Monthly Archives: January 2012

When An Announcement Isn’t An Announcement

Greg Collard, WFAE News Director

Republican frontrunner Pat McCrory formally announced his run for governor on Tuesday, although that’s hardly news. After all, McCrory’s campaign has been underway for more than a year (some would say since the day he lost to Gov. Bev Perdue in 2008).

Of course, that’s true with most large campaigns. Formal “announcements” are just an easy way to get free media. The media give this “news” too much attention.

As a journalist, it’s nice to see we don’t yet know who all the Democratic candidates will be. That will make their “formal” announcements more palatable to cover.

Meanwhile, the speculation over who will seek the Democratic nomination for governor continues in North Carolina.

You can cross Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and Congressman Heath Shuler off the list. Both announced Tuesday they will not seek the office. As you might expect, their statements left the door open for a future run.

From Foxx:
“Over the past few days I have given serious consideration to a run for Governor of North Carolina. Given the unusual circumstances and short time, such a run would have required more focus on a statewide campaign than on my young family and many local issues of importance to me and so many Charlotte residents. Therefore, I have decided to forgo a statewide race this election cycle, and will continue my efforts to build a brighter future for our city.”

From Shuler:
“It is an honor to even be discussed as a potential candidate for such an esteemed office, but now is not my time,” Shuler said in a prepared statement.

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and State Rep. Bill Faison are candidates for governor. The big question is whether former UNC System president Erskine Bowles will decide to run. Bowles served as chief of staff to President Clinton. He was also a U.S. Senate candidate in 2002 and 2004.

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What The Heck Is An Æbleskiver?

Aebleskiver topped with powdered sugar. Photo by Eliza Adam on Flickr.

Looking for something a little different for breakfast this weekend? Try aebleskiver, quick and easy Danish pancake puffs.

Pronounced “EB-el-sku-wyr,” Aebleskiver are Danish pancakes in the shape of a sphere. (Personally I prefer “able-skiver” because it’s clearly more fun to say, but it’s wrong.) They live somewhere in between doughnut, pancake and popover and are pretty easy to make, once you get the hang of it. It requires a special aebleskiver pan that’s used to cook them on the stove top. The traditional pan is cast iron, but our aluminum non-stick pan ($20 on Amazon) worked just fine.

Aebleskiver are easy to fill with jam or chocolate spread. Fill halfway with batter, drop a dollop of filling in and cover with batter.

The literal Danish translation means “apple slices” because aebleskiver are traditionally filled with a slice of apple and served as dessert. But because the taste and texture is so similar to a pancake, we Americans usually eat them for breakfast. They can be topped with syrup, applesauce, jam or powdered sugar. They are also easy to prepare with a filling – we made a few filled with Nutella and some with strawberry jam. You could also do savory variations filled with cheese, sausage, vegetables and even seafood. We also found that they re-heat pretty well in the toaster oven, so you could make extra for later. The Nutella-filled version made for a tasty dessert.

*If you want to try them but aren’t really feeling the work or buying the pan, Trader Joe’s has them in the freezer section, which is where we learned about them.

Use a wooden skewer or fork to turn over the aebleskiver once they get bubbly. Or if you're an old-fashioned Danish grandmother, you might use a knitting needle.

Recipe for Aebleskiver ‘below the fold.’
Note: If you simply want the shape and dig the idea of a “pancake puff,” you could just use pancake mix, this recipe however is for more traditional aebleskiver and will give you a slightly chewier, puffier, popover type of treat.

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Is It Really All ‘Gloom, Despair And Agony’ For NC Democrats?

Michael Bitzer

When I was growing up, Saturday nights typically started with the TV show “Hee-Haw.”  A regular sketch was “Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me,” something I’m sure many Tar Heel Democrats may be singing in their heads after last week’s bombshell announcement.

Even national commentators and pundits took to the Internet upon Governor Bev Perdue’s announcement, heralding “dark days for N.C. Democrats,” creating a sense of foreboding entering the campaign season: Above average unemployment, Democratic congressional incumbents on the ropes, and now the top Democratic state leader, listed after the “President” and “Straight Ticket” lines on the November ballot, is occupant-less.

Well, when I read the stories last Friday, the morning storms and dark clouds seemed to abate to partly cloudy. Then there was a nice weekend, with temperatures warming up.  And the same could be said about the Democrats, especially culminating in a very warm Greensboro ballroom Saturday night at their Sanford-Hunt-Frye Dinner.

First, Thursday’s bomb subsided over the weekend, and out emerged someone many Democrats didn’t recognize at first.  Someone willing to pick a fight, who seemed unfettered by the constraints of a scripted speech, someone taking the punch and returning fire. “Who was that woman on the stage? And where has Bev Perdue been for the past three years?” seemed to be the collective response among those gathered in Greensboro.

Democrats could have come out of the Perdue announcement shell-shocked, but it appears that they have taken their lemons and may start making political lemonade.  A slew of Democratic governors-in-waiting—too many to name and constantly changing—are “looking at,” “considering,” “engaging in careful thought” about a run for their party’s nomination.

The sugar that helps make lemonade tolerant could be in short supply, however, due the intensity and competitiveness of a Democratic primary fight.  And the likelihood that wagons-full of candidates in the top two statewide contests would most likely signal a protracted primary fight into a runoff on June 26.

Sitting like the cat cleaning his teeth with bird feathers, meanwhile, remains the frontrunner in the NC governor’s race: Republican Pat McCrory.  Certainly he won’t have “Bev to kick around anymore,” but Pat will be very willing to remind folks of the current occupant in the mansion he seeks.

A potential problem, though, is: Who is he running against?  No matter—money, a well-oiled organization, and plenty of name recognition from four years of campaigning makes him a formidable and, at this point, the avowed frontrunner.

The eventual Democratic nominee, free of the baggage of the current incumbent, must have those same attributes of McCrory — major name recognition from Manteo to Murphy, a ready-made organization, and a deep fundraising well to draw from.  Several “suspects” easily come to mind—but for all “nominee wannabes,” the next 15 weeks will be a sprint to May 8th rather than a marathon.

As far as Obama’s reelection bid, I’m not convinced that this vacancy poses a Dixie dilemma for him. It could if there’s a bitter primary battle, continued in-fighting when the president comes to party in Charlotte, and a lack of a strong candidate to run alongside him in November.  All this is possible—and this year (as we’ve seen in the GOP presidential primary struggle), so to is the opposite.

But the Obama grassroots effort already underway in North Carolina is reminescent of 2008, signaling a repeat performance that helped deliver folks like Perdue into office.  Granted, she gained 3,500 more votes than Obama did, but there is something to be said for presidential coattails providing a soft cushion to victory.

There is a lot to do between now and crowning a new combatant to take on McCrory for the chief executive’s spot in November, and that fight will certainly test the Democrat’s resolve for the next few months.  But this seems more like a blessing than a bunch of tart lemons.  What’s the old saying about North Carolina weather? If you don’t like it, wait 24 hours.

Old North State Democrats just have to make sure another cold front of “gloom, despair, and agony” doesn’t come through into the fall campaign.

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Good News For Slurpee Fans

Good news for fans of the sugary, brain-freeze-inducing beverage, the Slurpee. 7-Eleven is buying 55 Sam’s Mart stores in the Charlotte area. According to 7-Eleven CFO: “Consumers will soon see Slurpee and Big Gulp drinks, Big Bite hot dogs and other roller grill items, 7-Eleven coffee” and more. The sale will be completed in February with the conversion of the stores to be completed this year. According to The Charlotte Observer, there haven’t been 7-Elevens in Charlotte since 1988. Slurpees for everyone!

Read the full article from The Charlotte Observer.

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And BOOM Went The Tar Heel Political Landscape

Michael Bitzer

Well, it was a quiet, unassuming Thursday morning, innocently moving along until 9:15 a.m., when the first “tweet” came across—“is anyone hearing that….?”  Governor Bev Perdue’s bombshell has brought what was supposed to be a sure thing on the Democratic side to an “all-hands-on-deck” scramble for the Democratic nomination for North Carolina’s chief executive.  But the one person who shouldn’t be shocked can continue on with what he has been doing—and prepare his launch next week.

For those wondering why Perdue would wait until now, it was probably the slow realization that the cards she was dealt weren’t going to get her in the game.  A January 5-8 poll by Public Policy Polling out of Raleigh showed only 36% approved of her job performance, which even extended into her base of Democratic support (or lack thereof): only 50% of self-identified Democrats supported her, with 31% disapproving. 

Combine that lack of confidence from one’s own party with only 23 percent of self-described independents approving of her job performance, and the writing was pretty clear on the wall: the numbers just weren’t there.

In comparison, Pat McCrory, the presumed Republican nominee (pending his announcement next week), starts off the year in a very strong campaign position: money, an organization in place from 2008, favors from a successful Republican 2010 election year, and—at this point, gold—carrying the lead with a 52-41 lead with Perdue.

But now we have to wipe the slate clean, and await a new Democratic nominee.  Depending on who throws their hat into the Democratic primary ring, it could be the difference in making North Carolina competitive at the gubernatorial ballot, or a runaway for the Republicans to capture a prized possession, even with a competitive presidential contest.

If early expectations hold true, a number of Democrats are planning to jump into the race. Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton quickly announced he’s running for governor after Perdue made her announcement. Other names mentioned include Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, retiring Congressman Brad Miller, former NC Treasurer Richard Moore, current NC Rep. Bill Faison, Congressman Health Shuler, along with one other interesting name: Erskine Bowles.

Candidates now have roughly three months to get an organization together, activate a significant fundraising operation, and get his/her name out there before the May 8th primary. Dalton, Moore and Bowles have that state-wide name recognition, a critical factor in modern campaigns.

The one thing Democrats want to avoid, however, is a bitter contest that goes into a run-off situation in the summer.  But these kinds of scenarios usually don’t avoid that trap.

The other major aspect to consider is what happens to the proposed constitutional amendment on gay marriage?  Republicans were hoping for a fairly quiet, non-motivating May primary election that would have helped get the amendment passed without much fanfare, especially from the Democratic side.  But now with a contested Democratic primary, we’ll see a very challenging environment for both sides on this issue.

Now all we need is a contested Republican presidential primary to round things out: hear that Mitt, Newt, Rick, and Ron?  What better way to enter the summer than a perfect trifecta of knock-down, drag-out elections.  But we’ll have the lazy-days of summer to look forward to, unless some other bomb detonates.  What’s that I hear ticking in the future?

 From WFAE.org:
Bitzer: Perdue’s Withdrawal Good News For Democrats

Perdue’s Surprise Announcement Turns 2012 Election On Its Ear

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BBQ For Good

In Sept. 2011, two year old Morgan West was diagnosed with an inoperable brain stem tumor. Friends of Morgan's family organized a BBQ fundraiser to help her family with expenses.

By: WFAE’s Bryan Talbott

“In the South, nothing motivates people more than pork BBQ.”

Charlotte resident Craig George smoked forty Boston butts in 24 hours, selling two hundred pounds of pulled pork in a fundraiser to benefit two-year-old Morgan West who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain stem tumor in 2011. In all, the community raised $3,200 to help Morgan’s family.

On New Year’s Day 2012, a Charlotte community came together to support a little girl in need.

Two hundred pounds of pulled pork and five gallons of chili were sold, raising $3,200 to benefit Morgan's family.

Morgan is a two and a half year old girl with an inoperable brain stem tumor. My friend Craig George is good friends with Morgan’s parents, Adam and Nikki West, and wanted to do all that he could to help them. Morgan has undergone radiation therapy and is in a clinical trial at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN.

In order to assist them with travel costs (they have been flying from New York) Craig decided to organize a BBQ Fundraiser, and donate all the proceeds to the family. He reached out to the community to ask for help in his efforts; taking pre-orders of pulled pork, requesting an $8-10 donation per pound.

If you know Craig, you are well aware of his love for slow cooking meat over sizzling hot coals. (FYI- BBQ-ing is not grilling, it’s smoking…low and slow.) This however, was taking it a step further. He bought 40 pork butts, chopped enough wood to fuel the endeavor, washed, injected and coated each butt with a mustard mixture and seasoned with a dry rub and smoked the pork in his wood fired smoker at 220 degrees round-the-clock for 24 hours. He checked the cooker every 15-20 minutes to make sure the temperature was consistent.

Morgan (right) at the hospital.

The turnout on New Year’s Day speaks for itself…they began distributing the BBQ at 10am and by 3pm, there wasn’t any left. The final tally: 200 one pound containers of pulled pork and 5 gallons of chili were bought – totaling $3,200 to give Morgan and her family help they deserve.
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Looking Deeper Into South Carolina’s Primary

Michael Bitzer

Now that the ads, robocalls and dust have settled on South Carolina’s GOP primary, one of the nice things (for a politics data geek like me) is the chance to analyze election returns and exit polls.  Everyone fixates (of course) on the immediate “who won & lost,” but beyond that, it helps to understand “why” someone won and lost. 

For many, the term “exit poll” raises skepticism about what these figures really tell us.  Most everyone remembers the Florida fiasco of the 2000 presidential election, and that experience certainly left a bad taste for many in regard to the reliability of exit polls.  But this year, Florida may help settle what has been a truly unsettling GOP nomination race.

Exit polls provide a snapshot sample of who showed up to vote in an election.  First, a little background: exit polls are conducted at predetermined polling sites, with a worker outside the polling location when voters leave.

Seeking a random sample, the worker asks voters at specific intervals (say, every 10th voter) if they would answer a series of questions on the front and back of a piece of paper.  Voters who agree fill out the questionnaire and place it in a box. The worker then calls in the results three times during the day, where the information is tabulated.  Adjustments are made to ensure the sample approximates the population of the area.  This was my experience in 2002 when I worked as an exit pollster in Georgia.

One valid concern nowadays is the fact that so many voters are taking advantage of early voting.  In North Carolina, for example, early votes in 2008’s presidential election made up 57 percent of all the votes cast (Even though John McCain lost NC,  he easily received the majority of votes cast on Election Day). This makes it more difficult for the exit polling company to gather its information, but the exit poll firm calls voters who cast their ballots early and includes them in their sample. 

The main benefit that we get from exit polls is not necessarily predicting who wins, but why a candidate won, who made up the electorate, and what issues were important to those voters.  So with South Carolina the first true Republican base state voting in the nomination process (Iowa and New Hampshire are classic swing states), who showed up in the South Carolina primary?

Interestingly, among the 2,381 respondents, men were the majority among Saturday’s electorate, 51 percent to 49 percent for women. This may sound normal to some, but in 2008’s primary election, men made up 56 percent. In the 2008 general election, women were in the majority at 54 percent of the electorate.

In the 2012 primary, South Carolina men went for fellow Southerner Gingrich 42 percent to 26 percent for Romney, while women went 38 percent for Newt to 29 percent for Romney.  White males (in Saturday’s SC GOP primary, whites were 98 percent of the electorate) are core voters for the GOP, especially Southern white males.

Conservatives, who typically are 40 percent of South Carolina’s general electorate, were 68 percent of Saturday’s primary electorate, and Gingrich won them convincingly, 45 percent to Romney’s 24 percent.

The conventional wisdom held that Gingrich would suffer at the hands of two key voting groups in the SC primary: Married voters and born-again/evangelical voters, due to the three marriages and the Nightline interview of his second wife.  But married voters, who were three-fourths of the electorate, went 41 percent for Newt, compared to 28 percent for Mitt.  And born-again/evangelical voters—those who believe in “redemption” and were two-thirds of the primary electorate—broke in favor of Newt by a 2-to-1 margin over Mitt.

An interesting question posed before the primary was, “how would Tea Party supporters break?”  With Governor Nikki Haley’s endorsement, many believed that Romney would benefit from that support.  But Tea Party supporters went 45 percent for Newt, compared to only 25 percent for Mitt. And those who said they approved of Gov. Haley went 42 percent for Gingrich, while Romney got 30 percent of their vote.  One has to question whether there really is a leader of the Tea Party, something advocates have argued for a long time that there isn’t, and whether endorsements truly influence a voter’s decision.

One question that seems to indicate the power of the two debates leading into the primary was, “When did you decide who you would vote for?”  For those who decide in the days heading into the primary (53 percent of the electorate), Newt’s performances at the debate, especially Thursday night’s CNN debate, must have had a dramatic impact: 44 percent of those deciding within the “last few days” of the campaign broke for Newt, while Romney garnered 22 percent of the last-minute deciders.

So what does all this tell us about the Republican base in a key red state? For Mitt Romney to become the GOP nominee, losing critical party constituents is a significant warning sign.  White males, Tea Party supporters, born-again/evangelical voters—all of these constituents are critical components to the modern GOP party.  Granted, these groups have a smaller impact within a general election ( for example, evangelicals made up 40 percent of South Carolina’s electorate in November 2008), but failing to capture these crucial base supporters in a nomination fight means that if Mitt Romney becomes the GOP nominee, he will have serious work to do among those core supporters.

Florida’s primary on January 31 will be a real test of whether Romney — who received 25 percent of Iowa’s caucus vote and 28 percent of South Carolina’s primary vote — can craft a winning coalition among core Republican voters he needs to secure the Republican nomination.

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