Election 2016

A Tale of Two Billys: The Slick-Talking Ex-Prez and the Gay-Bashing Preacher Fight for North Carolina’s Votes

It's getting hot in Carolina! Will economic populism or culture wars win the day?


Obama won North Carolina by a whisper-thin margin of 14,000 votes in 2008, the first victory for a Democratic nominee since 1976. Can he do it again? Turnout was a big factor last time.  This year, early voting numbers have been higher than expected, despitecomplaintsthat include long lines, broken voting machines, and even a brawl between black and white voters that spilled over into a nearby gas station in Pitt County. Data from the State Board of Elections shows the number of ballots cast in-person during the early voting period climbed to 2.55 million as of Saturday, jumping past the record 2008 total of 2.4 million. The breakdown of early voters was 48 percent Dems and around 32 percent GOP.

Clearly, things are getting hot. So hot, the campaigns are breaking out the big guns to try to win the state.

A crowd of thousands gathered at Raleigh’s Pullen Park on Sunday for a last-minute get-out-the-vote rally led by a man whose popularity has never waned in North Carolina. Bill Clinton broke out his best southern-flavored, man-of-the-people style as he told voters that Barack Obama was their man, citing his support of the auto bailout and the Lily Ledbetter Act, which gives workers more time to file pay discrimination suits. He wisely struck a tone of economic populism, key in a state that has fared poorly in the downturn and has been bleeding jobs: its unemployment rate was a horrific 9.6 percent in September. Bubba blasted the trickle-down economics and weak regulation on Wall Street that helped spark the financial crash of 2008 (not mentioning, of course, his role in the repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act, which turned Wall Street into a casino). The word “poverty” even issued from his lips– something you don’t hear a lot of from Dems these days.  And he credited Obama for stopping a second depression, adding the popular fantasy that the American people have been paid back with interest for the bank bailouts, which is bunk.

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Not forgetting he was in a state with big ties to the military, Clinton also praised Obama’s performance as commander-in-chief, mentioning cheekily that he had a “heckuva secretary of state.” And he cleverly praised Obama’s handling of Sandy in a state frequently ravaged by hurricanes.

From the cheering of the crowds, it was clear that this Billy was a hit.

But another big Billy has been doing his bit, too, the influence the election. The 93-year-old evangelist Billy Graham has all but endorsed Mitt Romney, inviting him to his mountaintop retreat and praising his “strong values and moral convictions.” Apparently the thin air up there in the mountains made Graham forget that he doesn't care for Mormons. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has referred to Mormonism as a "cult," but has recently put politics ahead of religious doctrine and removed a reference from its website.

Breezily uninterested in the kinds of economic issues which so concerned his savior Jesus Christ, Graham has reignited the culture wars, taking out ads in major newspaper calling on voters to head the polls to oppose women’s reproductive freedom and gay marriage. Some accuse Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and bile-spitting heir to the ministry of putting ideas in his father's head. But Franklin insists that Billy’s mind is still “sharp as a razor.” Sharp enough to cut gays and women, apparently.

Franklin may be stoking the fires. But though Papa Graham is not as political as he once was, he has certainly made his political views clear in the fairly recent past, appearing with George W. Bush in Florida two days before election day in 2000 to make that thing happen. The reason Billy Graham backed off politics for a while is that he got burned good by his close relationship with Richard Nixon, whose presidency he claimed was backed by the Big Man in the Sky. We now know from secretly taped conversations that Grahamshared his disgusting prejudices against Jewswith the president – views he would have thought twice about expressing in public. He's a political animal, all right.

On Monday, in his syndicated “My Answer” column which runs in several major newspapers, Rev. Graham published a response to a question about voting from a reader in Chicago Tribune proclaiming that “It is our god-given responsibility to vote.” And its clear from his relentless political ads the he believes God wants a sweatshop capitalist in the White House.

So which Billy will win the day? Hard to say. But Michelle Obama is in NC today, hoping to shore up the enthusiam brought by the ex-prez. The Tar Heel state, while not necessary for an Obama win, would be a pretty feather in the presidential cap.

Lynn Parramore is an author and cultural theorist. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.