Monday, December 31, 2007

Crunch time in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Like other presidential candidates, Democrat John Edwards of North Carolina has mobilized a small army in the run-up to Thursday's caucuses.

Spokesman Dan Leistikow said the campaign is trying to reach voters in every precinct in each of the state's 99 counties. There are more than 1,000 canvassers and 51 phone banks manned by hundreds of volunteers.

The campaign has 25 field offices, 15 more than in 2004. It has more than 175 paid Iowa staff compared to about 100 four years ago.

Edwards himself has spent 87 days in the state, slightly more than Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York. He's stumped in every county, far more, according to the campaign, than his top rivals.

Edwards' campaign also has a small fleet of all-terrain vehicles ready to get its supporters to the caucuses.

Said spokeswoman Colleen Murray: "In the end it doesn't matter unless you get people out to caucus for you."

Cooter, Edwards and rural voters

SPENCER, Iowa -- Democrat John Edwards has a new traveling companion as he stumps through rural northwest Iowa today -- "Cooter."

Former Georgia Congressman Ben Jones, who played the tow-truck driving "Cooter" on the old "Dukes of Hazard" TV show, joined the campaign for its swing to small towns spaced between the snow-covered fields of this part of the state.

He's part of the campaign's concerted effort to appeal to rural voters, who because of the particular calculus of Thursday's caucuses, could have a disproportionate impact on the outcome.

Here, as at other stops, voters watched a DVD that features Jones and Edwards' rural adviser "Mudcat" Saunders as well as Edwards' parents from Robbins, N.C. It taps into Edwards' background in rural North and South Carolina.

"As we say back home, he ain't got above his raisin'," Jones told about 200 people packed into a community college room.

"We're supposed to be the people's party," he told another audience this morning. "John Edwards understands that. He comes from the heartland."

Elizabeth Edwards sells electability

BOONE, Iowa -- While Democrat John Edwards sticks to his new street fighter stump speech, he's left it to his wife Elizabeth to sell voters on his electability, reaching back to his 1998 Senate victory in North Carolina.

He won in a red state, she tells audiences, and "beat the Jesse Helms machine" in defeating Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth.

Elizabeth Edwards implicitly criticizes 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, who chose her husband as his running mate. But the campaign, she says, didn't compete in "red" states such as North Carolina, Kansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma, not airing a single ad.

Each of those states, she says, has elected a Democratic governor.

"You have no chance to win a football game if you don't show up," she told more than 400 people here. "Every place you give up you give up to Republicans. John won't do that."


On NBC's "Today Show" this morning, John Edwards denied suggestions that his campaign is finished if he doesn't win or show strong in Thursday's caucuses.

"We have great energy and momentum here," he said from a Storm Lake hotel. "And this message (of fighting for the middle-class) will resonate every single place in America."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Edwards: An "epic fight"

CARROLL, Iowa -- Democrat John Edwards, once the sunny populist, continued to cast himself as a combative fighter ready for what he called the "epic fight" against corporate influence.

Four days before Thursday's caucuses, Edwards is appealing to Iowans fed up with "corporate greed." On a sunny Sunday, he rode his bus caravan through western Iowa, drawing around 400 people to the small town of Boone and nearly 300 to a school library in Carroll.

At each stop he railed against corporate profits at Exxon and the influence of drug and insurance companies. "America doesn't belong to them, it belongs to us," he said.

Edwards told Iowa voters that he knows how to fight.

"I grew up in some rough neighborhoods," he said in Boone. "Where I grew up you had to fight to survive." He said his father told him never to start a fight but "never to walk away."

"We have a battle on our hands and better face up to it," he said.


N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is in Iowa campaigning for Edwards. She said she planned to knock on doors to urge voters to caucus for him.

Edwards to pull all-nighter

DES MOINES, Iowa -- John Edwards' campaign calls it a "Marathon for the Middle-Class." It's more like a sprint.

After a two-day swing through northwest Iowa that starts today, on New Year's Day the N.C. Democrat begins a 36-hour race through the state. That includes a midnight visit on Tuesday to the home of supporters in Atlantic, a 2:15 a.m. visit with supporters in Creston and a 5:15 a.m. pancake breakfast with backers in Centerville.

Two hours later, he starts a day-long trek that ends Wednesday night in Des Moines with a rally featuring singer John Mellencamp.

One rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, stepped up his implicit criticism of Edwards over the weekend, saying he had fundamentally changed positions in the last four years.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Donor gives $495K to pro-Edwards effort

WASHINGTON, Iowa -- Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said Saturday he has "absolutely no control" over a $495,000 donation a wealthy philanthropist made to a group that supports him.

News reports said Rachel Mellon gave the gift to the Alliance for a New America, an independent group helping Edwards. The so-called 527 group is not subject to federal campaign financing limits.

The group is spending a reported $1.7 million on radio and TV ads in support of Edwards in Iowa, whose Thursday caucuses kick off the 2008 campaign. The Alliance is headed by former Edwards adviser Nick Baldick. Coordination between such groups and campaigns is against the law.

Rival Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has criticized such efforts to help Edwards and Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

Edwards has made a point of saying he doesn't take money from lobbyists or special interest political action committees. Saturday he repeated his call for the Alliance to stop its ads. Asked if he would push for the return of Mellon's donation, he said, "I have absolutely no control over that."

"I call on them (the Alliance) to stop what they're doing."

As a vice presidential candidate in 2004, Edwards called on President Bush to force a 527 group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to take down ads attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

"Mr. President, the clock is running," Edwards said at the time. "The American people deserve to hear from you. And they deserve to hear from you that these ads will come down."

Friday, December 28, 2007

In a call, Edwards warns Musharraf

TIPTON, Iowa -- Democrat John Edwards Friday detailed more of his conversation with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf hours after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Speaking to about 60 people in a downtown restaurant, Edwards said he called Pakistan's ambassador to the United States shortly after hearing about Bhutto's death. A couple hours later, he said, he got a call from Musharraf, whom he had met several years ago during a visit to Islamabad.

"What I said to him was, number one, this democratization has got to continue," Edwards said he told the president. He also told him to let international investigators in to probe the killing.

Edwards said the U.S. should encourage Pakistani elections, which may be delayed because of Bhutto's assassination. He said America should re-evaluate its aid. News reports have said much of the aid has been spent not to fight extremists but to arm Pakistan for any potential war with its Indian neighbor.

And Edwards found room to criticize President Bush.

"Unlike President Bush, America should not be engaged with Pakistan unilaterally," he said. "This needs to be a multi-lateral approach."

Elizabeth Edwards hits the trail

VINTON, Iowa -- Elizabeth Edwards and her three children flew from Raleigh to snowy Iowa today to join her husband's final push to Thursday's caucuses.

Edwards traveled over snow-packed roads to speak to around 30 people at a nursing home in this tiny town. Her first campaign appearance since before the holidays came in part to show people she's still up to it. Earlier this year she was diagnosed with incurable cancer.

"I think people actually need to see me, that I'm healthy," she told a reporter.

She's undergoing treatment for the cancer and showed a bruise-like spot on her wrist where she's been injected. Other than "a few side effects," she says, she's feeling fine. She didn't seem to lack energy, answering questions in Vinton in her usual quick-paced style.

She called the Iowa campaign a "dogfight" and said she plans to join her husband for the duration. In Vinton, she posed for pictures and handed out autographs.

"She's awesome," said Sonia Kach, 42. "She'd make a wonderful First Lady."

Edwards" "It's close"

WATERLOO, Iowa -- Snow is falling in this corner of Iowa this morning, and several inches are expected before the day's over. It's the corner where Democrat John Edwards is scheduled to campaign today. Yesterday, his "Main Street Express" bus got stuck in the ice in nearby Waverly.

There are six days until Thursday's caucuses, the contests that jump start the presidential race for both parties. A lot of voters -- about a third according to one TV poll -- are still trying to make up their minds. The candidates and their supporters know they have to step it up.

Last night at a Waterloo high school, actor Danny Glover, bleary from a snow-delayed day of travel, mustered enough energy to fire up a crowd for Edwards, who was fired up himself, railing against "corporate greed" and Washington lobbyists.

Later, as Edwards rode an elevator to his room at the Country Inn and Suites, I told him he'd seemed more pumped up that usual.

It's almost over, he said of the caucus campaign. "And it's close."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bishop: Goodbye but no mea culpa

It’s not often a politician admits he’s not effective. But that’s what Mecklenburg County commissioner Dan Bishop says in explaining why he won’t run again next year.

Bishop, 43, is calling it quits after two terms representing south Charlotte’s District 5. he was part of a Republican minority.

"It’s a good idea for people who have these district seats to move up or out," he says. "And I don’t think I’ve been terribly effective as a member of that board. I’m not saying ‘mea culpa’ really. But the things I’d like to see accomplished I’m not seeing done.

"I’m just saying another Republican might be able to lead Republicans to a majority.’

Plus, he says, four years in politics goes a long way.

"I’ve had a good dose," he says.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

John Edwards: Box office boost?

Al Gore won an Oscar. Will John Edwards?

Edwards' campaign, with a boost from actor and supporter Kevin Bacon, released a video "movie trailer" today in the runup to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.

It features images of corn fields and flags and against a Spielberg-like score, a narrator dramatically invites viewers to watch one man "restore the promise of America."

"On Jan 3 a candidate will rise," he intones. "A party will unite. And a nation will be redeemed. Starring John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards, Cate Edwards and introducing Jack and Emma Claire Edwards."

The campaign calls the trailer "a new organizational tool to drive undecided caucus goers and supporters to the campaign’s Caucus Command Center."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

McCrory inching closer?

For years Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory has said he's keeps the door open to higher office. Today he cracked the door a little further.

In an e-mail to supporters, McCrory disclosed the results of statewide polling he's done on the governor's race. According to him, they showed him beating not only the three Republicans who've been running for months but Democratic candidates as well.

"A strong majority (of voters) believe the state is on the wrong track," he wrote, "indicating the status quo in Raleigh does not reflect the views and values of North Carolinians. Now, I plan to go through a serious decision-making process and self-assessment to help me determine if I should run for governor. Our state has an incredible opportunity for new leadership, but before I make my decision I need and welcome your feedback."

McCrory has until late-February to decide. That's when filing closes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Edwards: "I'm the strongest"

During a conference call with reporters today, John Edwards talked about a new CNN poll that shows him as the only Democratic presidential candidate leading major Republicans in hypothetical match-ups.

The CNN poll showed:

Democrat vs Giuliani; Romney; McCain; Huckabee
Clinton 51-45; 54-43; 48-50; 54-44
Obama 52-45; 54-41; 48-48; 55-40
Edwards 53-44; 59-37; 52-44; 60-35

"We’ll make certain that caucus-goers in Iowa and primary voters in New Hampshire and the other early states are aware of all the evidence ... that I'm the strongest candidate in the general election," Edwards said. "What the CNN poll shows is exactly that."


Illinois Sen. Barack Obama today picked up the endorsement of former S.C. Democratic chairman Joe Erwin.

"People want a change," Erwin said. "And they want a candidate who is not so much about partisanship but about making government work for people."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Is GOP real winner in sheriff's election?

Last night I ran into a lifelong Democrat I've known for years, a Yellow Dog if there ever was. She said she and her husband are thinking about taking a drastic step: changing their registration to independent. The reason is last week's election by Mecklenburg Democrats of Nick Mackey as the new sheriff.

Mackey is the candidate who beat acting Sheriff Chipp Bailey, who was hand-picked by former Sheriff Jim Pendergraph. With the help of a voting system weighted under party rules, Mackey won overwhelmingly.

But just as overwhelming has been the criticism, both of him and the process. Like my acquaintance, a lot of Democrats are among those turned off by Mackey's record. He left the police department a few years ago after being suspended without pay after what sources described as a probe that found he put in for hours he didn't work. He later filed for bankruptcy. Letters to the editor and online message boards are full of criticism.

Before the election took place, Democratic county commissioner Parks Helms proposed a plan that would have stripped the new sheriff -- whoever it was -- of responsibility for jail administration. The idea was roundly shot down. Now Democrats are even less likely to embrace it.

John Minter, a former Observer and Charlotte Post reporter who advised Beverly Earle's mayoral campaign, sent this to commissioners this week:
"Changing the rules in the middle of the game will only reinforce the assumption by many African Americans that 2007 is not much different from 1907, when poll taxes and other ruses often were used to stifle black political influence. Most of you owe your very positions to loyal black support at the polls. The attempt to pull an end run around black voters now will break bonds that have put Democrats in control of local Mecklenburg County and Charlotte City governments. What will be the reward for black voter loyalty?"

Republicans have no base among African American voters. Their candidates for county commissioner in 2008 could run on what would amount to an anti-Mackey platform, pledging to hire a professional jail administrator and strip the sheriff of those duties. That would leave Democrats in what many would consider the uncomfortable position of defending a sheriff whose debut, at least, has been rocky.

Republicans would only need two of three at-large seats to retake the county board.

What do you think?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Oprah envy?

Two days before Oprah Winfrey helps Barack Obama pack Columbia's Williams-Brice Stadium, some of John Edwards' supporters wanted to make one thing clear: Not every black South Carolinian will be in the seats.

"We don't need politicians to do publicity stunts or get notoriety because of a star, we need somebody to come and say what you’re going to do about our educational systems and our seniors," Spartanburg City Council member Linda Dogan said today.

Dogan made the comments during a conference call the Edwards' campaign set up with reporters and a half-dozen black supporters.

A campaign spokeswoman said the timing was unrelated to the Obama-Oprah event, or to Democrat Hillary Clinton's endorsement last week by representatives of 50 black church groups in Spartanburg.

"We hope people are going to vote for John Edwards' policies over Barack Obama's celebrity friends," said spokewoman Teresa Wells.

But California labor leader Tyrone Freeman, who was also on the campaign's call, had a different take.

"Let's be very honest," he told reporters. "You all are the reason for the timing because you've given unjust coverage of what's happening. All of us here would do this call every week if we could get your attention and time. It's only now we could get your attention because of the Oprah phenomenon."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Moore poaching McCrory's turf?

Some blue-chip contributors are raising money for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Moore, right in the backyard of a possible rival.

Moore is holding a fundraiser Monday in Charlotte's Myers Park neighborhood. That's not far from the home of Republican Mayor Pat McCrory, who's apparently weighing his options for a gubernatorial race.

The list of hosts for the fundraiser includes at least a half-dozen McCrory contributors including banker Amy Brinkley, investor Nelson Schwab and businessman Tom Nelson.

Whether or not McCrory runs, the fundraiser could be bad news for the three Republicans already in the race and hoping to tap Charlotte money.
The list includes people known more for contributing to Republicans than Democrats.

Among them: attorney Russell Robinson, retired bankers Cliff Cameron and Hugh McColl Jr., philanthropist C.D. Spangler and businessmen Chuck Hood, Rusty Goode and Charlie Shelton. For good measure, Moore's also lined up Charlotte Bobcats owner Bob Johnson.

His campaign hopes to raise at least $100,000.

Moore is running against Democrat Beverly Perdue in the primary.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Edwards digs Hillary's 'plants'

Democrat John Edwards has launched a new Web site that takes digs at questions planted for rival Hillary Clinton by her campaign.

The site, called plantsfor, mocks the questions that were planted for Clinton at at least two appearances by the New York senator. It features a photo of an oversized potted plant and instructions labeled "Spotting a Hillary Plant: A Field Guide."

The "guide" includes tips such as, "Questions begin 'what is your superfantastic solution to'..." and "You see folks carrying a small binder of 'Safe and Approved Questions for Hillary.'"

Edwards' aides say the site is tongue-in-cheek. But it's the campaign's first Web site to go after a rival Democrat and continues Edwards' drumbeat of criticism on Clinton.

Clinton's S.C. spokesman Zac Wright said the campaign won't "deign to comment" on the site.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Edwards: Stretching presidential power?

When it comes to health care, John Edwards is promising to play hardball with members of Congress. The problem is, they might not play.

The former N.C. senator launched a new ad Tuesday in Iowa, where he's locked in battle with Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama with barely seven weeks to go before the state's crucial caucuses.

“When I’m president," he says in the ad, "I’m going to say to members of Congress and members of my administration, including my Cabinet: I’m glad that you have health care coverage and your family has health care coverage. But if you don’t pass universal health care by July of 2009 — in six months — I’m going to use my power as president to take your health care away from you. There’s no excuse for politicians in Washington having health care when you don’t have health care."

Clinton's campaign called the proposal "unconstitutional."

"That's not the way we're going to get universal health care in America," spokesman Phil Singer said. "We'll get universal health care by electing someone who has the strength and experience to actually get it done -- Hillary Clinton."

Edwards' campaign, which has been upping its attacks on Clinton, gleefully responded by saying, "she defends health care for politicians while millions of Americans and their families go without care."

But how would Edwards take away congressional health care? After all, he can't do it by executive order.

A spokesman said a President Edwards would have legislation introduced and, in effect, dare Congress not to pass it.

"If any member of Congress wants to argue that they should have health care while the American people don't, he should find a new line of work," said spokesman Eric Schultz. "When he’s president, John Edwards is going to demand accountability from Congress and he’s going to get it."

As for the constitutionality, Schultz cited the opinion of University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, an Obama adviser quoted in a Politico blog.

"If legislation is introduced and Congress enacts it, that's fine,"
Schultz quoted Sunstein saying.

But Sunstein went on to call the Edwards' plan "a stunt."

"Congress isn’t going to enact legislation taking away its own health care," he said.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Charlotte mayors' statewide: 0-6

If Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory runs for statewide office, he'd try to do something none of his four predecessors did - win.

McCrory, who was just re-elected Tuesday to a seventh term, says he's keeping the doors open to a statewide run. But every Charlottte mayor for the last three decades has walked through that door, only to have it slam in their face. Some more than once.

Success in Charlotte doesn't necesarily translate across North Carolina, as these mayors found out.

Richard Vinroot, 1991-95
He lost a 1996 Republican gubernatorial primary to Robin Hayes. He won the 2000 nomination but lost to Democrat Mike Easley.

Sue Myrick, 1987-91
She lost the GOP’s 1992 U.S. Senate primary to Lauch Faircloth. Elected to the U.S. House in 1994.

Harvey Gantt, 1983-87
He won Democratic Senate nomination twice, in 1990 and 1996. He lost twice to Republican Sen. Jesse Helms.

Eddie Knox, 1979-83
He lost the 1984 Democratic gubernatorial primary to Rufus Edmisten. Edmisten, by the way, went on to lose to Republican Jim Martin.

Martin, who, though not a mayor, had been a Mecklenburg County commissioner. But he claimed his lake house made him an Iredell County resident.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Edwards rips Clinton on YouTube

John Edwards began running his first ad on TV stations in Iowa this week. It's called "Heroes" and pays homage to working Americans. It doesn't mention any of his rivals.

Not so with another ad that also began this week. It's called "The Politics of Parsing" and takes direct aim at New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. It airs solely on YouTube.

The second ad splices pictures of Clinton from Tuesday's debate in Philadelphia giving seemingly contradictory answers to questions about Iraq, Social Security and immigration. To underscore the point, the "Blue Danube" waltz plays in the background.

Like other candidates, Edwards has used YouTube videos before to showcase an ad. But this is the first one that's offered direct criticism of a Democratic rival. It continues a drumbeat he began even during the debate of accusing Clinton of "double-talk."

Edwards' ad is a response to one Clinton's campaign posted YouTube ad after the debate. It's called "The Politics of Pile On."

"Four years ago, John Edwards told voters that if they wanted someone to attack other Democrats, he wasn't their guy," Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee said Saturday. "As his poll numbers continue to slip, he's unfortunately become that guy."

As of Saturday, Edwards' video had already been viewed more than 143,000 times. That's not bad reach for an ad that's essentially free to produce and post.

"Those aren't 143,000 people in Iowa or New Hampshire," says Andrew Taylor, a political scientist at N.C. State. "But it's still a pretty cost-effective way of getting a message across."

Edwards' spokeswoman Colleen Murray said YouTube offers "an innovative and immediate way to communicate our message."

"In this case, it immediately showed voters that this wasn't about the 'politics of pile-on,'" she said. "It was about Senator Clinton practicing the 'politics of parsing.'"

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bush challenger takes on Myrick

During an appearance in Charlotte 18 months ago, President Bush may have regretted calling on a man who'd raised his hand in the balcony at Central Piedmont Community College.

"I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened, by my leadership in Washington, including the presidency," Harry Taylor told the president. "And I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself."

Taylor's public scolding of the president made news around the world. It brought him interviews on network news shows and made him a darling of the liberal blogosphere. He prompted one blog called simply:

Now the Charlotte businessman plans to run for Congress against Republican Rep. Sue Myrick.

Taylor's formal announcement is scheduled for mid-November. But a message from him is posted on the Democratic Web site BlueNC.

"I am not a politician, nor have I ever sought to become one," he writes. "But now, I am so seriously concerned about what is happening to our beloved America, I have decided to run for the U.S. Congress.
We face a very divisive partisan incumbent who has been a rubber stamp for Bush's policies on such issues as Iraq and children's health care. Success will take enormous effort, and I cannot do it alone. Simply and honestly, I need your help!"

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pendergraph for Congress?

Will outgoing Mecklenburg County Sheriff Jim Pendergraph run for Congress? As a Republican?

He’s keeping that option open.

Pendergraph, a lifelong Democrat, is leaving his post for a job in Washington with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He got a pair of surprise send-offs from local Democrats. County commissioner Parks Helms proposed letting an administrator – not the sheriff – run the county’s jails.

And Democrats who oppose Pendergraph’s program of deporting jailed illegal immigrants balked at endorsing his hand-picked successor.

Pendergraph calls himself an "ultra-conservative Democrat." He’s voted for Jesse Helms and Sue Myrick. He won’t say whether he voted for George W. Bush. So it’s little surprise that Republicans have asked him to switch.

"They’ve worn me out," he says.
There’s been talk about Pendergraph switching parties and running for Myrick’s congressional seat.

"I never say never," he says, "because 15 years ago people asked me about running for sheriff and I said ‘That was crazy.’ I’m gonna leave that open. I’m certainly interested ... but I’m more interested in this new opportunity I have taken. And that’s where my attention is going to be totally."
Myrick, 66, is expected to run again next year. After that, who knows? Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and state Sen. Robert Pittenger could both be interested. That doesn’t bother Pendergraph.

"I’ll let them worry about that," he says. "If I jumped in on something like that, I’d have to be pretty confident I could (win) and I’m not ready to do that. But I keep all options open."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Luntz sounds off on Edwards and more

Frank Luntz, the Fox News pundit and Republican pollster who helped invent the Contract with America and the term "death tax," sat down with us Tuesday night before speaking to a Novello audience at Imaginon. He talked about the presidential race and problems Republicans face. Here's an edited version.

So who's the Democratic nominee?
"Hillary Clinton. She is the most disciplined candidate I have ever seen. She has the right answer for the right question every time. You could cook a minute egg or listen to the Minute Waltz based on her response to a typical debate question. She stops at 59 seconds every single time. She is so well trained. It’s almost inhuman. She’s a machine."

And the Republican?
"Rudy Giuliani. I’m less sure about that one and I do believe the Republican race is up for grabs. I believe Mitt Romney wins Iowa New Hampshire and Michigan... South Carolina is make or break for Fred Thompson. You cannot discount Romney. You cannot discount Thompson. Rudy is raising a lot more money than Romney is. Romney’s money is coming from Mitt Romney. Rudy has a better name ID and most importantly, voters think Rudy Giuliani is the best candidate to defeat Hillary Clinton."

Who would be the toughest Democrat for Republicans to beat?
"Joe Biden or Bill Richardson. Biden because he is the smartest Democratic candidate running, and Bill Richardson because he’s got by far the best resume of any Democrat running. But neither of them have gotten traction."

Which Democrat fades first?
"John Edwards. Sorry Mr. Edwards, but you can’t claim you care about poverty when you get a $400 haircut. He’s got the smartest team around him. Joe (Trippi), Paul (Blank) and Chris (Kofinis) are the single most talented operatives on the Democratic side. They just picked the wrong horse."

What about Elizabeth Edwards?
"Elizabeth Edwards is the best First Lady candidate by far. When I would do my focus groups in Iowa, they would tell me how she would be at these cookouts and making the food and talking politics and engaging in personal discussions all at the same time. She would hand you a burger and talk about the war in Iraq and still get the mustard and ketchup on perfectly. She’s better than he is. She should be the candidate."

And Obama?
"I'm a big Obama fan. I think Obama’s non-partisan, non hostile, non-negative message is exactly what America needs right now. John Edwards goes after corporate America. Hillary Clinton loves to attack the so called vast right-wing conspiracy. Obama would have none of that, rejects that style of politics. He would rather bring people together than tear people apart. And with this country so divided along partisan lines, I hope he does well."

How badly will the war hurt Republicans next year?
"It's not the war that's hurting Republicans so much as Katrina. Democrats have tried to take advantage of the war (but) the American people have seen what the Democrats have proposed and realize they're playing politics.

"The failure for the GOP goes back to Katrina. Republicans were always the party of competence. You may have thought they lacked compassion. You may have thought they lacked kindness and caring. But you always knew that they could do the job well. You did not choose Republicans to be abysmal failures in New Orleans.

"There's more -- wasteful Washington spending. The 'Bridge to Nowhere' was singly the most destructive vote for Republican congressional candidates in 2006. But that's not all. You also have the disaster that is immigration: Latinos who think Republicans are bigoted against them and conservatives who think Republicans won’t protect the borders. You're losing on both sides. Add the war to that and you’ll understand why I'm very pessimistic about Republican hopes."

How will Stephen Colbert do in the S.C. primaries?
"Archie Bunker got some votes when he ran in 1972. Pat Paulsen ran in 1968. Will Rogers was a political player in the 1930's. Colbert is one of the smartest political humorists, if not the smartest, and he will attract some voters. Usually the people who vote for people like him are younger, and younger people tend not to vote in primaries."

Can Hillary win?
"Absolutely. She can win because of her success. She is most likely to win because of Republican failures.

"Right now the Democrats have a 13 point edge over Republicans in generic ballots. And she’s beating Giuliani by only two points. What happened to those other 11 points? They want to vote for a Democrat but they don’t want to vote for her."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rudy's NASCAR caravan

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's NASCAR caravan is pulling into Charlotte next month.

Giuliani will attend a Nov. 7 fundraiser hosted by NASCAR chief executive Brian France. Organizers say the event will be at a private home; they won't say whose.

NASCAR types have been big supporters of the Republican presidential candidate. Contributors include drivers Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears, who all gave him $2,300 during the last quarter. They all drive for Hendrick Motorsports, whose head, Rick Hendrick, also contributed.

Jim Culbertson, a Winston-Salem Republican chairing Giuliani's campaign in North Carolina, said the event could raise $200,000.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Primaries pushing forward again?

Guess we know how the presidential candidates will be spending the holidays this year.

The State newspaper of Columbia reports this morning that South Carolina Democrats want to move their primary from Jan. 29 to the 19th. That would put them on the same day as S.C. Republicans, and 10 days ahead of the Florida primaries.

Joe Werner, executive director of the state party, said Thursday the party expects to ask for the change. "We've talked to some folks at the DNC but we have no assurances," Warner said.

Any S.C. move may not be the last change in the ever-changing primary line-up.

The State, quoting other news reports, said the calendar could look like this:

-- Iowa's caucuses could be Jan. 5 instead of the 12th.
-- New Hampshire’s primary could be Jan. 8. Now, it's not scheduled until the dust settles in other states' schedules.
-- Nevada’s caucuses could be Jan. 12. They're now set for the 19th.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Joe, Jesse and 'Stromboli'

Democratic Sen. Joe Biden had just wrapped up a campaign appearance in Rock Hill Monday when he walked over to introduce himself. When I told him I worked for the Observer, his smile turned serious.

"How's Jesse?" he asked.

You might not think Biden, a moderate-liberal Democrat, would have much in common with the conservative Helms. But over a 30-year Senate career, he counted not only Helms but Sen. Strom Thurmond among his good friends. And not just in the bloviated Congressional sense.

Speaking at York County Democratic headquarters, Biden spoke warmly about his friendship with former Sen. Fritz Hollings and said he "learned an awful lot from that other fellow, 'Stromboli'."

So close were Biden and Thurmond -- a one-time segregationist -- that Thurmond's family asked him to give a eulogy at the senator's 2003 funeral.
In it, Biden said Thurmond, "saw his beloved South Carolina, and the people of South Carolina, changing ... And he knew the time had come to change himself."

Biden's first impression of Helms was not a good one. Shortly after they both were elected in 1972, he listened to Helms deliver a speech with which he disagreed completely. Soon he found himself fulminating about Helms to Senate Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana.

"'What would you say if I told you Dot (Helms) and Jesse adopted a young man?'" Biden recalled Mansfield saying. The senator went on to explain how the Helmses had adopted a 9-year-old boy with cerebral palsy.

"He said, 'You know Joe, if I can give you a piece of advice.' He said, ‘It's always appropriate to question a man or woman's judgment.' But he said, "You shouldn't question their motives. Everyone who comes here comes here because people in their state found something about them they felt was redeeming. Your job is to find out what that characteristic is.'

"It was profound and it literally changed my whole attitude. If you go back and check my 34 years, you have never ever heard me once question the motive of any senator. Jesse and I were bitter political enemies but personal friends.... It taught me hell of a lesson."

(Helms, by the way, suffers from a form of dementia and lives in an assisted living facility in Raleigh. John Dodd, president of the Jesse Helms Center, said Helms is "doing OK." He turns 86 this month.)


Biden may not be the rock star in the Democratic field, but he was greeted like one Monday by a group of 8th graders from Charlotte's Alexander Graham Middle School.

The group went to see Biden for a class project on the election. They greeted his arrival with shouts and he dived into their group for handshakes and pictures.

"Just remember one very important thing," he told them. "No dating 'til you're 30."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Got a question for Biden or Obama?

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will be in Rock Hill Monday meeting with York County Democrats. Barack Obama will visit the city Saturday the 6th. We hope to have the chance to ask them a couple questions.

So, if you could sit down with either one, what would you ask?

Let us know and we'll try to ask your question. Here's what I'd ask you to do. Whether you leave it here here as a comment or email me, let us know your name, where you live and how we can get a picture of you to run.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

With help like this....

Give Alan Teitleman credit. At least he's subtle.

Teitleman is a young Republican from Mint Hill who this week announced that he'll challenge GOP Rep. Jim Gulley in next year's primary. Gulley, 68, is from Matthews. So along with his announcement, Teitleman sent some pictures of Gulley.

"I've been told that you may be missing some recent photos of Jim," he said in an email. "Feel free to use at your pleasure."

The pictures weren't all unflattering. They didn't all look like the one above.

Teitleman also has edited Gulley's Wikipedia entry to include a paragraph about his own campaign as well as a link to his Web site. Gulley says he's gone in there and erased Teitleman's additions several times, only to see them added back the next day.

Says Gulley: "It's so early. Why are we starting now? They’re still running the municipal elections."


And get ready for more wild and crazy legislative races.

Former Mecklenburg County commissioner Lloyd Scher launched a Web site this week in his bid to take on state Rep. Tricia Cotham in next year's District 100 Democratic primary.

And on the Republican side, former state Sen. Bob Rucho said he's leaning toward a race against incumbent Sen. Robert Pittenger in their southeast Mecklenburg district.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Coast clears for Kissell

Two years ago, Larry Kissell didn't get much respect in his bid for Congress.

He's the Montgomery County teacher who ran in the 8th District against Concord Republican Rep. Robin Hayes. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee all but ignored him, instead steering money and support to an Iraq War veteran named Tim Dunn, who unexpectedly dropped out before the primary.

So Kissell won but ran an under-funded campaign through the fall. Only very late did the DCCC send in some help. But not enough. Kissell lost to Hayes by 329 votes.

This time the DCCC is trying to make it up to him. They held a Washington fundraiser that helped him retire $60,000 in debts. They've scheduled another in Washington next week. And they got former Ambassador Joseph Wilson -- husband of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame -- to come down for a Saturday fundraiser for Kissell in uptown Charlotte.

It's Kissell's lucky week. Today, state Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat who had been considering the race, announced he would instead run for re-election to the legislature.

"It really doesn't change a lot for us," says Kissell spokesman Steve Hudson. "We've been running really hard raising money before the end of the quarter."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Edwards and the Fox web

A few months ago, John Edwards helped spearhead a Democratic boycott of two presidential debates set to be broadcast by Fox News. He also criticized News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch's effort to buy the Wall Street Journal. Later he criticized rival Hillary Clinton for accepting $20,000 in contributions from News Corp. executives.

But like other huge companies with multiple subsidiaries, the Murdoch empire isn't easily denied.

Last month, Edwards caught flak after news leaked that he'd signed a $900,000 contract with Murdoch's publishing company, HarperCollins, for his book, "Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives." The news was leaked to the Murdoch-owned New York Post, which reported it under the headline: "EDWARDS IN A BIZ HATE & $WITCH."

On Wednesday, MTV and MySpace announced that its first "Presidential Candidate Dialogue" will feature Edwards. On Sept. 27, from the campus of Dartmouth University in New Hampshire, he'll answer questions submitted through MySpaceIM and During the hour-long program, people can electronically register their opinion of Edwards' answers in real time.

The Murdoch connection? MySpace is part of Fox Interactive Media.

Says Edwards' spokeswoman Colleen Murray: “Like most Americans, Edwards opposes media consolidation and the biased and unfair manner of Fox News, not social networking sites like MySpace.”

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Who's in, who's out? NC's '08 races

Democratic state Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro this week became the latest Democrat to announce that she's considering a challenge to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole. So maybe it's a good time to sort through some of the state's bigger races. If I miss anybody, let me know.

U.S. Senate
IN -- Republican Elizabeth Dole, Salisbury
OUT -- Democrat Brad Miller, Raleigh
OUT -- Democrat David Kirby, Raleigh
OUT -- Democrats Mike and Mary Easley, Southport
OUT -- Democrat Roy Cooper, Rocky Mount
MAYBE -- Democrat Kay Hagan, Greensboro
MAYBE -- Democrat Grier Martin, Raleigh

IN -- Democrat Beverly Perdue, Chapel Hill
IN -- Democrat Richard Moore, Oxford
IN -- Republican Fred Smith, Clayton
IN -- Republican Robert Orr, Yancey County
IN -- Republican Bill Graham, Salisbury

Lt. Governor
IN -- Democrat Walter Dalton, Rutherfordton
IN -- Democrat Hampton Dellinger, Raleigh
IN -- Democrat Dan Besse, Winston-Salem
IN -- Democrat Pat Smathers, mayor of Canton.
MAYBE -- Republican Jim Snyder, Lexington

Attorney General
IN -- Democrat Roy Cooper, Raleigh
IN -- Republican Bob Crumley, Greensboro

IN -- Republican Bill Daughtridge, Rocky Mount
IN -- Republican Dale Folwell, Winston-Salem
IN -- Democrat Janet Cowell, Raleigh
IN -- Democrat Michael Weisel, Raleigh
IN -- Democrat Chris Mintz, Raleigh

Labor commissioner
IN -- Republican Cherie Berry, Newton
OUT -- Democrat Wayne Goodwin, Rockingham

8th District Congress
IN -- Republican Robin Hayes, Concord
IN -- Democrat Larry Kissell, Biscoe
MAYBE -- Democrat Rick Glazier, Fayetteville

9th District Congress
IN -- Republican Sue Myrick, Charlotte

12th District Congress
IN -- Democrat Mel Watt, Charlotte

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

SC GOP: Thinning the field?

Four months from now, the bloated Republican presidential field could look a lot slimmer. That's because in part of a decision S.C. Republicans expect to make in the not-too-distant future.

Back in May, 10 GOP hopefuls attended the party's debate in Columbia. There were some good one-liners, but as in other early debates, the big field allowed little time to challenge candidates or focus on the big issues. That will change when South Carolina holds its next debate Jan. 10 in Myrtle Beach.

That debate is scheduled nine days before the state's "First in the South" primary on Jan. 19. Party officials plan to winnow the field by setting what chairman Katon Dawson calls "certain thresholds."

Those criteria most likely would entail a candidate attaining a specified level of support in state and national polls. And be assured, it would be higher than the 1% polling the party required of candidates in May. The only one excluded from that debate was Republican John Cox, Chicago businessman who sued Fox News for a place on stage. He lost.

A nationally televised debate with three or four candidates would give those candidates a welcome boost four days before the Iowa caucuses and five days before the S.C. and (as of Tuesday) Michigan primaries. By the same token, any candidate still in the "second tier" but hoping for a last-minute breakthrough would be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Avoid the guy in the stall

Memo to presidential candidates: Be more careful choosing people to help your campaigns.

Or at least check out their police records in Minneapolis.

When news broke this week of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's arrest for lewd behavior in an airport bathroom in Minnesota, few people were probably more embarrassed than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who had made Craig co-chairman of his Idaho campaign. Romney may have cut his ties, but the senator's videotaped endorsement will linger on YouTube.

Romney isn't the only candidate to get red-faced by an ally.

In South Carolina, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's state chairman, state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, was indicted on federal cocaine charges in June.

And Florida Rep. Bob Allen, co-chairman of Arizona Sen. John McCain's campaign in the state, was charged with offering a male undercover officer $20 to perform oral sex in a park. Allen dug himself in deeper when he told police he was intimidated by the undercover officer, who is African American.

He told police he felt intimidated by a "stocky black guy" in the restroom and believed the man and other "stocky black guys" planned to rob him. He said he complied with a request for oral sex to avoid becoming a "statistic." A civil rights group called his comments insensitive.

Republicans aren't the only ones who have been burned.

California businessman Norman Hsu gave over $500,000 to Democrats over the past three years, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

On Wednesday, the L.A. Times reported that Hsu is the same man California authorities have considered a fugitive for 15 years, disappearing after pleading no contest to grand theft and agreeing to serve three years in prison.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

McCain's Mea Culpa Express

Fresh off his big win in the 2000 New Hampshire primary, John McCain was fighting hard in South Carolina. A win there might have catapulted him past George W. Bush to the Republican nomination. So he side-stepped one of the state's hottest issues: the Confederate battle flag flying above the capitol in Columbia.

"I don't believe it's the role of someone from outside South Carolina and someone running for president to come into this state and tell the people of South Carolina what to do with their business when it comes to the flag," he said at the time.

"Some say the flag represents slavery. But men fought for it under what they thought was a noble cause. I'd say it stands for heritage and sacrifice."

That was then. This year, McCain is on his Mea Culpa Tour.

In his new book, "Hard Calls," which profiles courageous decisions by people from Harry Truman to Reinhold Niebuhr, he writes about a hard call he didn't make.

"When I ran for president in 2000," he writes, "I took a position I knew to be wrong on a controversial public issue that had a moral component because I thought it might help me win the primary .... In addition to the fact that it did me little political good, it caused me to be ashamed of myself, and it's a little late in life to bear that kind of burden."

McCain has revisited his decision in a series of interviews. Here's what he told 60 Minutes' Scott Pelley:

PELLEY: Let me bring up another issue that surrounded South Carolina in the year 2000. There was a political issue, a local issue about whether the Confederate flag should fly over the capitol. You waffled on that.

SEN. MCCAIN: Yes, worse than waffled.

PELLEY: What do you mean?

SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I said that it was strictly a state issue and clearly knowing that it wasn't.

PELLEY: That's not what you believed in your heart?


PELLEY: What did you believe in your heart?

SEN. MCCAIN: That it was a symbol to many of ... a very offensive symbol to many, many Americans.

PELLEY: Why didn't you say that?

SEN. MCCAIN: I'm sure for all the wrong reasons.

PELLEY: And those wrong reasons would be what, sir?

SEN MCCAIN: For ambition.

McCain said much the same this month on NPR's Morning Edition.

"I'd call it a hard call that I didn't make," he said of the flag issue. "The hard call would have been said: This flag is an affront to people all over America, as well as in South Carolina, and it's not right to be there. I should've made the hard call."

My question: Will McCain's candor about 2000 make a difference in 2008? What do you think?

Friday, August 24, 2007

D.G., Lefty and John

Back in 1961, D.G. Martin was a scrappy guard on Lefty Driesell's Davidson College basketball team. One day they took the court to scrimmage a team of alumni that included a 40-year-old John Belk.

Martin, who went on to a successful career in law (and not-so-successful one in politics) recalled the game in a column he wrote after Belk's death last week at 87.

At the time of the scrimmage, Belk was a already a prominent businessman. He also had been co-captain of the college basketball team. In warm-ups, he wasn't impressive.
"But when the game got started," Martin writes, "Belk showed he was bull-headed and determined to take the ball to the basket, even if he had to run over me to do it. I responded with the most aggressive defense I could muster, arms waving, shouting, and stomping.

"Coach called time out and called me over to the side. 'Hey, D.G., ease up a little bit on John Belk. I don't want you to kill him.' It was the only time I ever heard Coach ask anybody to ease up."

Eventually, the word got back to Belk.

"When I saw Belk again, I went up to reintroduce myself," Martin wrote. "He quickly turned towards me, saying, 'So Lefty told you to ease up on me, huh. I should have known.' But he did not hold it against me or Coach. We were never together that he didn't bring up the story, and he laughed harder and harder each time."

Now, Davidson players take the court in the college's John Belk Arena, named for the man who became the college's biggest benefactor. Martin likes to think that Driesell helped cement Belk's affection for the college.

"While others are remembering and celebrating his 'amazingly effective' service in business and civic life," Martin wrote, "I will be thinking that 'easing up on John Belk' might have been the most important thing I ever did on the basketball court."

To read D.G.'s column, click here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The difference between 2nd and 3rd?

Last week, Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback stopped in Rock Hill and put a positive spin on his 3rd-place showing in this month's Iowa straw poll.
"The winner of the (Iowa) caucuses in the last 20 years has come from out of the top three finishers in the straw poll," he told two-dozen Republicans at a Rock Hill restaurant. Then he headed off to Columbia.
On Monday, rival Mike Huckabee found a different reception in York County.

The former Arkansas governor, who finished second in the straw vote, spoke to an overflow crowd of more than 100 people in York, 60 at a Fort Mill sports bar and later hosted a fundraiser for another 150 at Knights Stadium, where he was to throw out the first pitch.

Huckabee and his supporters credit his Iowa showing with helping boost the turnout in York County. But he clearly had support there before Iowa. Earlier this year he packed a Fort Mill restaurant and finished second in a straw poll at the county convention.
He's had passionate supporters in York County. Now they're confident too.
"If we get our ground game going full steam and get people on board," we'll win South Carolina," said York County supporter Joe St. John.
S.C. Republicans plan to hold the "First in the South" presidential contest next year. It's currently scheduled for Jan. 19.

Monday, August 20, 2007

John Belk and the fountain of knowledge

As an Observer reporter, Susan Jetton covered then-Charlotte Mayor John Belk in the early 1970s. She heard the off-the-cuff remarks that left his listeners laughing or scratching their heads. She compiled a lot of them on her old Royal manual typewriter. The pages have yellowed, but Belk's use of the language -- what she and others called "Belkelese" -- is as fresh, if confounding, as ever. Some examples:

-- "Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle."

-- "You can't be unreasonable about something until you get the facts."

-- "I always get a little mixed up when I have to stop and think."

-- "You don't have to confuse me because I don't know enough about it to be confused."

-- "Charlotte is behind on its future."

-- "We've got a lot of problems. But we're working on 'em. And we're enjoying 'em."

-- "The Lord expects more of Charlotte than of other cities 'cause he tests us so much more."

-- "Public officials live in a glass house and must answer the front door. And you have to be dressed right."

-- "He can answer that better than I can ask the question."

-- "You give me the impression you're educated beyond your ability."

-- "We ought to decide where our problems are and implement our own."

-- (On striking sanitation workers): "They will be persecuted to the fullest extent."

-- (On Charlotte's police department): "(It) has more top-heavy people with longevity than any other department."

-- "If a bullfrog had wings, he wouldn't bump his ass."

**** Got a favorite John Belk story?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Missed opportunities

Charlotte Democrat Beverly Earle has won seven straight elections to the N.C. House. But it's been a long time -- seven years -- since she's been in a competitive race. This week, the rust showed.

Earle, 63, is running for mayor against Republican Pat McCrory. It's her first race outside her district in north and west Charlotte.

When she filed last month, she made a brief statement but then brushed aside questions from reporters. In her first major public appearance as a candidate Thursday, she spoke to more than 60 people at the Uptown Democratic Forum. A friendlier audience would be hard to find.

Earle read a prepared speech that was mainly biographical. Then, answering questions, she passed up several opportunities to expand on her vision and plans for the city. How could Charlotte maintain itself as a world-class city? someone asked. Define world-class, she replied. What were the legal duties of the mayor? somebody else asked. "I can't tell you all the responsibilities," she said, adding that the mayor has to provide leadership and direction.
When thrown a softball by somebody blasting McCrory's leadership, she passed up an opportunity to score an easy point at his expense.

Running for mayor is different than running for a state House seat, especially when most of your elections have been unopposed. In a probable race against a guy who's won the office six times, that's something Earle will be finding out soon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's not about the money (No, really)

Charlotte mayoral candidate Ken Gjertsen doesn't worry about raising money. Maybe that's not unusual for a guy who just saw his war chest jump by 800%.

Gjertsen is challenging Mayor Pat McCrory in the Sept. 11 Republican primary. As he talked about his campaign over a roast beef sandwich at uptown's The Sandwich Club today, the conversation turned to money.

McCrory has more than half a million dollars according to his last report. Gjertsen had $101.99. Since then, that's grown to a grand total of $800. The way he sees it, that's about enough. With a couple dozen volunteers, he's calling voters for what's expected to be a very low turnout primary.

"I think people need to keep their money," he said. "They need it more than I do.... We don't have the resources to run a big retail campaign, so we're not even trying."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

He's not in Kansas anymore

U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback isn't under any illusions. Well, maybe some.

The Kansas Republican brought his campaign to a Rock Hill restaurant Tuesday. It was the same place former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney drew a standing-room crowd, and not far from where voters packed another restaurant to hear former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Brownback drew about two dozen. Some candidates, he said, have no problem getting attention.

"I have to stand naked on top of the Capitol to get on page 15," he said to laughs.

But Brownback also insisted that he's in good shape to win his party's nomination. To him, a third-place finish in last weekend's Iowa straw poll, which some major candidates skipped, was a strong showing.

So he's spending the next couple days stumping in South Carolina, where polls show him stuck at about 1 percent support among Republicans. That's behind almost every other candidate including Huckabee, who finished second in the Iowa straw poll behind Romney.

Brownback's pitch is to social conservatives. But it's hard to out-conservative a conservative Baptist preacher like Huckabee. And it's hard to outspend a multi-millionaire like Romney.

So stuck deep in the "second-tier," Brownback soldiers on.

In Rock Hill he spoke, answered questions and posed for pictures. He's personable with a sense of humor. Asked what he thought of the "Brownback Girl" video making the rounds on the Internet (click here), he threw back his head and laughed. When York County GOP chairman Glenn McCall introduced him by mentioning a couple of his Senate initiatives, Brownback turned to him and said, 'Thanks for noticing those things."

"I'm the tortoise in this race," he said later. "I've got to keep clawing every day."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Following the money

A story in Friday's Observer will show which presidential candidates (aside from John Edwards) fared the best in raising money from the Carolinas last quarter. Hint: One's an Illinois Democrat and the other's a New York Republican.

For a really cool, interactive look at where candidates raised their money from across the country, check out this page from the Federal Election Commission.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Monday's YouDebate

The pack of Democratic presidential candidates comes to Charleston Monday for their second debate in the state this year. And this one should be interesting.

It's sponsored by CNN and YouTube, which is asking its users to submit questions on video. A lot of them are serious, about things like health care and education. And then, there are the others.

Check this one by a guy named pzottolo. He asks:
-- "How do you propose to put the care in health care? And baby-kissing doesn't count."
-- "Are you concerned with how the American president looks to the world? And if so, would you be willing to undergo plastic surgery?"
-- "Will the separation of church and state be more than just the word 'and'?"

Then there are a couple Tennessee country boys who call themselves travisandjonathan. They have a question for John Edwards.

"Tell us how good lookin' do you think you are," they say. "Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10. Don’t be false modest .... Do you think you're better-looking than Barack Obama?"

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Democracy, Iowa style

Pat Minor sat in a sun-drenched park in Anamosa Iowa Saturday, a few feet from John Edwards. It was the third meeting of the day with Iowa voters for the Democratic presidential candidate. But not his first with Pat Minor.

At the gathering of about 150 people, the 55-year-old bookstore clerk asked Edwards whether, as president, he would invite the Palestinians' elected Hamas government to the negotiating table. Not until it recognizes Israel and renounces violence, he replied. Then Edwards complimented his questioner.

"You do a thoughtful job of bringing this up everytime I see you," he said.

Minor has talked to Edwards about the Palestinians four times this year. Earlier this month, she got a chance to ask former President Clinton, campaigning with his wife Hillary. That's how it goes in Iowa. It's an old saw, but a lot of Iowans won't decide who they'll caucus for in January until they can look a candidate in the eye, kicking the tires before they buy.

"It's always up close and personal," said teacher Connie McKean.

With their January caucuses, Iowa voters get the first say on the 2008 presidential race. And they take thier role seriously. Almost 400 showed up to hear Edwards in Fort Dodge Thursday night. Other crowds swelled appearances in smaller towns on Friday and Saturday. Clinton and Obama have drawn even more.

People who show up ask nuanced questions about returning veterans, energy policy, health care and other issues.

"Your voter out here is a savvy voter," said Mike Robinson, chair of the Linn County Democratic Party in Cedar Rapids.

In North Carolina, the presidential race is still an abstract issue for a lot of voters. If candidates pop in at all, it's usually to raise money or change planes. Here, amid the cornfields, politics counts. Voters aren't the only ones who know it.

"You actually get to look us in the eye and judge who deserved to be president of the United States," Edwards said in Anamosa.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Fields of Dreams

Yesterday our three-van caravan sped through north-central Iowa past miles of corn and soybeans. The land is basically flat, which made the steel windmills loom like giant towers on the horizon, their blades turning lazily in the breeze. The wind farms out here are expansive and seem to stretch on forever. Like the corn.

It was probably as fitting a place as any for John Edwards to lay out his latest plan, for "green-collar" jobs. Those would be part of a plan to reduce America's dependence on fossil fuel and create jobs along with a new energy economy. Edwards is doing his part. He rode in a Ford van, not the SUV he routinely drove around in four years ago.

The green economy was the subject of the speech he gave at five stops. It was a short speech. Five minutes and then Q&A. Iowans seem to like that.

The Edwards campaign knows a photo op when they see it. The last stop, just outside Webster City, was smack up against a corn field. Rows of head-high corn stretched out behind Edwards as he spoke to about 150 people just before dusk. Red, white and blue bunting hung over a barbed wire fence between him and the corn. Photographers had a literal field day. If you pose it, they will come.

At one point, there was some rustling in the corn. Edwards seemed startled. "Somebody's walking around in the corn," he said. A photographer pushed her way past the corn, cameras strapped around her neck "I'm glad those are cameras in your hands and not guns," Edwards said.

Edwards has visited Iowa a couple dozen times, and been to almost if not all its 99 counties. I guess that's why he forgot a little of North Carolina's. In Humboldt, a woman prefaced a question telling him she was from North Carolina.

Where, he asked.

New Bern, she said.

New BernCarteret County,” Edwards replied.

New Bern is actually in Craven County.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Dodge city

FORT DODGE, Ia -- We're about to get out of Dodge.

After breakfast, we'll climb into a small press van and follow John Edwards on a day-long swing through north central Iowa. This is an old meat-packing town in the middle of miles and miles of corn. We'll see more corn today.

Last night Edwards spoke at the Fort Dodge library. People began coming in an hour ahead of time and by 7, there were nearly 400 people sitting in seats and leaning against bookshelves. Edwards arrived 25 minutes late. Standing with rolled up sleeves, he spoke for a few minutes about health care and rural America, but devoted most of his time to answering questions.

Iowans take this stuff seriously. There were questions about terrorism, stem cell research and education. Amanda Feeley, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom with three kids in tow, asked Edwards is he would take what she called the “food stamp diet challenge,” and eat on a dollar a day.

“The $400 haircut would have kept my family in groceries for three weeks,” she said. The audience groaned.

The haircut thing won’t go away. And Amanda said she’s leaning toward supporting Edwards.

After the meeting, we came back to the Best Western Starlite Lounge, out on the edge of the prairie. We had a late dinner at Buford’s, the steakhouse in the hotel. Edwards walked in with a blue t-shirt, past a table with reporters and a couple staffers.

“It’s good to see you guys, but I’m not going to eat with you,” he said, heading off to a corner table.