When campaign spokesmen speak

In their latest efforts to gain advantage in the US Senate run-off, supporters and spokespeople for Cal and Elaine have dialed up the rhetoric and taken off the gloves. It's happening here at BlueNC and it's happening out "there" in the traditional media. A reader sent me a link to this article, asking what I thought about it.

Three reactions come to mind.

First, I can't imagine that either candidate would knowingly break the law. They are both honorable people. I'm certain Thomas Mills, writer of the letter in question and spokesman for Marshall, cleared the communication with his compliance people, which doesn't necessarily make it right.

Second, Both candidates would be wise to take tighter control of their campaigns. The reported text of Mills' letter to Cunningham supporters strikes me as divisive, though I haven't seen the letter in its entirety.

"Mr. Cunningham built an impressive campaign," Mills writes. "However, as I said, he has no credible path to victory in the runoff. Sec. Marshall will be the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina."

I have the same sentiments about the reported response of Jared Leopold, spokesman for Cunningham:

"These tactics raise serious questions about improper use of a candidate's public filings," said Jared Leopold, Cunningham's chief spokesman. "It's a shame that a 14-year statewide officeholder like Elaine Marshall would stoop to this."

Third, if both candidates are trying to suppress voter interest and turn out in the run-off, they're doing a good job.

I don't know the details of election law, but there sure appears to be plenty of ambiguity regarding the use of FEC reports. If Cal wants to accuse Elaine of breaking the law, he should direct his staff to file a formal complaint. Otherwise, this is politics as usual, and not very appealing at that. If Elaine wants to truly unite North Carolina Democrats behind her campaign, she should direct her staff to communicate with respect and grace to the good Democrats who support her opponent.


Here's the litmus test I'd use

for dealing with intra-party friends. If you wouldn't say it to a person's face, don't say it at all.

Now with regard to dealing with Republicans and teh baggers, all bets are off. In that case we're dealing with people who are dedicated to destroying much of what progressives stand for. That's more like war.

the problem with that

The problem with that litmus is that over the course of the campaign relationships are strained to the point where what one might say to a friend's face has changed considerably. One Cunningham staffer told me point blank in January that if I couldn't support his campaign he felt he needed to terminate our three year friendship (he said it quite differently). The DSCC pours fuel on that fire by signaling to campaign workers that their careers are better served by supporting or working for Cunningham - all the more so because the claim is likely true.

If we were face to face,

I would probably say:

"Look Jerimee, the next time you try to get me in front of a tv camera, make sure the wardrobe, makeup and hair people are in attendence. If you look up the word 'homely' in the dictionary, it shows my picture over in the margin."


Elaborate please

This is from your post, James

"people who are dedicated to destroying much of what progressives stand for. "

What is it that progressives stand for? Is it different from what the NCDP stands for? Is is different from what "liberals" stand for? I think this is a legitimate question and needs to have a response, if you have one.

Do not take this question as being from someone that is against beliefs from the left. We have liberals and we have progressives and we have democrats. What separates these labeled people?

The differences are subtle

The differences are subtle and highly individual. I can speak only for myself.

I think of progressives as less ideological than liberals, more focused on what works than on philosophical positioning. That might be just me, but it seems to be a common thread among many people I know who call themselves progressives. Not all, but many.

One of the few ideological pillars of progressives, in my view, is transparency. The old-school approach to politics - back room deals, cronyism, back scratching, etc., has no place in progressive government. Liberals and conservatives are equally guilty of playing power politics. Progressives generally don't have enough votes to operate that way. They have to be persuasive, focused on the merits of ideas, not on posturing.

The Democratic party in North Carolina has little to do with either the progressive or liberal label, the Republican party even less so.

At the core of "finding what works" for me is mindfulness about the common good. It's clear that liberal and conservative approaches have failed on that front, both sides entrenched in ideological battles, defending their respective beliefs in the face of mountains of evidence that their beliefs don't deliver the desired value. Public education is a good example of where the traditional left-right divide has collapsed on itself, in my opinion.

Many of the progressives I know come out of the business community. I, for example, am a business man, having started and run several successful companies over the past thirty years. I think I have a good feel for the limits of a business-minded approach, as well as an appreciation for what government can do. That's one reason I write so often about the importance of innovation, of connecting dots across disparate fields and functions, of learning what works in one arena and applying it experimentally in another. I call it measured innovation, and it's the only way I know to move forward on intractable problems.

The free market fundamentalists (Libertarian, Republican and Baggers) start from an ideological position and force fit solutions that fit their fantasy view of what should be. Hard core leftists tend to have the same response, mistrusting business at every turn. Progressives like me lean left, but are wide open to finding common ground through public private partnerships, entrepreneurial government, equitable distribution of resources, and such.

Far smarter people have written volumes on the topic, and I've read more of their ideas than I probably should have. My takeaway is that labels are useful in that they help us find other people who may share our general view of how to approach the world. For me, the most fitting label is "progressive." My fall back is "independent Democrat." My fall back after that is "just another guy with an opinion."

Happy weekend.


I have more than a little difficulty making sense of your signature line about what's best for America being what's best for the world. Sometimes it strikes me as intellectually interesting, but mostly it feels paternalistic and arrogant, conjuring up the disastrous global impacts our culture has had on the environment, on indigenous peoples, on public health, and on morality.

I see your point

Thank you for your "subtle differnces" post.

I see your point on that signature line. It was mostly meant to mean that if America's economy and people are prosperous it seems most of the other countries in the world are better off. I guess that does sound arrogant. I have removed it.

While I agree that the use of

While I agree that the use of the word progressive is highly personal and can mean different things to different people, I would still consider myself a Liberal while agreeing with those who consider themselves progressives. A Liberal is a follower of liberal ideas, like voting and civil liberties and against illiberal ideas like DADT. Alan Wolfe in his book The Future of Liberalism argues that the word progressive is essentially a PR move replacing the word Liberal. He argues that we should champion the word Liberal.

I would urge the distinction between liberals and Democrats who do not always act in the best interest of liberalism. Now they may be further to the left but that doesn't necessarily mean they are liberals. Leaders who were really far left or anywhere in the spectrum have acted illiberally in the past and continue to do so.

I would also argue that liberalism works. I'm not talking about classic liberalism or neo-liberalism, I'm talking about 20th century Liberalism. Liberalism gives us SCHIP, it gives us Pell Grants, it gives us medicaid and medicare, social security, and free primary education.

Calling oneself a progressive is more than ok, but denouncing liberalism because people who are considered liberals don't always act as true liberals is a misstep.

This logical disconnect:

Mills, who signed the letter to Cunningham supporters, noted that the letter did not solicit money.

"I checked with my compliance people and they said 'You are fine,'" Mills said. "We just want to reach out to good Democrats and begin uniting behind the likely nominee for the U.S. Senate in the fight against Richard Burr and to prevent folks from throwing good money after bad."

is just one more example of why Mills should have been cut from the team a long time ago.

This letter is all about money, and everybody knows it. Claiming otherwise and barely squeaking by an FEC rule is not going to "unite" supporters behind Elaine, it's going to make them want to wash their hands in disgust.

glass houses

Cunningham's campaign has actual FEC irregularities in their own campaign to worry about. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

There was a time when Cunningham supporters talked about how Cunningham was a progressive. That time has passed.

There was a time when Cunningham's campaign said the most important thing to them was beating Senator Burr. That time has passed.

There was a time when Cunningham supporters talked a lot about civility and running a clean campaign. That time has passed.

There was a time Cunningham's campaign claimed it wanted to debate about ideas. And that time too has passed.

Thomas' Letter

Much ado has made of the content of this letter, so I figured it was worth making sure everyone knows what is in it. As solid Democrats, committed to beating Burr, Thomas wanted to share our perspective on the race and the runoff. His analysis led him to believe that Cunningham does not have a viable path to victory in the race. We didn't want Democrats to waste time beating each other up in a prolonged runoff, when the real enemy was Burr.

To this day, no one from his campaign has refuted that claim instead focusing on non-existent FEC violations and attacking Elaine's record.

The letter is very bland, and simply an analysis of the race with no ask for donations which is why it does not violate FEC law. The outrage is quite fake.

Here is the letter for reference:

Dear Friend,

First, I want to applaud your involvement in the political process. Vigorous support of candidates for office keeps our country strong and our democracy working. I hope you will stay involved.

Last Tuesday, the democratic process played out in the Democratic primary for U. S. Senate in our state. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall led a field of strong candidates that highlights the strength, depth and diversity of the Democratic Party.

Even though she did not reach the 40% threshold to avoid a runoff, Sec. Marshall’s victory was decisive and overwhelming. While Cal Cunningham has every right to call for a second primary, Elaine Marshall will be the nominee. Mr. Cunningham has no credible path to victory. The primary results show why.

  • Sec. Marshall won 74 of the state’s 100 counties.
  • She placed second in the 26 counties she did not win and finished ahead of Mr. Cunningham in the five counties won by Mr. Lewis and Mr. Williams.
  • She won 9 of the ten media markets in the state despite being out spent 3-1 on television. She led by over 10% in the primary’s three largest markets.
  • Sec. Marshall won counties in every region of the state, from the coast to the mountains while Mr. Cunningham’s victories were mostly concentrated in a block of counties around his former state legislative district.
  • Her victory in eastern North Carolina amounted to a virtual sweep.
  • While Mr. Lewis won Durham, Sec. Marshall solidly captured the rest of the Triangle, Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville, Greenville, New Bern and Fayetteville.
  • From Fort Bragg to Camp Lejune, she won every county that is home to a military base.

In the runoff election, Mr. Cunningham has very little to build upon. Sec. Marshall’s fundraising has taken off since her victory. She will have the resources to compete in every medium and has a stronger, broader base to build upon. In addition, the runoff electorate will skew even more toward Sec. Marshall. About 30% of the electorate will be African-American, a population in which she overwhelmingly defeated Mr. Cunningham, and almost 50% will be women over 50 years old, Sec. Marshall’s base.

With your support, Mr. Cunningham built an impressive campaign. However, as I said, he has no credible path to victory in the runoff. Sec. Marshall will be the Democratic nominee for U. S. Senate in North Carolina. I invite you to join our campaign so we can begin the process of defeating Richard Burr in November.


Thomas Mills, General Consultant
The Elaine Marshall Committee

This isn't news

The N&O got played, pure and simple. This letter isn't news. Honestly, I don't think there's been any real news about this race since the runoff, except for PPP's poll ... and polling a runoff is always hard to do.

Cunningham's campaign has resorted to calling for debates, cutting staff, and trying to manufacture negative attacks out of nothing ... all while shooting for lower fundraising goals than Marshall. This combination is always - ALWAYS - indicative of a losing campaign. If you're doing everything that a losing campaign does, can you be in the race for a reason other than spite?

I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero—that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth and justice. - Bill Hicks


But you gotta do what you gotta do. I'm just hoping nothing happens that burns bridges and makes it difficult to rally on June 23rd. No rest for the weary and no time to waste.


That letter while no it didn't directly ask for money so isn't a FEC violation from what I understand from the reporting around it, is still super smug.

No credible path to victory, what do you guys mean by credible. It just to me has this air of superiority which is very off putting. I would be upset if I got a letter like that, as I'm sure any Elaine supporter would be if the roles were reversed. It was a silly move, and Cal's grandmother? Obviously not a very well thought out one at that.

Though I didn't give much at all to the Cal campaign so I wasn't an obvious target of that letter...was I?


Thanks for this, James...as I noted in my comment, this tit-for-tat is getting tedious. If it's depressing me, an unflinching liberal who treats voting as something to be celebrated, I can't imagine what it's doing to the average Democrat.

There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of the comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. - Robert F. Kennedy