My newspaper column rounds up a few stories, including the unfair exclusion of Mike Munger from the gubernatorial debates and the Hagan campaign's online lag. You can read the whole thing after the jump.
Speaking of politics
By Edward Cone
News & Record
Some semi-related thoughts on the political scene, presented in a semi-bloglike fashion:
An update on Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Mike Munger, described last year in this column as "maybe too sane for high office": North Carolinians put the Libertarian Party on the ballot for November, but Munger still is excluded from the gubernatorial debates. Munger's party has earned the right to compete with the entrenched duopoly in this marketplace of ideas, but the debate sponsors are ignoring their obligation to the public. Beyond the issue of fairness, it would be entertaining to watch Munger take on the professional politicians; he's smart, informed and funny, and he's got nothing to lose.
Last week, Munger took his case directly to the people, buying radio ads in the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte markets (sample line: "I'm not even asking for your vote yet, I just want a fair chance to compete for it.") The idea behind the ads is to boost his poll numbers quickly, as the League of Women Voters says it will include him in its debate if he has support from 5 percent of surveyed voters.
Munger got the money for the ads by holding a focused online fundraiser - a "money bomb," in the parlance of the Ron Paul presidential campaign, although Munger said his modest effort was more like a "money grenade." The goal was just $3,000, and the campaign netted more than $7,000 in donations. That's chump change, of course, compared to the money raised last quarter by Democrat Beverly Perdue ($2.3 million) and Republican Pat McCrory ($1.1 million), but the smart combination of new and old media helps Munger punch above his weight, and may even get him the place he's already earned in the debates.
* * *
Speaking of Libertarians, the party also has a presidential candidate, former GOP congressman Bob Barr, on the ballot in North Carolina. With Barack Obama contesting the state, that might spell trouble for John McCain, from whom Barr seems most likely to peel votes. McCain got less than three-quarters of the Republican primary vote in North Carolina, with the Libertarianish Ron Paul and "No Preference" combining for more than 10 percent. In a tight race, just a few percentage points for Barr could be a deciding factor.
* * *
Speaking of the Internet, I'm surprised that the Kay Hagan senatorial campaign has not used it more aggressively. The Greensboro Democrat does have a more vibrant Web presence than her rival, Elizabeth Dole, and she's using her site to promote her appearances across the state - a grass-roots effort that would have done proud her uncle, the late Florida governor and legendary campaigner Lawton Chiles. But a real grass-roots Web campaign has yet to emerge. By this point in the game, for example, she should have a social network in place to connect volunteers in each of North Carolina's 100 counties. Hagan has gotten some good national publicity, and she's making a credible fundraising effort versus Dole, but she still trails in terms of money and visibility. In a year when Obama has energized North Carolina Democrats and used the Internet with ground-breaking effectiveness, the online campaign looks like a missed opportunity for Hagan.
* * *
Speaking of debates, one of the least interesting I've heard this summer is whether or not the economy is in a recession.
For one thing, there is no universally agreed-upon definition of "recession," so simple answers don't apply. And the most common definition - two consecutive quarters of declining real Gross Domestic Product - looks backward, so that the economy can be in recession for a good long while before the label is official.
The biggest problem, though, is that the recession debate often serves as a way of avoiding serious discussion of the actual problems at hand. It's been clear for some time that the larger economy is going to suffer until the housing market gets better, and numbers such as the monthly tally of adjustable-rate mortgage resets portend tough times for housing and finance into 2009.
All of which explains why McCain adviser Phil Gramm's remark about Americans "whining" about an imaginary recession was so odious - it wasn't just callous in the face of real pain and obtuse in the face of real problems, it was based on a false premise in the first place.
© News & Record 2008