Monday, December 22, 2014

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NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt's daily look Inside City Hall.

NY1 ItCH: Memo From a Tar Heel Debate

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They play politics differently in North Carolina.

I'm still recovering from attending a Republican debate in the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina, an event that was co-sponsored by NY1's sister stations in the Tarheel State. Putting issues and the candidates to the side for a second, it's important to note that politics MAY actually be beanbag in North Carolina; everyone was exceedingly polite in the hour-long debate with the four leading candidates.

The live audience at Davidson College seemed almost, well, dead. After being warned by moderator Tim Boyum not to applaud or cheer, the GOP faithful actually obeyed his command and sat on their hands until the event was over. After one candidate, Mark Harris, was warned that he went over his allotted time during the first question, he and his three rivals kept to the clock with almost military precision. And the candidates largely played nice – with two of them never even mentioning their rivals by name.

The lack of rancor was particularly surprising because the winner of this eight-person primary faces off against a badly-damaged Democratic incumbent, Kay Hagan, who won office in 2008 when Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket and the incumbent, Elizabeth Dole, was slammed as an out-of-touch carpetbagger.

With Hagan looking like she's in real trouble, the Republicans are pouncing – with Karl Rove's PAC backing Thom Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House, who put on the most polished performance on Tuesday night.

In his way are seven other candidates, including a card-carrying Tea Party member (if they carried cards), Greg Brannon.

Citing portions of the Constitution complete with article number, Brannon sounded like a hyped-up biblical scholar or lawyer who would have been quite comfortable standing in front of Glenn Beck's chalkboard.

Embracing the gold standard, "original intent," and natural law, Brannon is an ally of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. His hope is to keep Tillis from getting 40 percent of the vote in next month's primary, drawing him into a July runoff where turnout could be light and an upset could be engineered by getting heavy turnout with his ideological base.

But even if Hagan is defeated in November, it seems that the Republicans are in danger of becoming the Whig Party as time passes. In the crowded college hall, I spotted only two non-white faces in the entire audience. And the grand ideological split in the debate between Tillis and Brannon centered on whether convicted felons and the mentally-ill should be able to buy guns – an issue that would likely give even most gun-rights advocates a case of the shivers.

It might be fun to talk in an echo chamber for a while but for the GOP to succeed on a national level, party leaders are going to have to come up with an agenda beyond stopping the president. Guns, guts, and glory is fun at a debate – but bringing in the rest of the country into the conversation is ultimately the only way the party will recapture the White House. Meanwhile, I'm glad to see that politics is played a little bit rougher in New York. You can bring the Lightning Round to North Carolina, but the political sparks seem to burn brighter north of the Mason-Dixon line.

ItCH Production Note: The ItCH will be taking a spring break – and will be back on Monday, May 5th. See you on Cinco de Mayo!

Bob Hardt

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