Tracking North Carolina’s “Blue Shift”

Looking back, it’s clear that North Carolina took a big step in 2008 toward becoming a Democratic state in presidential elections. It’s not clear whether we’ll keep moving in that direction.

Since 2008, Democrats have confidently predicted that demographic trends – more young voters, minority voters and college-educated voters – would make North Carolina more like Virginia, which is increasingly Democratic, and Georgia, which was surprisingly Democratic in 2020.

Before we explore whether that will happen, let’s be clear about the “blue shift” that already has happened.

From 1980 to 2004, North Carolina was reliably Republican in presidential races. Republican candidates carried the state seven straight times, usually by double digits.

Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter here by 2% in 1980, then swamped Walter Mondale by 24% in 1984; George H. W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis by over 16% in 1988. Bill Clinton made North Carolina competitive again in 1992, losing to Bush by less than 1%, partly because Ross Perot was on the ballot and siphoned votes away from Bush. Bob Dole beat Clinton here by 4.7% in 1996.

In 2000, George W. Bush beat Al Gore in North Carolina by 12.8%; Bush beat John Kerry by 12.4% in 2004, even with former North Carolina Senator John Edwards on the Democratic ticket.

But that pattern changed dramatically in 2008.

Obama campaigns in Charlotte, 2008

The breakthrough didn’t come the way experts expected: with a moderate white candidate from the South, another Carter or Clinton. Instead, it was a Black candidate, an unknown first-term Senator from Illinois with an unlikely name and an unexpected appeal.

Republicans scoffed that year at reports Barack Obama’s campaign was targeting North Carolina. No way, they said, could a Black Democrat win such a safe Republican state.

But Obama did win, by just 0.3%, thanks to a surge of minority voters and young voters. He won white working-class voters who had lost faith in Republican economic policies and lost patience with never-ending wars in the Middle East. John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin for Vice President cost him women and college-educated voters.

North Carolina turned red again on the electoral maps of 2012, 2016 and 2020. But the margins never returned to pre-2008 levels. Mitt Romney beat Obama here in 2012 by just 2%. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 3.6% in 2016 and Joe Biden by 1.3% in November.

Democrats here have been inspired by Democrats in Georgia, which went for President Biden and elected two Democratic Senators. Efforts have begun to replicate Georgia Democrats’ voter registration and turnout juggernaut.

But North Carolina isn’t Georgia. We’re more rural. While both states have over 10 million people, Georgia’s rural population is about 1.8 million; North Carolina’s is over 3 million. Georgia has more Black voters – 30% of the total electorate, compared to North Carolina’s 20%.

Three questions will decide the future of North Carolina’s “blue shift.”

First, will Covid and its economic impact put an end to the 40-year reign of Ronald Reagan’s philosophy that “government is the problem”? Some polls suggest Americans today want more from government, not less.

Second, which party’s set of issues matter more to voters? Biden and Democrats are focusing on Covid vaccines, economic relief, climate change, and gender and racial equality. Republicans are focused on abortion, immigration, “reopening” the country and “cancel culture.”

Third, which will prevail: Democrats’ efforts to expand voting or Republicans’ efforts to restrict it?

In a state where presidential elections are decided by 1, 2 or 3%, small actions and small shifts in attitudes can produce big shifts in outcomes.

Good News and Bad News at the N&O

The News & Observer recently did one thing I liked – and one thing I didn’t.

I liked an online readers’ roundtable the paper hosted with its state-politics reporters. I was impressed by the reporters and by the paper’s commitment to covering state government.

I didn’t like how the N&O covered the N&O’s coverage of Soul City in the 1970s. Today’s paper wasn’t fair to yesterday’s paper.

 

The Roundtable

Some two dozen readers – the N&O called us “community supporters” – joined the political roundtable a week ago. I actually wasn’t invited; a friend forwarded me the notice. But they let me in and let me ask a question about voter-suppression bills.

The hour-long session was hosted by Executive Editor Robyn Tomlin and Managing Editor Sharif Durhams. The reporters were NC Insider Editor Colin Campbell, Danielle Battaglia, Will Doran, Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan and Adam Wagner.

Highlights:

  • Partisan hostilities are muted now in the legislature, likely because members have come together on Covid relief.
  • But legislators probably will chop away at Governor Roy Cooper’s emergency Covid powers. The reporters also expect partisan fights over the budget and redistricting and, likely, voter-suppression bills.
  • Medicaid expansion has no chance, because Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger’s “rigid” ideology leaves him unmoved by “political tides.”
  • On voter-suppression, the panel said legislative leaders may hold off until late in the session. Sometime this fall, a bill might pop up on a Monday, be rushed through the House and Senate and be on Governor Cooper’s desk by Friday.

It was good to see the paper’s commitment to covering Raleigh, despite the daunting challenges the media faces today.

Soul City

But I was disappointed by the N&O’s Soul City coverage.

A few weeks back, the paper reported on a new book by Thomas Healy, “Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia.” Healy blamed Soul City’s demise, in part, on the late N&O Editor Claude Sitton and retired investigative reporter Pat Stith.

The other culprit, Healy says, was North Carolina’s Senator Jesse Helms, normally a sworn enemy of the N&O.

Healy’s book was the subject of three pieces in the N&O – an interview with the author, an excerpt from the book and an editorial column. All three gave Healy his say. But none gave the other side of the story.

Sitton can’t defend himself; he’s no longer living. Pat Stith is; he’s still hiking the Appalachian Trial at age 78. But the N&O didn’t talk to him.

Pat Stith

Last weekend, the paper belatedly ran a response from Stith (link below). It was persuasive.

Stith noted that Healy’s book itself described many of the problems at Soul City that had nothing to do with Helms or the N&O: the developers’ inexperience, poor location, no infrastructure, an economic downturn, “grossly inadequate” capitalization and, with President Nixon’s resignation in 1974, a loss of political influence in Washington.

Reading Healy’s criticism of the N&O’s coverage, Stith wrote, “I wondered if he had read his own book.”

He added, “Healy left some interesting facts out of his book and I wonder if that was because they didn’t fit the new narrative.” Among those “inconvenient facts:”

  • Federal officials “cooked the books” to keep Soul City from failing in 1976, two and a half years before the federal government gave up.
  • “Soul City achieved less than 10 percent of its five-year goals – a lot less,” including only 1.6% of its job goals.
  • Yes, the project was opposed by Senator Helms – in Stith’s words, “a conservative who was also a bigot.” But Healy didn’t point out that Senator Robert Morgan, a Democrat, withdrew his support for the project.

Stith did something the N&O didn’t do: He gave Healy a chance to respond. Healey said he was “comfortable” with his book and that it didn’t include everything that happened, only those things that were “relevant” or “important.”

Full disclosure: I was at the N&O during some of the Soul City coverage, though I don’t recall having any part in it. I did work with Stith on other stories.

Later, when I worked for Governor Jim Hunt, I sometimes fielded calls from Stith about various scandals and scoundrels in the administration. He was always fair. He always got the facts right. And he always gave you a chance to tell your side.

Both Sitton and Stith won Pulitzer Prizes at the N&O. They made it a great paper. They deserved better.

So do readers.

Link to Pat Stith’s response: “I reported on Soul City in the 1970s. What the N&O said then is still true now.”

https://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/article249728563.html

 

The 16-Year Itch: It’s Due in 2024

There’s a 16-year cycle in modern politics. If it holds, the 2022 and 2024 elections will be good for Democrats – nationally and in North Carolina. But that’s a big if.

In 1960, 1976, 1992 and 2008, Democrats won the White House. Each time, North Carolina went, or nearly went, Democratic for President. Each time, Democrats did well in state elections. Each time, Democrats did well in the preceding congressional elections – 1958, 1974, 1990 and 2006.

Each time, Republicans had been in the White House at least eight years. The GOP had gone stale or seemed out of touch. Democrats nominated appealing candidates who promised change and presented a strong contrast to the past.

In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower’s Republican Party seemed old and stodgy. Democrats nominated candidates who represented a new generation and new energy – John F. Kennedy for President and Terry Sanford for Governor.

In 1976, after eight years of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Vietnam and Watergate, Democrats nominated a Southerner and Washington outsider, Jimmy Carter, for President and 39-year-old Jim Hunt for Governor.

In 1992, after 12 years of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, Republicans didn’t seem to feel Americans’ economic pain. Democrats nominated another Southerner and Washington outsider, Bill Clinton, and Jim Hunt, again, for Governor.

In 2008, after eight years of George W. Bush, wars in the Middle East and a financial crisis, Democrats nominated Barack Obama. His message of hope and change stirred minority voters and young voters, a surge that helped elect Kay Hagan Senator and Bev Perdue Governor.

Kennedy, Carter and Obama all carried North Carolina. Clinton came close – losing by less than 1%, after Reagan won here by 24% in 1984 and Bush, by 16% in 1988.

Democrats hope the cycle repeats itself again in 2024. But there will be one obvious difference: The incumbent President won’t be a Republican.

That may not be such a big difference, though. If Donald Trump runs again, he’ll be like an incumbent. Even out of office, he looms over the political landscape. He still dominates the Republican Party.

Looking back, his Presidency wasn’t good for Republicans. In 2018, they lost the House. In 2020, they lost the White House. On January 5 this year, they lost two Senate races in Georgia and lost the Senate – a huge political story that was overshadowed by the Capitol attack January 6.

But Republicans can take heart from another political cycle. They do well when they run against Democratic overreach. Reagan ran against the welfare state in 1980. Newt Gingrich & Co. ran against the Clintons’ healthcare plan in 1994. The Tea Party rose up against President Obama and Obamacare in 2010. Trump ran against Obama and the Clintons in 2016.

In 2024, Democrats will ask: Do you want four more years of Trump? Republicans will ask: Do you want four more years of Biden/Harris?

The battle lines are being drawn. Biden is pushing a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill. A Morning Consult poll said 77% of Americans support it, including 59% of Republicans. But Republicans in Congress unanimously oppose it.

Will voters think Republicans are obstructionists – or that Democrats are overreaching?

Or, if the pandemic recedes and the economy recovers, Biden could reach back 40 years and reprise Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign: “It’s morning again in America. Our country is prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?”

Cooper’s Rebellion; School Polls

Here are more thoughts on two recent blogs, one on Roy Cooper’s political success and the other on the school-reopening debate. (Links below.)

 Rebel Roy

The Governor has a Clark Kent demeanor; mild, deliberate and controlled. He takes a measured, cautious approach to issues. He’s careful about what he says and does.

Yet, he took part in one of the most celebrated rebellions in modern North Carolina political history.

It was 1989. Cooper had just been elected to his second term in the state House. He was tagged as a rising Democratic star.

Cooper as state senator

Then he joined a group of 19 dissident Democrats in the House who banded together with Republicans and ousted four-term Democratic Speaker Liston Ramsey. The dissident Democrats and the Republicans had chafed at Ramsey’s control of the House. They forged a power-sharing coalition that governed the House for two years.

The coup bitterly divided Democrats. Rancor and resentment ran high. The 19 Democrats were denounced as traitors and turncoats. Some got “primaried” in 1990 – and got beat.

Cooper survived. He joined other Democrats to elect Dan Blue Speaker in 1991. That year, Cooper got appointed to a vacant Senate seat. In 1997, he was elected Democrats’ Senate majority leader. In 2000, he was elected Attorney General. You know what happened next.

Through five different decades, Cooper has moved smoothly from party regular to rebel to party leader.

Two footnotes:

  • One of the Democratic rebels was Rep. Walter Jones Jr. Jones later switched to the Republican Party and ran successfully for Congress in 1994. He held the 3rd District for 12 terms before he died in 2019. Eventually, he broke with Republicans over Middle East wars and budget deficits.
  • Former Governor Bev Perdue almost was one of the rebels. She had met with the Democratic dissidents. One of them said later that, as they walked into the crucial caucus, she said, “I’m with you.” She wasn’t. She voted for Ramsey.

School Polls

The Carolina Partnership for Reform, a conservative group aligned with Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger, tweeted: “according to a staggering 73% of NC voters, Cooper made the wrong move” when he vetoed the school-reopening bill passed by the legislature.

Well, it depends on how you ask the question.

CPR’s poll asked:

“Do you believe the state should require all school systems to offer parents an option for in-person instruction in addition to the choice of virtual instruction, or not?”

The question didn’t mention Cooper, the bill or his veto.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, asked this question:

“Plans are currently being made for many teachers to return to the classroom. When it comes to in-person instruction, do you think teachers should be required to teach in-person before they have the opportunity to receive a coronavirus vaccine, or do you think teachers should have the option to wait to return until they have the opportunity to be vaccinated?”

PPP’s results: 56% of North Carolina voters said teachers should be able to wait for vaccinations; 34% said not.

A national Pew Research poll in late February took a deeper dive. It found that 59% of Americans believe K-12 schools that haven’t yet opened should remain closed until all teachers who want a vaccine get one. Just 40% said schools should reopen as quickly as possible.

But in a sign of how nuanced – or contradictory – opinions can be, 61% said that, in deciding whether to reopen, schools should consider the possibility that students may fall behind with online learning.

When reading polls, see what question was asked – and if the people asking have an agenda.

PPP poll: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5f89fa7a95c897550b016484/t/603be5ea46b5cf505a2c954a/1614538218750/NorthCarolinaResults1.pdf

Pew Poll:

https://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/K12-Reopening-TOPLINE-1.pdf

Blog links:

Cooper – https://newdayfornc.com/2021/03/02/what-is-roy-coopers-special-sauce

Schools – https://newdayfornc.com/2021/02/15/school-reopening-debate-strains-old-ties

 

What is Roy Cooper’s Special Sauce?

A national reporter recently wrote a flattering article about Governor Roy Cooper, but seemed flummoxed by Cooper’s political success.

In “What Does This Man Know That Other Democrats Don’t?” in The Atlantic, Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote, “The governor is 16–0 in primary and general elections over the past three and a half decades—in good years and bad years for Democrats, in the North Carolina of his youth and in the very different place his state has become.”

Even after interviewing the Governor, he wrote, “Cooper doesn’t know why he keeps winning in North Carolina while other Democrats keep losing.” He added, “the secret to Cooper’s victories may be hard to replicate.”

Actually, there’s no secret here. Dovere touched on most of the explanations. But he underestimated some of them, and he missed a big one.

Election night 2020

Cooper’s first key to success, the article noted, is “Make sure voters can see you running a competent and effective government.” Yep. The Governor’s handling of the Covid pandemic played a big part in his reelection last year.

Dovere mentioned “his identity as a white man (which) may have enabled him to hold on to moderate voters.” It’s more than that; Cooper comes across as what he is: a small-town boy from rural North Carolina who has worked his way up.

The article noted, in a master stroke of understatement, that Cooper has “built up his own fundraising apparatus.” In fact, the Governor raised more than $42 million for his reelection last year. His opponent, Dan Forest, raised about $5 million. Cooper outspent Forest 10-1 on TV. In 2016, Cooper outraised an incumbent Governor – a rare feat.

Dovere said Cooper “also established (and largely funded) a political operation (that) gave him centers of political support around the state.” Actually, he’s been building a network since he was a student at UNC. Through 35 years in politics, Cooper has built a stable and experienced team of governmental and political advisers; some have been with him since he ran for Attorney General in 2000.

The article adds, “Then there’s Cooper’s aggressive messaging.” Again, that’s an understatement. In his one debate with Forest last year, Cooper – unlike most incumbents – hit his opponent hard from his opening to close.

After all that, Dovere missed what may be the biggest factor in Cooper’s success: He has won because he has run against the legislature.

Thanks to a fluke off-year election in 2010 and gerrymandering since, Republicans run the legislature. They’ve cut corporate taxes, cut spending on public schools, pushed private schools, stopped Medicaid expansion, cut unemployment relief and cut health, safety and environmental regulations.

But gerrymandering doesn’t work for a statewide race. North Carolina has elected Democratic governors – with precisely the opposite priorities of our legislature – in seven of eight elections since 1992. The only exception was 2012, when incumbent Governor Beverly Perdue pulled out of the race late and left the door open to Republican Pat McCrory.

McCrory faithfully followed the legislature’s lead on most every issue. He signed the controversial “Bathroom Bill” that cost North Carolina millions of dollars in business. He promptly lost reelection to Cooper, even though Donald Trump carried the state, as he did again in 2020.

Cooper is squarely in the tradition of governors since Terry Sanford (1960-64), including Democrats and Republicans like Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin. They focused on better education as the path to a better future. Cooper has added better health care, racial and gender equity, climate-change action and rural Internet to the agenda.

His secret is that North Carolinians evidently share his priorities.

Link to Article:

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/02/what-north-carolina-and-roy-cooper-can-teach-democrats/617874/

 

Reading Obama: Roasting Trump and Killing bin Laden

Barack Obama’s memoir about his first term, “A Promised Land,” ends with the odd juxtaposition of two events on one weekend in May 2011: roasting Donald Trump and killing Osama bin Laden.

Killing bin Laden was a great achievement. Roasting Trump may have been a big mistake.

That Saturday night, Obama made Trump the butt of his jokes at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Trump silently fumed in the audience. Some people say that’s when he resolved to run for President.

Obama had just given the go-ahead for the bin Laden raid. He wasn’t excited about going to the dinner and having to be funny, “but I couldn’t afford to raise any suspicions (about the bin Laden raid) by skipping out…at the last minute.”

Trump had spent months – and won tons of media play – questioning Obama’s birthplace. Obama took him on:

“Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter — like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”

“But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. For example — no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ — at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir. Well handled.”

Then Obama recounts hours of tension waiting for the bin Laden raid, dramatic moments watching it in real time on video, and the explosion of relief and joy at the terrorist’s death, with crowds chanting “USA! USA!” outside the White House and across America.

Obama’s book is like he was as President: sometimes lyrical and lofty, sometimes long-winded and a bit boring, but always candid, reflective and insightful.

You have to wade through detailed accounts of policy debates, personnel decisions and frustrating deliberations with divided Democrats and recalcitrant Republicans in Congress. You see why President Biden has gone big, bold and fast on his stimulus plan rather than waiting for Republican support

Obama is a gifted writer. He deftly portrays people:

“Built like a linebacker, with a square jaw, broad features, and a gray combover, (Benjamin) Netanyahu was smart, canny, tough, and a gifted communicator in both Hebrew and English.”

“Physically, he (Vladimir Putin) was unremarkable; short and compact – a wrestlers’ build – with thin, sandy hair, a prominent nose, and pale, watchful eyes. I noticed a casualness to his movements, a practiced disinterest in his voice that indicated someone accustomed to being surrounded by subordinates and supplicants. Someone who’d grown used to power.”

Of Trump, Obama writes:

“…he was a spectacle, and in the United States of America in 2011, that was a form of power. Trump trafficked in a currency that, however shallow, seemed to gain more purchase with each passing day. The same reporters who laughed at my jokes would continue to give him airtime. Their publishers would vie to have him sit at their tables.

“Far from being ostracized for the conspiracies he’d peddled, he in fact had never been bigger.”

Obama doesn’t spare himself from his discerning, descriptive eye, owning up to “uneven debate performances, unconventional positions (and) clumsy gaffes” during his campaign.

He is restrained but blunt about race: “…maybe I’m bothered by the care and delicacy with which one must state the obvious: that it’s possible to understand and sympathize with the frustrations of white voters without denying the ease with which, throughout American history, politicians have redirected white frustration about their economic or social circumstances toward Black and brown people.”

He captures the loneliness and strangeness of a President’s life. The book ends with him returning to the White House after visiting the SEAL team that killed bin Laden. As Marine One flew by the Lincoln Memorial, “I looked down at the street below, still thick with rush-hour traffic – fellow commuters, I thought, anxious to get home.”

“A Promised Land,” Barack Obama, Crown Publishing Group, November 2020. Read an excerpt: https://crownpublishing.com/archives/feature/read-an-excerpt-a-promised-land

 

Was Senator Burr’s Vote Revenge or Statesmanship?

Maybe Senator Richard Burr’s “guilty” vote in Donald Trump’s trial was revenge on Trump for Trump getting revenge on him.

Or maybe it was a statesmanlike statement on the integrity of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

Both explanations trace back to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – and the Trump campaign’s role. Senator Burr co-chaired the committee, which was notable for its bipartisanship in such a partisan time.

The investigation lasted three years; the committee’s final report came out last August. Along the way, in May 2019, the committee subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr.

One year later, on May 13, 2020, the FBI began investigating Senator Burr for alleged insider stock-trading. Agents served a search warrant on Burr at his Washington residence, and seized his cell phone. He stepped down as co-chair of the committee the next day.

Coincidence? Maybe. But as a wise old reporter used to tell me, “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

On January 19 this year, the day before Trump left office, the Justice Department announced Burr wouldn’t be charged. On February 13, Burr voted to convict Trump for his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Burr after the vote

Burr’s vote was a bombshell.

Because senators were called in alphabetical order, he was the first Republican to vote guilty. USA Today reported that as voting began on the Senate floor, Burr “sat sockless at his mahogany desk with his legs crossed and his head looking down at his lap. He fiddled with his eyeglasses, tapping them on his desk repeatedly.”

When he stood and said, “guilty,” the paper said, “Senators in the chamber looked around at one another, clearly stunned. Reporters gasped while watching the vote from the balcony gallery above the Senate floor.”

If you read Burr’s statement that day and the Senate committee’s final report, you see a consistent concern about the integrity of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. Burr’s statement said:

“The President promoted unfounded conspiracy theories to cast doubt on the integrity of a free and fair election because he did not like the results. “As Congress met to certify the election results, the President directed his supporters to go to the Capitol to disrupt the lawful proceedings required by the Constitution. When the crowd became violent, the President used his office to first inflame the situation instead of immediately calling for an end to the assault.

“As I said on January 6th, the President bears responsibility for these tragic events. The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors. Therefore, I have voted to convict.”

The Senate committee’s investigation into 2016 lasted three years, interviewed 200 witnesses, and reviewed a million documents. The report is 1,313 pages long, in five volumes. The committee found that Russia engaged in an “extensive campaign” to elect Trump and that:

“(T)he Russian intelligence services’ assault on the integrity of the 2016 U.S. electoral process and Trump and his associates’ participation in and enabling of this Russian activity (my emphasis) represents one of the single most grave counterintelligence threats to American national security in the modem era.”

Thanks to the Senate trial and the House impeachment managers, we all know what Trump did to overturn the 2020 election. Burr knows more than anybody about what Trump, his campaign and the Russians did to turn the 2016 election.

Maybe he took a measure of revenge. He clearly took the measure of Donald Trump.

School-Reopening Debate Strains Old Ties

One of North Carolina’s most enduring political alliances – teachers and the Democratic Party – is being tested by today’s debate over reopening schools.

The ties, which go back decades, have been strained before, and survived. But this may be the toughest test.

I was surprised recently when three Democrats, in separate conversations, complained about the “teachers’ union” resisting reopening schools. The N.C. Association of Educators isn’t a union; that’s prohibited by state law. And “teachers’ union” is a term you usually hear from Republicans – never as a term of endearment.

The NCAE supported Governor Roy Cooper and Democratic legislative candidates in 2016, 2018 and 2020. Teachers marched on Raleigh to protest what they considered meager pay raises from the Republican General Assembly.

When Governor Cooper declared on February 2, “It’s time to get our children back into the classroom,” an NCAE leader said teachers were “very disappointed, surprised.” The NCAE said teachers should get vaccinated before schools reopen.

The Governor made clear he wouldn’t mandate a return to classrooms for all students. He said the decision should be left to local school boards and school district administrators. He signed a bill providing $1.6 billion for schools to reopen safely. He moved educators and school staffers up in the priority line for vaccinations.

The real crunch comes this week. Republicans in the General Assembly pushed through a bill requiring school districts to offer in-person instruction. Cooper opposed it; if he vetoes it, will Democrats sustain the veto?

Cooper and Democratic legislators are feeling pressure from parents – parents who worry that their children are falling behind academically, parents who worry about emotional and psychological impacts on kids, and parents who are tired of children being home all the time.

When the pandemic closed schools a year ago, public-school advocates hoped parents would come to appreciate teachers more than ever – and realize how underpaid they are. Instead, this year may have opened a gulf of resentment between parents and teachers.

Democrats like Governor Cooper are in the middle. And Republicans are happy to use school reopening as a wedge issue to turn both teachers and parents against Democrats.

I’ve seen Democrats and teachers fall out before. In 1982, with a national recession raging and state tax revenues dropping, Governor Jim Hunt froze teacher salaries. The NCAE, which had endorsed Hunt in 1976 and 1980, felt betrayed. Teachers marched on the Executive Mansion. The NCAE refused to endorse Hunt against Senator Jesse Helms in 1984.

But Hunt lives on a farm. He knows how to mend fences.

After he left office in 1985, he led the development of a national board-certification system for teachers. He chaired the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards for 10 years. It’s still going strong. More than 126,000 teachers nationally are board-certified; nearly 23,000 are in North Carolina, more than any other state.

Hunt worked closely with teachers through those years. He came to have a new appreciation for them; and they, for him. In the 1990s, during his third and fourth terms, Hunt pushed teachers’ pay to the national average – and into the top 20 among the states. Students’ performance improved significantly, too.

Teachers in North Carolina today feel underpaid, underappreciated and overwhelmed. The pandemic exacerbates their stress. They hear promises from Raleigh about Covid safety precautions, but they fear the promises won’t be kept in their districts and their classrooms.

Teachers want to be in school with their students, but they want to be safe and they want their students to be safe.

Yes, reopen schools. But do it safely.

Why Trump Lost – and What Republicans Face

If Donald Trump had attacked Covid as aggressively as he attacked the election, he’d be in his second term, not his second impeachment trial.

That’s not the contention of a Trump-hating Democrat or a Never-Trump Republican. It’s the conclusion of one of Trump’s own pollsters.

A post-election exit poll analysis by Tony Fabrizio (see link below), first reported by Politico, said:

“Coronavirus was the most important issue followed by the economy…. While POTUS (Trump) dominated among voters focused on the economy, Biden won Coronavirus voters, which was a bigger share of the electorate.”

The analysis looked at 10 key states, including North Carolina. Covid was voters’ top issue, especially in five states that flipped from Trump in 2016 to Biden. Biden carried voters whose top concern was Covid by nearly 3 to 1.

Trump didn’t help himself by mocking masks and criticizing Dr. Anthony S. Fauci; 75% of voters supported a mask mandate, and Fauci’s approval rating was almost that high.

Last September, I wrote a blog (“Could Trump Have Clinched Reelection?”) about Covid’s political impact. I wrote, “Imagine a political universe in which Trump did the opposite of what he did” – that is, aggressively attacked the virus instead of downplaying it. “If he had, he might be cruising to reelection right now.”

He didn’t take my advice.

Contrary to Trump’s false claims of election fraud, the report confirms that President Biden won the election. Trump’s lawyers also acknowledged that fact on the first day of his Senate trial this week.

Contrary to Trump’s failed challenges to Biden votes in majority Black precincts – and contrary to conventional wisdom – the analysis says he lost white voters, especially college-educated whites:

“Racially, POTUS suffered his greatest erosion with White voters, particularly White Men…. However, he made double digit gains with Hispanics in both groups, while his performance among Blacks was virtually the same as 2016.”

Trump lost ground with almost every age group compared to 2016, most of all with voters 18-29 and over 65: “Worse was the double-digit erosion he suffered with White College educated voters across the board.”

More from the exit-poll analysis:

  • There was “a massive swing against POTUS” among Independent voters in all 10 states and more GOP “leakage” in the states that flipped against Trump.
  • “Voters who did not vote in ’16 but voted in ’20 accounted for roughly 1-in-6 voters and they broke markedly for Biden…One-in-10 voters say they decided their vote in the final month of the campaign, and contrary to conventional wisdom, they broke in Biden’s favor.”

What Republicans Face

Looking at these findings – and watching the Senate trial this week – Republicans might wonder: Do we want to be the Trump Party?

His negative ratings have gone up in polls since the January 6 attack on the Capitol. One report said that, in 25 states with accessible data, nearly 140,000 Republicans have left the party since January 6.

Most all Republicans in Congress are sticking with Trump. He still has a strong hold on the party. But his hold on the American electorate has been significantly weakened.

During the four years he was President, Republicans lost the House, the White House and then the Senate.

Will they stay aboard the USS Trump in 2022 and 2024 – or abandon ship?

 

Link to Fabrizio report: https://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000177-6046-de2d-a57f-7a6e8c950000

My September 18 blog: https://newdayfornc.com/2020/09/18/could-trump-have-clinched-reelection/

Is a 100-County Tour the Road to the Senate?

When Jeff Jackson jumped into the 2022 Senate race, he revived an old staple of North Carolina politics, the “100 county campaign.”

Is that the Democrats’ road to victory in 2022?

There’s another road, one that runs through fewer than half the counties – specifically, the dozen or so metropolitan counties that are strongly Democratic and Eastern counties that have significant numbers of Black voters – and eligible but unregistered voters.

Jeff Jackson

The “100-county tour” has a rich history. Candidates do it to show they care about the whole state and everybody. Jackson’s website says:

“Every election, we lower our expectations. We settle for less transparency, less energy, less substance. We want to raise your expectations for political leadership. So we’re going to all 100 counties and holding town halls in every one. We’re going to listen and learn and build an agenda that is actually tailored to our state – a North Carolina agenda – not an agenda imported from D.C. or from donors.”

The last “100-county tour” candidate I recall was Fred Smith, a Republican who ran for governor in 2008. Smith had a “100 county barbeque tour;” he threw barbeque dinners in every county. Republicans ate up his barbeque, but voted for Pat McCrory. Smith lost.

When Jim Hunt ran for lieutenant governor in 1972, he did a 102-county tour. A road was out in the far west, so he had to go through two counties in Georgia to get to Clay County, NC.

Clay County illustrates the problem with a 100-county campaign. In November, 6,930 people voted in Clay County. Senator Thom Tillis won 72% of them. In Wake County, 634,423 people voted– almost 100 times as many as Clay.

Campaigns have only two resources: time and money. You can always raise more money, but you can never get more time. Why spend a day in Clay County when you could be knocking doors in Wake County?

By starting 15 months before the primary, Jackson may figure he has the time.

Most of all, Jackson wants to distinguish himself from Cal Cunningham. It’s not Jackson’s fault he’s another white, male military veteran. But it’s his burden to bear.

Jackson got vetted by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2020. But Jackson says Senator Chuck Schumer wanted him to spend 18 hours a day “in a windowless room” making fundraising calls to pay for negative ads against Tillis.

Schumer anointed Cunningham and directed tens of millions of dollars his way. That looks like a bad choice now. But Cunningham was leading in the polls before he self-destructed.

Jackson says there’s another way to raise money: online. He raised $500,000 in the 48 hours after he announced.

There’s also another way to turn out votes. A retired journalist I know looked at 29 counties in North Carolina between I-95 and the coast:

“Trump won them, but not by much, 408,182 to 383,716, around 25,000 votes. He won the rest of the state by around 50,000 votes. Obama outperformed Biden in a lot of these counties in 2008.  That’s part of how he won the state.”

There are lots of Black voters in those counties. In 2020, Black turnout was up 4.1% over 2016. But only 68.4% of Black voters voted, compared to 78.8% of white voters. And there are 500,000 eligible but unregistered persons of color in the state.

That’s why some Democrats want former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley to run in 2022.

The debate isn’t just over the best candidate. It’s over the best road to victory.

 

Note: The 29 counties mentioned above are Anson, Bertie, Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Duplin, Edgecombe, Franklin, Gates, Granville, Greene, Halifax, Hertford, Hoke, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Pitt, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, Scotland, Tyrrell, Vance, Warren, Washington, Wayne, and Wilson.