March 29--RALEIGH -- The conservative movement has risen higher in North Carolina than probably even what the late Sen. Jesse Helms, the father of the modern conservatism here, could have imagined.
But the question is whether it has reached high tide or is still on the rise.
For the 450 people attending the Conservative Leadership Conference in Raleigh this weekend, the belief is that it's still on the rise. The Republican Party now controls all three branches of state government and the congressional delegation. It hopes in November to pick up the seats of U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre and state Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson to consolidate its power.
"The wave is coming," said John Fund, a senior editor of The American Spectator, who added that recent special congressional and legislative elections have been marked by Republican victories and "dispirited" Democratic turnouts. He said there were similar signs before other GOP landslides in 1994 and 2010.
A major reason for the wave, conservatives believe, is public discontent with the Affordable Care Act. Surveys show the health insurance plan is as unpopular in North Carolina as elsewhere, and it could dominate voter discussion.
A new survey shows 53 percent of Tar Heel voters are likely to vote this year on national issues, such as the health care plan, and only 33 percent on state issues -- such as the legislature's sharp shift to the right. The survey was conducted for the Civitas Institute, the conservative advocacy group that sponsored the conference.
Goal: To defeat Hagan
To help make sure Hagan is defeated, Americans for Prosperity, another conservative advocacy group, has already spent $8 million in TV ads in North Carolina attacking Hagan's support for the health care law. The gossip is that AFP is prepared to spend $20 million to knock Hagan out. Tim Phillips, the group's president, wouldn't confirm that, but he said the AFP would continue to make substantial TV buys against Hagan.
The ads have become an issue because the founders and chief financial backers of AFP are billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch. The AFP ads prompted the Senate Majority PAC, which has close ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to start running TV ads in North Carolina.
That drew fire from Phillips.
"David and Charles Koch have created more prosperity and more good and well-being for Americans of all walks of life than a politician like Harry Reid will create in a lifetime," Phillips told conference attendees.
(We are entering uncharted territory when the political gun for the Koch brothers launches a populist attack on Reid.)
The Republicans also were gleeful over the recent arrest of Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon on public corruption charges. Talk show host Jason Lewis, after rolling off indictments of former Sen. John Edwards and former House Speaker Jim Black, cracked that the Democrats were giving new meaning to term limits.
Forest praises changes
Lewis was among a broad group of speakers that included Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and columnist Ann Coulter.
In one of the most impassioned speeches of the conference, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest launched a vigorous defense of the sharp rightward shift in state policy.
Forest praised what he called the building blocks of the conservative changes happening in North Carolina.
He also praised what he called "the most aggressive tax reform plan in the United States"; the state's decision not to set up a health care exchange or expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act; and the laws that cut unemployment insurance benefits and state regulations. He credited conservatives with the state's transformation from having one of the highest unemployment rates to now having the "fifth fastest growing economy in America."
In addition, he mentioned the passage of the voter identification bill and said the state was spending $320 million more on public schools than ever before. (Actually, the state is spending $7.8 billion on the public schools this year, compared to $7.9 billion in 2008-2009.)
"It is time for conservatives to be unapologetic about what we believe in," Forest said, adding, "it's time to say no to political correctness in America.
"Why do we care what the media thinks, or what they say or what they write about us?" he asked. "Why do we we subscribe to papers that further their agenda? Stop believing what they write or say."
Christensen: 919-829-4532 or [email protected]
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