PPP Polls on John Edwards, New York Times, More

RALEIGH – If you’ve ever wondered what your fellow North Carolinians think about John Edwards, the New York Times and judicial oversight, Public Policy Polling has you covered.

In its recent survey of North Carolina voters, PPP found that 67 percent of residents say they would never vote for former Senator John Edwards again. Sen. Edwards, who was once the Democratic party’s Vice Presidential candidate, received backlash after it was revealed that he had a lengthy affair while his wife had cancer.

Jim Williams, a polling analyst with PPP, explains why Sen. Edwards can do so poorly in North Carolina while other scandal-riddled politicians like former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner and former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer can continue their political life.

Williams says that not only do states like New York have a different moral tolerance than North Carolina, but Sen. Edwards himself was held in higher esteem in his home state.

“He was sort of representing North Carolina on a national stage before he had his fall from grace,” Williams says. “I think there’s a certain level of embarrassment among North Carolinians when it comes to John Edwards.”

On the subject of embarrassment, PPP also asked North Carolinians how you feel about the New York Times. While this was not included in the question, the New York Times’ editorial board ran a piece titled “The Decline of North Carolina” on July 9, criticizing the General Assembly.

Williams says that while the survey found an almost even split between people who favored, disfavored and had no opinion on the paper, he says the ideological split the poll found between Democrats who favored it and Republicans who disfavored it is likely no different anywhere else in the country.

“It has a reputation of being favored and enjoyed by liberals and dismissed and disliked by conservatives,” Williams says.

Support among North Carolinians for expanded background checks is at 78 percent. While incredibly high, the level of support for background checks in the state is actually lower than in previous polls, which Williams says is a result of issues dealing with gun control not being in the news lately.

“That’s just simply a function of time passing since a major gun tragedy, a major gun shooting somewhere in the United States,” Williams says. “But it’s still overwhelming support.”

Another issue that a majority of North Carolinians stand together on at 52 percent is the Supreme Court overturning Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, with majority displeasure across party lines. Williams says this support for the VRA comes from its storied history.

“People see it as a cornerstone of the Civil Rights movement and you’re not going to see too many people say they don’t agree with what the Civil Rights movement was trying to do,” Williams says.

Congress is currently taking up Section Five of the Voting Rights Act and seeing if it can be re-written to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision, but Williams says that, with the level of discord in both the House and Senate, it’s unlikely that it will get passed any time soon.


Cate Edwards On Today: “He’s My Dad, And I Love Him”

NEW YORK – For the first time since Cate Edwards followed her father to a  courthouse in Greensboro every day for six weeks, she spoke out in an exclusive interview with the Today show’s Savannah Guthrie Friday morning about her life, the time surrounding the trial, and a foundation created in the memory of her mother, Elizabeth.

“I love my family and I’m loyal to them and I care about them,” Cate said told Guthrie. “There pain is my pain and that’s as complicated as it gets.”

But, life was complicated a year ago when Cate followed her father into the courthouse from April 23 to May 31. John was on trial for the alleged illegal use of campaign funds and was found not guilty on one of the six counts; the other five were mistrials and the prosecution said it would not revisit the case.

But Cate said, no matter what happened she was standing behind her father.

“He’s my day, and I love him,” Cate said. “We love each other and we support each other. That’s just how our family is.”

Cate practices law at a public interest firm in Washington, D.C., Edwards and Eubanks, LLC. Her mother, Elizabeth lost her battle with breast cancer on December 7, 2010. Since then, Cate has been busy getting the Elizabeth Edwards Foundation off the ground.

She said her mother was a huge influence on her life, and she wants that idea to continue on through the organization.

“She really was in all facets of her life, starting at home, a great encourager (and) a great mentor,” Cate said. “I think that this really encapsulates who she was as a human being throughout her entire life, really encouraging people to reach their full potential.”

Quoting directly from its website, “The Elizabeth Edwards Foundation is a charitable organization which will provide educational opportunities, tools, and support to youth with limited resources.”

To see the first part of the interview from Friday morning on Today, click here. Part two of the interview airs Friday night on Rock Center with Brian Williams.

Cate Edwards Opens Up To Today Show Friday Morning

CHAPEL HILL – Former U.S. Senator John Edwards’ eldest daughter, Cate will speak out on Friday morning on the Today show about her reaction to her father’s affair and alleged cover-up that resulted in a federal investigation and lengthy trial.

Cate has recently been promoting the Elizabeth Edwards Foundation, created in memory of her mother who died of breast cancer in December 2010.

Since John’s trial in April and May of 2012, the media has been in search of Cate’s reaction to the extramarital affair and the trial. John’s mistress, Rielle Hunter, didn’t take long to explain her side of the story. She released a book titled “What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me” just a month after the trial in which Edwards was found not guilty on one of the six counts brought against him while mistrials were called on the other five.

Friday morning on the Today show, Cate will describe how she first felt when her father told her about his affair, how she reacted to the trial and Hunter’s book, and what she’s doing now for the Elizabeth Edwards Foundation.


Caught In A Lie, What Do You Do?

What should a public figure do when caught in a mistake or telling a lie?

Any experienced political advisor will urge, “Stop lying, tell the truth, and get the whole story out in one fell swoop.”

Further lying or delay in telling the whole story makes it worse. Day after day, the news media’s reports reemphasize and compound the negatives, destroying the troubled public figure’s chances for rehabilitation in the public’s mind.

Lance Armstrong and John Edwards compounded their disasters by delaying acknowledgement of errors and continuing to lie to the public.

Duke University history professor William Chafe, author of “Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal,” agrees. “The cover-up is worse than the crime and it is going to come back and get you. When you’ve done something wrong, ‘fess up.”

For every rule there are exceptions. Professor Chafe describes how Bill Clinton saved his presidency by maintaining and adjusting his untruthful story about his relationship with Monica Lewinski, waiting several months before admitting the truth.

“He buys six months” Chafe told me recently, “and that six months saves his presidency.”

During those months the country got used to the idea of having a president who had an affair with an intern and lied about it. Several things helped Clinton. The country’s economy under his leadership was doing well. Ken Starr, the special prosecutor, and the Republican impeachment team came across to the public as political and unnecessarily oppressive. Most importantly, Hillary Clinton stuck by her husband, even though he had cheated on and lied to her.

How can Hillary Clinton’s extraordinary loyalty to her husband be explained? Chafe’s book takes on the task. Chafe “became convinced that the only way anyone could understand either one of them—and the politics of the 80s and 90s—was by examining the chemistry of their relationship. Their intimate life animated and ultimately determined the roles they played politically.”

Chafe examines the Clintons’ lives from their troubled childhoods through the struggles of a marriage rocked by Bill Clinton’s serial womanizing. He describes how each time Bill got in trouble, Hillary rescued him. When the publicity about his affair with Gennifer Flowers blew up during the 1992 primary campaign, Hillary was rehearsed and ready to join him on national television (Sixty Minutes) to persuade Americans that, although there had been trouble in the past, their marriage was strong and durable.

Why would she do this? Chafe explains, “By doing so, she not only rescued Bill’s candidacy, but ensured that her own power in both the personal and political relationship would increase.”

It was Hilary Clinton’s final and most important rescue that made possible the success of Bill Clinton’s six months of deception. Chafe explains, “After the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke in 1998, Bill Clinton thought for a brief period he would be forced to resign in disgrace, just as Richard Nixon did in 1974. But for the last time, Hillary came to his rescue, standing by him even after he admitted his guilt and faced impeachment. Only this time, by saving her husband — and their co-presidency — she also liberated herself to become her own person in politics.”

Saving her husband’s presidency, Chafe argues, gave her the freedom to chart her own political course. While the Senate was voting on the impeachment charges brought against her husband, she was meeting with political advisors to plan her campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from New York.

The Clintons’ experience was a rare exception. I agree with Bill Chafe about the general rule: when you get in trouble, stop lying, tell all, all at once.

Note: My conversation with William Chafe about “Bill and Hillary” aired on radio station WCHL and is available for listening here.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage.

This week’s (January 27, 31) guest is Sheila Turnage, author of “Three Times Lucky.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

What can children and young teens read now that the Harry Potter series has come to an end? Sheila Turnage faces this challenge in “Three Times Lucky” by introducing us to the crime-solving talents of two pre-teens from Tupelo Landing, North Carolina. Mo LoBeau is sassy, charming, and smart. She and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, lead Turnage’s readers through a most entertaining murder investigation.

Bookwatch Classics (programs from earlier years) airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4).

This week’s (January 30) guest is Orson Scott Card author of “Shadow Puppets.”


"Aftermathing" the Edwards trial

I wish Jimmy Johnson had given, and John Edwards had heeded, the same warning Johnson gave me when I first ran for political office almost 30 years ago.

Johnson, a successful businessman, helped Bob Scott win the governor’s election in 1968. He knew North Carolina politics inside and out.

Here is what he told me when I sought his advice and support in my first election campaign.

“I hate to see you get into politics and running for office. I have seen it bring down a good young man like you. Liquor and women. There’s lots of liquor. And some women have a weakness for politicians and some politicians have a weakness for that kind of woman. It is a shame. I hate to see you get into all that.”

We learned during the trial that Edwards did get a similar warning from a junior campaign aide about the danger his close attachment to Rielle Hunter was creating for the campaign and Edwards’ political career. Edwards’ response was to have the aide dismissed.

If Jimmy Johnson or another “old hand” had been on the Edwards team and given him a sterner, no-nonsense warning that outlined the risks and consequences, Edwards might have adjusted his conduct.

But John Edwards did not have any Jimmy Johnsons around. His inability or unwillingness to attract, retain, and listen to the wise old hands of North Carolina politics might have been Edwards’ fatal flaw.

On the other hand, Edwards’ self confidence and his willingness to make his own place in the state’s and country’s political life played a big part in his appeal. Having a group of senior politicians surrounding him and pulling the campaign’s strings would not have fit with Edwards’ brand of new politics.

Now that the trial is over, we get to wrestle with another question. Should the government have brought charges against Edwards in the first place?

Maybe we should wait to answer until we know more about what really led to the decision to prosecute Edwards. Without more, it is hard to understand why the government chose to spend so many resources to prosecute Edwards. To win a conviction, the government needed to prove that Edwards knew that the gifts from his two rich friends were illegal campaign contributions. Because some legal experts say the gifts were not crimes, the government’s attempt to show that Edwards knew the gifts were violations seems to have been a fool’s errand.

You should know that personal experience informs my opinion about this point. Government investigators heard that I had attended the same campaign finance law seminar that John Edwards attended back in 1997 or 1998 when he and I were running against each other in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. The seminar was an event that I could not remember. In the fall of 2010, two government agents took hours and hours of time trying without success to lead me into remembering.

But the government did not give up. A court order required me to assemble and deliver any communication I had with anyone connected to the case.

They must have been looking for something to show that Edwards and I had been taught enough about campaign finance for him to know that the gifts from
his rich friends were campaign contributions.

The government never found such a “smoking gun” from me or from the hundreds of other places they looked. Nevertheless, it spent millions of dollars of your and my tax dollars to try Edwards.

Who knows for sure why the prosecutors were so anxious to spend all that money and all that time on this case?

But if I were in charge, I would send a bill for those millions to the prosecutor who brought the case.


Does time heal all wounds?

Will John Edwards someday be the new Newt Gingrich?

Where did this crazy question come from? To get the answer, read on.

First, we should wrestle with the questions political experts have been stuttering over since Gingrich’s stunning upset of Mitt Romney in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary last weekend.

How can a candidate like Gingrich get over the deathblows his campaign suffered in Iowa and New Hampshire?

How can he sidestep the disgrace from the damning condemnation of his colleagues in the House of Representatives who censured him for misconduct 15 years ago?

How can he get around the moral consequences of his conduct in the breakup of two earlier marriages?

How does he get around the lack of support from people who worked with him when he was House speaker?

How does he get around the panic shown by so-called establishment Republicans who believe his nomination for president would lead to a disaster for their party in the fall?

How can these questions be answered? It would be easy to say, simply, that South Carolina voters are different. From John C. Calhoun to Strom Thurmond, South Carolinians have shown a fondness for brilliant, confrontational, no-holds-barred, attack- dog politicians. Newt fit their bill. But what about other states?

Both Calhoun and Thurmond had fans in other states. How about Gingrich? We will begin to find out next week in Florida.

Whatever the results in Florida and elsewhere, Gingrich has shown that time really can heal old wounds in politics. Even the most conservative religious voters in South Carolina showed that they were willing to forgive the sins of a seemingly penitent person.

The South Carolina results show us that, after the passage of time, voters are not bound by earlier judgments about a politician’s sins.

John Edwards may be trying to take advantage of this lesson.

The health problem that was the basis for the delay in his trial is a real one. An irregular heartbeat has bothered Edwards for many years. Still, delay may be part of his trial team’s strategy.

Every delay puts the management of the trial further away from the influence of the zealous investigation and prosecution led by former U.S. Attorney George Holding. He is running for Congress rather than continuing to lead the determined effort to put Edwards in jail.

Greater and greater distance from Holding increases the possibility that less-driven prosecutors will see the benefits of making a deal with Edwards that would free them to concentrate their efforts on getting other criminals off the streets.

Every delay works to distance the minds of potential jurors from the heavy and negative publicity that accompanied Edwards’s downfall. With the passing of time, jurors may be less likely to punish Edwards simply for being the bad person the news stories made him out to be.

Every delay lessens public interest in the case and the strength of any public demand that he be held accountable.

Every delay puts the public’s memory further away from his relevance as a public figure whose extraordinary gifts almost made him a vice president, almost a president.

Thus every delay could increase the chances that Edwards will win an acquittal if the case ultimately goes to trial, or even more likely, that there will be an acceptable plea bargain offer from prosecutors.

Back to our opening question: If Edwards does walk away from his legal troubles, could he, with the passage of time, say 10 years from now, bring his gifts of persuasion and charisma back into the political arena and have some of those who have written him off today declare him to be the new Newt Gingrich?


U.S. Senator D.G. Martin: What Might Have Been

I’ve been thinking about John Edwards a lot lately as I author the John Edwards Trial Blog for ABC 11 News.  And the more I think about Edwards the more I think about Chapelboro’s own D.G. Martin.  
Before he became a media star, D.G. was a rising political star.  And to my mind, D.G. winning the 1998 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate instead of John Edwards is the most compelling counterfactual (i.e. what didn’t happen but could have) in modern North Carolina politics.  Here is why: ’98 proved to be a strong Democratic year and there is good reason to believe D.G. would have defeated the vulnerable Republican incumbent Lauch Faircloth just as Edwards did.
While Edwards began gunning for national office almost immediately upon being sworn in in 1999 (vigorously seeking, for example, to be Al Gore’s Vice Presidential running mate in 2000), Martin almost assuredly would have been satisfied working his way up the Senate leadership ladder.  He could have had tough reelections in ’04 and ‘10 but the presumption of wins aided by all the advantages of incumbency is a quite plausible one.  If so, a U.S. Senator D.G. Martin today could be one of the two or three most powerful members of the majority party in the upper chamber, possibly even Senate Majority Leader.  With all the powers that attach to Senate seniority, such a role would be a big, big deal for Martin …and for North Carolina.
Of course, if it were Edwards vs. Martin in a statewide election today, D.G. would win in a landslide.  D.G.’s victory would be fueled in no small part by voter appreciation for all the meaningful works he’s done since the ’98 defeat: invaluable service to the University of North Carolina (including NCCU and UNC Pembroke); distinguished journalism in print, via T.V., and on the radio; and innumerable other good (and uncompensated) deeds for his community and state.  It is the reality of all that post-election beneficence by D.G. that makes the actual outcome of the 1998 primary race easier (somewhat) to stomach.