Friday, just before Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina.

As Harry Truman said: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.


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Joe Klein published the best report on the Second Presidential Debate. There’s not much to add.

Hillary was Hillary. No surprises there.

More than a few folks thought Trump might disintegrate but he didn’t – so, as they say in politics, he ‘exceeded expectations.’

The result wasn’t exactly a resounding victory for Trump but he did achieve one goal: After being pummeled as the lewdest rascal anyone has laid eyes on in years, and with Republican Senators and Congressmen ‘un-endorsing him,’ Trump reassured the Republican ‘base.’ And, so, lived to fight another day.

But while surviving is a good reason for breathing a sigh of relief, it isn’t winning. After the ‘lewd’ videotape of Trump talking with Billy Bush hit the airwaves, the Wall Street Journal published a poll that showed Hillary rolling to an 11-point lead.

In the meantime, the rest of us are still caught between a rock and a hard place – with the squeeze getting tighter.

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I couldn’t watch the debate last night because cable and Internet were still out. So, instead of giving you my take, I give you this guide to who won:

Bugs Bunny always beats Daffy Duck, and the most comfortable person in the room always wins the debate.

This rule originated with Jeff Greenfield, the ex-RFK aide turned commentator. He explained that, while Daffy Duck was always spitting, spluttering and flying off the handle, Bugs strolled along, cool, calm and collected: “Eh, what’s up, Doc?”

The same applies to debates. The candidate who is cool, confident, commanding and in control always wins. See: John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

In Sunday’s Presidential debate, neither candidate was Bugs. Clinton was too uptight. But she won because Trump was so creepy he made you uncomfortable.

Post-debate analysis is flawed because it’s about what candidates said. Nobody cares what they said, unless there was a memorable line or screw-up. Plus, the good line likely came from Bugs and the screw-up from Daffy.

The media does fact-checks, but nobody cares about facts any more. We all have our own set of facts, thank you very much.

Campaigns prepare their post-debate spin before the debates even start. Partisans agree with their candidate. And the undecided voters? They’re not watching; that’s why they’re undecided.

Candidates’ debate prep not only misses the Bugs Bunny Rule, it gives the candidate precisely the wrong kind of prep: a roomful of over-caffeinated twenty-somethings pumping the poor candidate so full of contradictory advice, over-rehearsed answers and complicated information that he or she turns into a robot who can’t listen to the actual question and answer like an actual human being.

Here is another benefit to the Bugs Bunny Rule: You can watch debates with the sound off, which is very good for your blood pressure.

Posted in: General
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Pat McCrory’s reelection problems go much deeper and much farther back than HB2. Any lift he gets from putting on his hurricane hat isn’t likely to lift him out of the floodwaters.

That’s the assessment Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling gave at a Common Cause NC fundraiser Sunday evening.

Jensen offered a view of McCrory different from what the national media is writing. The Governor’s problems started long before he signed HB2, like 40 months before. So they are much harder to fix.

McCrory’s approval ratings have been underwater (so to speak) since mid-2013, Jensen said. That’s when the Republican legislature was ramming through a right-wing agenda that McCrory was powerless to influence, let alone stop.

So voters concluded (1) that McCrory is weak, which is fatal to a chief executive and (2) that he isn’t the moderate Republican they thought they elected.

HB2 reinforced that image at a critical moment, but didn’t create it.

Rather, Jensen said, voters always were open to an alternative to McCrory. But Roy Cooper was little-known. Voters were asking: “What’s our choice?” Then Cooper went on TV, voters saw the choice and said, “OK. Looks good to us.”

That’s why Jensen doubts McCrory will be saved by being on TV frequently during Hurricane Matthew (at least, for people who have power and cable service).

Maybe he’ll get a boost. But then he has to deal with Hurricane Donald.


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Sometimes a little humor helps: Watch Video.

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Last night Donald Trump looked like a stalker, one of those sexual predators Republicans are so concerned about, except when he’s their nominee for President.

After hearing his boys-on-the-bus “locker room talk,” we weren’t shocked by anything he said. The lying, rudeness and interrupting were familiar.

What was new was what he did. Pacing. Sniffing. Looming creepily over Clinton.

You wanted to yell at her, like at a horror movie, “Look out! He’s right behind you!”

She made it through unmolested, physically if not politically. It’s a testament to her stamina. And temperament.

Trump’s behavior brought to mind what a young woman executive here, a political moderate, said about him even before the infamous tape surfaced: “He’s just mean.”

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Quentin W. Lindsey was by no means the most colorful or controversial person to work for Governor Hunt. But he had more long-term impact on North Carolina than most any of us.

Quent, who died September 21, was the Governor’s Science and Public Policy Advisor. He was instrumental in the establishment of the NC School of Science and Mathematics, the NC Microelectronics Center and the NC Biotechnology Center.

The School has produced scores of bright graduates. The Microelectronics Center put North Carolina in the hunt (so to speak) for high-tech industry in the early 1980s. The Biotech Center made the state a leader in the life sciences.

Quent was quiet and professorial, as befitted an economics professor at NC State. He had a student named Jimmy Hunt in undergraduate and graduate classes.

That wasn’t the first time he heard of Hunt. When I interviewed him in 2007 for my biography of the Governor (still available online and in fine bookstores, by the way), Quent recalled:

“I had a little project in Eastern North Carolina, on agriculture and development, and I included Wilson County in it. Jim’s father was a soil conservationist there, and I worked with him some. 

“I always remember him telling me, when Jim was still in high school, that his son would be at NC State and he was going to be Governor.”

Quent left NC State in 1961 to work with the Ford Foundation in Burma and then Nepal. He said later, “A professor, when he needs some help, begins to think of his brightest students. So I sent a cable to Jim asking if he would be interested in being a member of our little team. I knew he would be interested because I was right in the center of the central government.”

Hunt, accompanied by his wife Carolyn and their two small children, took him up on the offer. The Hunts spent two years in Nepal, where their daughter Rachel was born. Hunt later said the experience taught him lessons about economic development that served him well as Governor.

Quent never stopped teaching, Hunt and all of us. And he had to be persistent and tough. Innovations like the Math-Science School and the Biotech Center ran into opposition from legislators and conservative advisors to Hunt, like his tough budget chief John A. Williams.

But Quent never stopped pushing. And North Carolina is better for it.

His passing received little notice, but he deserves great credit.

Posted in: General
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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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