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."