How Was Your Thanksgiving?

Were you thankful? Or fearful? Or both?

Did you gather all together, safely masked and socially distanced? Or did you throw caution to the winds and put family and friends at risk? Or did you cancel the whole thing?

No matter how we celebrated, we’ll never forget Thanksgiving 2020. We’ll never forget 2020, period.

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. It has always been free of the glitz and grind of Christmas. It’s just family, food and football. 

Thanksgiving has always been a time to reflect on our blessings as Americans – the beautiful land where we live, the bounty many Americans enjoy that most people around the world can only dream of, and our history as a free people living in the best system of government ever devised.

This Thanksgiving – amid a resurgent pandemic and in the wake of a bitter election – we reflect on whether we will continue to enjoy those blessings.

The pandemic left too many empty places at too many tables this year. Many more will be empty next year as the virus continues to run rampant. Meanwhile, we put our hopes in people’s good sense and in the genius of modern medical science.

This year, after a bitter and divisive campaign, we elected a new President and Vice President. He represents a yearning for unity, dignity and respect. She represents the rise of a new, more diverse and more open America.

But, at the same time, we watch nervously as the old President stirs the fires of bitter-end resistance to change and, indeed, to the fundamental underpinning of our government: the peaceful transfer of power according to our freely exercised right to select our leaders.

A Reuters Ipsos poll last week found that 52 percent of Republicans think President Trump “rightfully won” re-election. That’s more than 38 million people.

As always, we have history to look to and learn from.

The first Thanksgiving was 399 years ago, in 1621, when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Native Americans shared an autumn harvest feast. 

The first national Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War.

That same month, Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His famous last line bears repeating: “…we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

A newly published biography – “Abe: Abraham Lincoln In His Times,” by David S. Reynolds (Penguin Press) – relates how, 25 years before the Gettysburg Address, a 29-year-old Lincoln, relentlessly striving to improve and educate himself, gave a lecture to the Springfield, Illinois, Young Men’s Lyceum warning against “this mobocratic spirit…now abroad in the land.”

“Let reverence for the laws,” he said, “be breathed by every American. Let it become the political religion of the nation.”

Revolutionary passion had established the nation, he said, but now must yield to reason. “Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in the future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense.”

But passion overcame reason. The Civil War came. More than 600,000 Americans died, and President Lincoln honored them at Gettysburg.

We live again in a time of passion. Let’s pray that law and reason prevail this time.

Is Roy Cooper the Last of His Kind?

North Carolina may never see another Democratic Governor like Roy Cooper. In fact, we may never see another Democratic statewide candidate like him.

By “like him,” I mean Democratic Governors like Jim Hunt who have dominated politics since World War II: farm boys and small-town boys who went off to college, acquired some urban polish and assembled broad centrist-progressive coalitions that propelled them to office.

They were attuned to the innate conservatism and religious faith of small-town and rural North Carolina. They blended that background with the progressive traditions of universities and urban areas. They understood both urban and rural areas. 

That model may be outdated now.

The 2020 election pitted deep-red, Republican small towns and rural areas against deep-blue Democratic urban areas. Suburbs and exurbs voted red or blue depending on whether they’re closer to cities or the countryside.

From now on, few, if any, Democratic statewide candidates will come out of rural areas. For one thing, there won’t be many progressive Democrats living there. For another, it will be virtually impossible for such a creature to win a local or legislative election that will boost them onto the statewide stage.

By the same token, we’re not likely to see many statewide Republican candidates who fit the mold of North Carolina’s only three Republican Governors in modern times. They came out of Mecklenburg County (Pat McCrory and Jim Martin) and Watauga County (Jim Holshouser). 

Both Mecklenburg and Watauga are now deep-blue Democratic.

Terry Sanford pioneered the Democratic model. He grew up in Laurinburg and went to UNC for undergrad and law school. After fighting in World War II, he moved to Fayetteville. He was elected Governor in 1960 by combining young WWII vets with the “branchhead boys,” farmers and country people who had bucked the establishment and elected Kerr Scott as Governor in 1948.

Jim Hunt perfected the model through five winning campaigns, Lieutenant Governor in 1972 and Governor in 1976, 1980, 1992 and 1996. Hunt grew up on a farm in Wilson County. He earned bachelors and master’s degrees at NC State and a law degree at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Governor Mike Easley (2001-2009) came from Rocky Mount. His father owned a tobacco warehouse. Easley went to UNC and N.C. Central Law School.

Bev Perdue (2009-2013) was a variation on the theme; she grew up in a Virginia coal town, graduated from the University of Kentucky and represented the New Bern area in the legislature.

Cooper is the epitome of the winning formula. He grew up in Nash County. His father was a lawyer and a farmer. Cooper worked on the farm growing up. Like Hunt, his mother was a teacher. Cooper went to UNC undergrad and law school. He moved his family to Raleigh after he was elected Attorney General in 2000.

He beat an incumbent Governor in 2016. This year, again, he won despite Donald Trump carrying the state. Cooper led all Democrats. He got over 2.8 million votes; his margin was 4.5%, a landslide in today’s politics.

(Only one candidate ran stronger: Republican Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. He won over 2.9 million votes and a margin of 7.7%.)

Two questions arise about the future. First, what will the winning model be – for both Democrats and Republicans? Second, who can govern successfully?

North Carolina needs candidates who can speak to both rural and urban residents, as well as to all races, creeds and backgrounds.

We need leaders who can bring us together, not just politicians who drive us farther apart.

We need to find them, and they need to step forward.

Georgia On Our Minds

For days after the election, as state after state was shaded red or blue for President on maps and magic screens, Georgia and North Carolina remained stubbornly blank.

There was little doubt North Carolina would go red, albeit narrowly. Georgia turned blue, even more narrowly: Biden holds a 0.3% lead there, ahead some 14,000 votes out of 5 million cast.

Just before the election, a leading Democratic strategist here told me North Carolina was becoming a blue state. We are, he said, just behind Virginia and just ahead of Georgia on that path.

Why did Georgia leap ahead? Here are some thoughts and theories, plus some numbers.

Warning: This may be a trigger for readers with math anxiety. Bear with me.

Stacy Abrams: 800,000

800,000 is the number of new voters that Abrams, her group Fair Fight and allies are credited with registering in Georgia since 2016. Many of them apparently turned out this year.

The 800,000 amounts to 16% of Georgia’s total vote this month.

As our reluctantly outgoing President would say, that’s huge.

Abrams began the effort in 2012. One observer called it “a very methodical, step-by-step, year-by-year plan that had at its core expanding voting power in numbers of people of color in general and African-Americans in particular.” 

NC Democrats: Minus 100,000

Compare Georgia’s registration numbers to North Carolina. Since 2016, the number of registered Democrats here has gone down, from 2.7 million to 2.6 million now.

The number of registered Republicans has gone up, from 2.1 million to over 2.2 million.

The total number of registered voters here is up, from 6.9 million in 2016 to 7.3 million today. The number of unaffiliated voters is growing fast. 

Maybe North Carolina Democrats should take a lesson from Stacy Abrams.

15 vs 16

North Carolina got cheated on Electoral Votes this year. By Georgia.

We have 15 EVs; Georgia has 16.

But we had 5.5 million voters. Georgia had just 5 million.

Democrats, however, are probably OK with this. It’s one more Electoral Vote for President-elect Biden.

A Biden First

There’s karma in Biden winning Georgia.

Long, long ago, in a Georgia far, far away, a peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter ran for President. Everybody laughed. People in Georgia laughed. The Atlanta Constitution headline was “Jimmy Carter is Running for What?”

No big-name Democrats endorsed Carter at first. No U.S. Senators. Except one.

Joe Biden, in his first term from Delaware, was the first Senator to endorse Carter. Biden chaired Carter’s national steering committee. He campaigned for Carter in dozens of states.

Biden was just 33 years old. He joked that he was too young to run for President himself. Now he’ll be our oldest President.

North Carolina Ain’t Georgia. 

Let us count the ways.

Some 57% of Georgian’s live in the Metro Atlanta area. That’s like if Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville and Wilmington all picked up and moved to Charlotte.

Georgia has more Black voters, about 30% of the electorate. Blacks are about 20% of North Carolina’s electorate.

Georgia Democrats have the “30-30 Rule.” To win, they need Black turnout at 30% of the total vote, and they need to win 30% of white votes. Democrats in North Carolina need to win some 38% of white voters.

And We’re Not Virginia

Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, has turned true blue. But Virginia is smaller, 4.5 million votes this year compared to North Carolina’s 5.5 million.

And Northern Virginia, the heavily Democratic DC suburbs, now overwhelms the rest of the commonwealth.

How Close Is North Carolina?

As in 2008 and 2012, North Carolina was one of the closest states in the Presidential race. This year, we were one of the six closest.

The margin here was just over 70,000 votes or 1.3%. Florida had about the same margin for Trump.

Georgia and Arizona (karma again, John McCain’s state) were the closest states, both about 0.3% (pending any recount) for Biden.

Other close states were Wisconsin (0.7%) and Pennsylvania (1%), both for Biden.

Cal Cunningham’s Numbers

If Cal Cunningham had won the same number of votes that President-elect Biden won in North Carolina, he would have won the U.S. Senate race.

Biden won 2.68 million votes here; Senator Thom Tillis won 2.66 million. But Cunningham won only 2.57 million. Cunningham ran over 115,000 votes behind Biden. Tillis ran behind President Trump, but by 92,000 votes, just enough to win.

Clearly, Tillis and Cunningham both turned off voters in their own parties. Tillis may have been seen as not loyal enough to Trump. Cunningham proved that the worst wounds in politics are self-inflicted.

The Senate race also showed that attack ads work when they go unanswered. Cunningham didn’t or couldn’t answer ads attacking him for his affair.

Had Cunningham won, the U.S. Senate would be tied today, 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans. Democrats would need to win only one Georgia runoff to control the Senate with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the chair.

The Bottom Line

To sum up, North Carolina remains an evenly divided state. 

We’ve got deep-red parts and deep-blue parts. Together, we’re deep purple.

It’s fitting that a basketball-mad state likely will have jump-ball, last-second, nail-biter elections for years to come.

New NC and Old NC Collide – Again

New North Carolina collided with Old North Carolina in the 2020 election. It was a split decision. The battle goes on.

New NC – younger voters, Blacks, urban residents, suburban women and college graduates – reelected Governor Roy Cooper and (apparently) Attorney General Josh Stein. 

New NC helped President-elect Joe Biden come within 1.3% of carrying the state. It was Democrats’ best performance in a presidential race here since Barack Obama in 2008 and Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Old NC – rural and small-town voters, white evangelicals, older people and high-school graduates – carried the state for President Trump, despite predictions North Carolina would be his Waterloo. 

Old NC (and gerrymandering) kept Republicans in control of the General Assembly. And in control of redistricting for the coming decade. The GOP won key judicial seats. 

The race for Chief Justice is a virtual tie. In the Council of State, both parties kept the seats they held before.

Democrats had dreamed of flipping North Carolina decidedly blue this year. It didn’t happen.

Now the 2020s promise to be a decade of political trench warfare. 

That’s why Democrats, despite unseating President Trump and reelecting Governor Cooper, look so grim and glum. 

Democrats thought demographic trends were with them. They saw metropolitan areas growing, and they saw their strength growing there. They thought Trump would drive their voters to the polls.

He did. But he also drove Old NC voters to the polls. 

If you live in a city, it’s hard to grasp how many people live in the state’s small towns and rural areas. And it’s hard to grasp how hostile they have become to the Democratic Party’s brand.

Is it race? Resentment over Covid-19 restrictions? “Defund the police”? The Green New Deal? Medicare for All? Taxes? Do Democrats look like “socialists”?

Whatever, it’s a reminder that North Carolina has the third-biggest rural and small-town population of any state – 2.9 million, behind only Texas (4.3 million) and California (3 million).

We have a lot of white evangelicals. Nationally, they’re an estimated 15% of the population, but 25% of voters. Their numbers are higher here. They voted 80% for Trump and Republicans.

Along with the rural-urban divide, we have a clear racial divide between the parties. 

There’s an age divide. National exit polls showed Democrats stronger among voters under 40 and Republicans stronger among older voters. 

There’s a diploma divide. The exit polls said Biden won 57% of voters with college degrees; Trump won 77% of whites with no college degree.

Such divisions aren’t new in our politics. Since World War II, North Carolina’s rapid growth has created a constant tension between what the state once was and what it’s becoming. 

That tension has defined our politics. And it goes back to our very beginnings.

William S. Powell

Historian William S. Powell wrote in his 1989 book “North Carolina Through Four Centuries”:

“Many key events in the state’s history came about because of rivalries and jealousies, first between northern and southern parts of the colony, next between east and west and more recently between urban and rural.”

“Rivalries and jealousies…between urban and rural”? Sounds like 2020.

In colonial days, Powell wrote, counties in the Albemarle region gerrymandered the state Assembly to dominate the Neuse and Cape Fear counties.

A century later, western North Carolinians resented the iron control that eastern landowners held on state government. The East-West split persisted through most elections in the 20thCentury.

This year, as throughout our first 400 years, New NC and Old NC battled again for control. 

Don’t expect the conflict to end any time soon.

Picking Up Pieces After the Election

Bert Bennett, the political godfather to both Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt, used to say of elections, “When you win, everything you did was right. When you lose, everything you did was wrong.” 

In other words, don’t jump to conclusions about why you won or lost. 

Much instant analysis of the 2020 election follows barking-dog logic: “My dog barked in the dark this morning, and the sun came up. Therefore, my dog caused the sun to come up.”

Often, people jump to conclusions that reflect their personal opinions, biases and preferences.

Take Democrats who were disappointed because the landslide they anticipated never landed. Liberal Democrats conclude: we weren’t liberal enough. Moderate Democrats say: we were too liberal.

Democrats also formed up their traditional post-election circular firing squad:

“The NC Democratic Party needs a complete overhaul.”

“Every pollster should be fired.”

Bert Bennett

There was even criticism of Governor Roy Cooper for not pulling Joe Biden and Cal Cunningham to victory in North Carolina.

He might just as well have tried to part the Pamlico Sound.

Instead of prematurely drawing sweeping conclusions, we should focus on asking the right questions. Here are four suggestions.

Why did Donald Trump – again – surprise the experts?

Like it or not, understand it or not, Trump is the greatest voter-turnout machine in politics.

For both parties.

Trump – and Trumpism – aren’t going away. Grasping his appeal would help a lot in grasping this election.   

Race surely is part of it. But not all of it. Some reports say he picked up surprising levels of support from Black and Latino men.

Is it his swaggering strongman style? Is it that, as one man said, “he doesn’t talk like a politician; he talks like me”?

Does he channel the anger and anxiety many Americans feel in a changing world, along with rejection of a political class that hasn’t adequately addressed their concerns?

A couple of years back, a Republican strategist explained it simply: “He’s fighting the people they hate.”

Why were polls so far off?

First of all, were they that far off? They got a lot right, like Joe Biden and Roy Cooper winning. And polls come with something called “margin of error” for a reason.

In races so close and an electorate so evenly divided, a shift of 2-4 points makes all the difference. The hardest thing to model in polls is turnout. Trump made a mess of turnout models.

Pollster Harrison Hickman, a North Carolina native, warned a group of Democrats last spring about the perils of polling during the Covid-19 crisis. “It’s unclear whether polls are working like they should,” he said. In normal times, poll calls are made from centralized call centers. Quality control is high. Today, callers work from home. There’s not as much oversight.

Hickman added that many polls now are made by automated calls, which legally can call only land lines, not cell phones. Some polls are done online, but only 50-60 percent of Americans are regularly online.

He added this week that there may have been a bigger issue: “a significant group of white men not revealing a Trump preference when they perceived the interviewer to be Black and/or female.”

How do you campaign in a pandemic?

A Democratic legislator noted that the party’s candidates and campaign workers did far less door-knocking and in-person campaigning across the state this year. They thought it would be hypocritical to campaign that way when Governor Cooper was calling on people to wear masks and practice social-distancing.

Republicans apparently did more house-to-house canvassing than Democrats. Trump’s 10 rallies in North Carolina, plus more by surrogates, were valuable organizing tools. The legislator said that, especially in rural areas, evangelical churches were voter-turnout hubs for Republicans.

What would Bert do?

Bert Bennett was good at politics because he didn’t make decisions based on emotion or the excitement plan. He was a hard-eyed, bottom-line businessman. He wanted facts, not theories and guesses.

We all could use a dose of Bert now.

Roy Cooper Won Big. And Lost Big

Governor Roy Cooper did something this election that North Carolina’s last two governors couldn’t do: win a second term. 

Now he may have to do something no governor has done in nearly 30 years: work with a hostile legislature throughout both his terms. 

For four years, Cooper labored mightily to break Republicans’ hold on the General Assembly. He recruited candidates, raised tons of money and put his campaign team to work on legislative races.

In 2018, Democrats broke the supermajority. This year, they hoped to make bigger gains. They even dreamed of winning a majority in one or both houses.

It didn’t happen. 

Cooper had planned a big push to expand Medicaid, roll back corporate tax cuts and raise teacher pay. What now?

Election night

He and legislative leaders have made predictable post-election promises about working together. But Republicans might treat Cooper the same way the Democratic majority treated Republican Governor Jim Martin throughout his two terms, 1985 to 1993.

Legislators routinely ignored and insulted Martin. When he sent over his proposed budgets, Democrats had a little private ceremony and dumped the document in the trash can.

Cooper remembers. He was in the House and Senate then.

While the Governor is far too disciplined and controlled to show it, he has to be frustrated. After all, he pulled off an amazing feat. He got elected twice despite President Trump carrying the state both times. In 2016, he beat an incumbent, one of the hardest things to do in politics.

Cooper’s handling of Covid-19 helped him this year. It always helps Governors politically when they can command the airwaves showing they’re in command.

It also helps to have a weak opponent. Dan Forest bet all his chips on Reopen NC. It didn’t pay off.

Both of Cooper’s immediate predecessors served only one term. Cooper defeated Governor Pat McCrory four years ago. In 2012, Governor Bev Perdue stepped down after one term, knowing she faced a tough reelection race. 

Before that, Governors routinely won two terms: Jim Hunt (who did it twice, 1977-85 and 1993-2001), Jim Martin (1985-93) and Mike Easley (2001-2009). 

Hunt and Perdue had to deal with Republican legislatures during part of their terms. 

Perdue was hamstrung and frustrated by Republicans who controlled both the House and Senate her last two years.

Hunt faced a Republican House from 1995-1999. But he had a Democratic Senate. He worked with Republicans on some big things, like teacher pay raises, Smart Start and gubernatorial veto. Republicans helped pass the veto in large part because Governor Martin had been so frustrated by his lack of it.

But Governor Cooper doesn’t want the story of his eight years in office to be written with a veto pen.

What will he do?

He can try to forge compromises. He said last week he’ll try.

Or he can pick fights with Republicans and focus on winning the legislature in 2022. Donald Trump won’t be on the ballot, and that helped Democrats in 2018. But that would leave Cooper only two years. Everybody will be looking at the next Governor’s race.

Perhaps Cooper should ponder the question a North Carolina Democrat texted me: “How much consideration for President or Vice President should be bestowed upon a Southern Democratic governor who just handily won reelection despite the Republican president carrying the state both times?”

In 2024, Democrats may need a new face on the national ticket – and a new winning formula. Virginia and Georgia have shown that the South can be part of the formula. 

Why not North Carolina?

The Ticket Splitter is Extinct

Once upon a time, a creature called the “Ticket Splitter” roamed the landscape, dominating politics and deciding elections.

This strange animal had habits difficult for us to comprehend today. It would go into the polling place on Election Day (there being no “early vote” and few “mail-in ballots” then), work its way down the ballot and – get this – pick and choose among candidates of different parties.

The creature might vote for a Republican for President, a Democrat for Governor and then another Republican for U.S. Senate. It might prefer the Democrat for U.S. House, a Republican for state Senate and then another Democrat for state House. 

Moving down the food chain, it would vote for a Democrat it liked here, a Republican it had met there, etc., etc.

I told you it was a strange beast.

All lesser political animals quaked before it. Every election, they sought its unpredictable favor. Pollsters, pundits and political scientists poked and prodded it, examined it from head to toe and sought to understand and predict its predilections.

No more. You can examine this week’s (still-incomplete) election returns and see that the ticket-splitter is dead, gone and buried.

Virtually every Republican in a statewide race got the same number of votes as President Trump, 2.7 million. Senator Thom Tillis got a few less, about 2.6 million. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler got 2.8 million.

Democrats got about the same as Joe Biden, 2.6 million or less. Governor Roy Cooper got 2.8 million. Agriculture Commissioner candidate Jenna Wadsworth, 2.4 million.

Go down the ballot and you’ll see the same pattern. 

Back in the 1980s, former House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously coined the line “All politics is local.” No more, Tip. Now all politics is national. And, beyond that, tribal.

Especially in the Age of Trump. He has accelerated the tendency of nearly all voters to pick a side, Democrat or Republican, and stick with it all up and down the ballot.

North Carolina Democrats were surprised by Tuesday’s results because they underestimated (again, as in 2016) Trump’s vote-getting power. Trump – not state or local issues – decided the fate of candidates at all levels.

Some $250 million was spent in the U.S. Senate race, yet Tillis and Cal Cunningham tracked the totals of Trump and Biden. Actually, both got a little less. That reflects a lack of enthusiasm for each within their parties.

It wasn’t always this way. In 1984, when Jim Hunt ran against Jesse Helms for Senate, Hunt ran 10 points ahead of Walter Mondale; Hunt got 47.8% and Mondale, 37.8%. Ronald Reagan beat Mondale by 1.3 million votes to 824,000. Helms beat Hunt by 1.15 million to 1.07 million.

Some 200,000 voters – 10% of the electorate – voted for Reagan and Hunt. (Yep, North Carolina was a lot smaller then.)

The term “ticket splitter” was popularized by an adopted North Carolinian, Walter de Vries, a political consultant, author, and founder of the North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership. In 1972, he co-authored a book titled “The Ticket-Splitter.” 

Walt was from Michigan, where he worked for Governor George Romney, father of Mitt. He moved to Wrightsville Beach in 1972 and taught at Duke and UNC-Wilmington.

Walt died last year at age 90. He lived long enough to see the demise of the dinosaur he studied.

Democrats Overdo It

Within just a few hours Tuesday night, Democrats went from overconfidence to overreaction.

The overconfidence wasn’t justified. Nor is the overreaction.

Nationally – and in North Carolina – Democrats awoke on Election Day with visions dancing in their heads of massive early vote, mountains of mail-in ballots and sweeping landslides.

James Carville, Democrats’ favorite talking serpent-head, promised they’d be cracking the champagne by 10 pm.

Carville

The champagne stayed on ice.

It didn’t take long to realize there wasn’t going to be a big blue breakthrough in the South, though Georgia remained too close to call Wednesday.

Democrats in Florida, Texas and – yes – North Carolina who begged Joe Biden’s campaign to go there more should be glad the Biden brain trust shunned those sideshows and stayed focused on the real game: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

By the wee hours Wednesday morning, Democrats went into full finger-pointing, breast-beating mode as Trump swept the South and Republicans won big in North Carolina: President, U.S. Senate, legislature, Council of State and judicial races. They sounded ready to jump out the window.

They’re overreacting.

North Carolina remains an evenly and deeply divided state. Biden did about two points better here than Hillary Clinton did. Governor Roy Cooper won comfortably. Attorney General Josh Stein has a narrow lead. Deborah Ross, Kathy Manning, Elaine Marshall and Beth Wood won.

Clearly, North Carolina Democrats had been overconfident. They were saying in the final weeks that Biden might carry the state, Cal Cunningham would win and Democrats could gain seats in the legislature.

They need to reexamine the polls and data they relied on. And they need to change something they’re doing. But, as one young Democrat said, “That something could be any one of four dozen things.”

As an example, he added, “I think in NC specifically, we are communicating to an electorate that doesn’t quite exist yet – the demographic blue wave that’s hitting our cities, but is probably still a decade or so away from fundamentally reshaping our politics – at the expense of rural and urban-adjacent counties, where we have effectively zero support anymore.”

An experienced Democrat added that the party needs “some serious and honest soul-searching to learn from what went wrong and what that means about how to move forward.”

That beats leaping off the ledge.

Will North Carolina Become a “Bluetopia”?

“North Carolina is getting bigger and bluer,” a well-placed Democratic political consultant told me in mid-October.

He was feeling confident about this election and Democrats’ future here. Like many in the party, he believes North Carolina is headed toward being a Democratic state, a couple of steps behind Virginia and a couple ahead of Georgia.

This week’s election will tell us a lot. Or maybe not. If Democrats do well, is that simply a rejection of Trump – or a lasting trend? If they don’t do well, it doesn’t bode well for dreams of a “bluetopia.”

There’s no question North Carolina’s getting bigger. Nearly 1.8 million new voters registered between 2016 election and now. They make up nearly 25% of the state’s 7.3 million registered voters.

Many new voters are under 30; they tend to vote Democratic even though they often register as unaffiliated. Many new voters are from Wake and Mecklenburg counties, which have become strongly Democratic.

The percentages of non-white voters and college-educated voters are growing, while the percentage of non-college whites diminishes. That’s a good trend for Democrats.

Mac McCorkle of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy wrote:

“Democrats could be on an unstoppable path toward demographic dominance in North Carolina politics by 2040. According to a report last year from researchers at the Brookings Institute and the Center for American Progress, minority groups will make up 40 percent of the state’s population by 2036. And the Brookings-CAP team projected that the state’s election results would turn solidly Democratic blue well before that date.”

But McCorkle, who has decades of practical political experience as a Democratic consultant here and across the South, offers a caution: “Such a progressive scenario could well be too good to be true.”

Typically, he says, we view North Carolina as divided between Democratic cities and Republican rural areas and small towns. But that leaves out just over 5.2 million “in-between” North Carolinians—those living in metropolitan areas outside the state’s big cities, like Johnston, Alamance, Union, Cabarrus and Gaston counties.

McCorkle wrote:

“Democrats may want to write off these sources of Republican strength in outer metropolitan North Carolina as merely a function of the state’s soon-to-expire whiteness. But such areas may contain a deep-seated ‘countrypolitan’ resistance to any kind of urban or university-based liberalism. In cultural terms, its informal anthems could remain in the country-populistic vein of Darius Rucker’s ‘Wagon Wheel’ remake rather than the rock-elegiac ‘Carolina on My Mind’ of North Carolina expatriate James Taylor.”

This year, he says, Trump may lose the state because he loses a crucial number of countrypolitans. But McCorkle raises “a not-so-outside possibility that should deeply concern Democrats about a post-Trump era” – non-white Republican politicians who “harness this countrypolitan instinct into a powerful political persuasion.” Maybe someone like former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley.

Whatever happens in this election, McCorkle cautions, “Bluntly put, the destiny of a new Democratic progressivism in North Carolina and the nation is not at all manifest. The political future may remain up for grabs in 2040 and beyond.”

Electing Opposites

If Joe Biden wins, it will continue the great American tradition of electing a new President who is the exact opposite of the last one.

Watching Biden and President Trump debate – or their interviews on 60 Minutes – was like watching beings from two planets.

They’re both white males in their 70s. Otherwise, everything about them is opposite.

Even their complexions and coloring are opposite. Trump’s face has a dark red hue; Biden is pale. Biden’s hair is white; Trump’s is described on Google as “flaxen.”

Their facial expressions are opposite. Trump tends to be angry, sometimes snarling; his grins fade fast. Biden smiles more and flashes his white choppers; his anger takes an injured, indignant tone.

They talk different. Trump is bombastic and aggressive; Biden’s stammer makes him more hesitant. Trump fires off verbal broadsides; Biden expounds at length and sometimes gets lost in the details.

If they were in your family, Trump would be your opinionated uncle and Biden, your indulgent grandfather.

Their political personas are opposites.

To his supporters, Trump is the angry avenging angel, out to end what he called in his Inaugural Address “this American carnage.” To his supporters, Biden is the soothing, empathetic figure, eager to gather Americans in a group hug.

One reason for Trump’s reelection troubles is his aggressive style. He’s always in your face, on Twitter and on the news. Some people just feel worn out by him.

Biden has a more soothing, even soporific, style. Even some Democrats find him boring, but they want to turn down the volume from the White House. 

Their life experiences are opposite. Trump is a showy, often-overextended businessman. Biden has been in government most of his life. Trump’s father was rich; Biden’s family struggled financially. Trump is the consummate political outsider; Biden, the consummate insider.

The contrast is no accident. One reason Biden came back from the political dead – remember, he was written off as late as last February – is that he presents such a clear alternative to Trump.

From the beginning, Americans have made a habit of trading in one model of President for a totally different model. As early as 1800, the first real contested election, we switched from New England patrician John Adams to Virginia slaveowner Thomas Jefferson. We haven’t stopped trading in the old model for a new one since.

In 1932, we traded in grim, dour Herbert Hoover for jaunty, confident FDR.

In 1960, we went from aging Ike to youthful JFK.

In 1976, we went from Richard Nixon and Watergate to Sunday School-teaching, “I’ll never lie to you” Jimmy Carter.

In 1980, we traded in a vacillating Carter for the resolute Ronald Reagan.

After eight years of Reagan, even his own Vice President, George W.H. Bush, promised to be “kinder and gentler.”

In 1992, Bush seemed out of touch with everyday Americans. Bill Clinton bit his lip and felt our pain.

In 2000, both Al Gore and George W. Bush presented a family-man contrast to Clinton’s scandals.

In 2008, we exchanged W’s from-the-gut style and tangled syntax with Obama’s cerebral cool and soaring oratory.

In 2016, we went from Obama to Trump.

If we bought cars like we pick Presidents, we’d have a family sedan for four years, then trade it in for a flashy sports car. Or we’d go from a Prius to a pickup truck.

This year, will we stick with the gold-plated Cadillac with flashy trim – or go for the Buick that dreams of being a Camaro?