The Magazine


Oct 12, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 05 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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WHEN SHE APPEARED on the Today show in January, Hillary Clinton outlined the parameters of the now-fabled "vast right-wing conspiracy." But she named only three actual conspirators, two of whom happened to be senators from North Carolina -- Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth. (The third was Jerry Falwell.) All three are indeed conservative, but it is Faircloth, a 70-year-old craggy-faced hog farmer from rural Sampson County, who has a reputation for being the most avidly right wing. Or did.

Faircloth is now in a surprisingly close race for reelection. He is being challenged by a telegenic, 45-year-old attorney from Raleigh named John Edwards, and though the senator's ideas don't appear to have changed -- deep down, say those who know him, he still makes Jesse Helms look like a liberal -- his message has. By this point, North Carolina voters probably know Faircloth best not for his anti-Clinton plots, but for his passionate support of breast-cancer victims.

"For most people, a stamp is a way to send a letter," begins a Faircloth ad that has run extensively on the female-oriented Lifetime television network. "For one man, it's a way to provide hope." The ad goes on to tout Faircloth's vote in favor of a special postage stamp whose sale funds "research that means hope for the one out of every nine women in this country afflicted with breast cancer." The purpose of the ad isn't subtle, and Faircloth's strategists aren't shy about spelling it out. "We're trying to show people, especially women, that Lauch Faircloth is not an unreasonable guy," says one. "It did a lot of good for us. Tons. It's been one of the most successful spots in the campaign."

Maybe so. On the other hand, there are probably more effective issues Faircloth could be running on, beginning with his opponent's career as a trial lawyer. It's axiomatic among Republican political consultants that beating up on lawyers resonates with voters. "Few classes of Americans are more reviled and you should tap into people's anger and frustration with practitioners of law," wrote GOP pollster Frank Luntz in a dispatch to Republican candidates last year. "They truly are one group in American society that you can attack with near impunity."

If ordinary attorneys make good political punching bags -- "Make fun of them mercilessly," advises Luntz -- then John Edwards is the ripest possible target. During the 1990s alone, according to Lawyers Weekly, he has won more than $ 152 million in jury verdicts, mostly in medical-malpractice cases. Edwards appears to make a specialty of suing obstetricians ("His colleagues claim he can read a fetal heart monitor better than many physicians," according to the Raleigh newspaper), and it's not hard to imagine an effective Faircloth as that links Edwards to the shortage of rural baby doctors, and otherwise characterizes him as an ambulance-chasing enemy of children's interests.

Such an ad probably exists in the minds of Faircloth's media consultants, but it has yet to be televised. "There are a lot of folks on the campaign," says a Faircloth adviser, "who think that if we hit him on being a trial lawyer, he brings in the little girl who got her intestines sucked out by the pool drain to show he's on the side of ordinary people. But he'll probably do that anyway. Every day we spend debating whether he's a good trial lawyer or a bad trial lawyer is a good day for us. It's like debating whether you're a good rapist or a bad rapist. Whatever happens, he's not a U.S. senator that day."

In interviews, Faircloth has criticized Edwards as a "rapacious," "fat cat" lawyer, but for the most part the race has remained oddly polite. Perhaps the most contentious issue to arise so far has been hog manure. Over the past decade, North Carolina has become the second-largest pork-producing state in the country, after Iowa. There are now more than 100 million hogs in North Carolina, about 14 per human resident. Each hog produces more bodily waste each day than four people combined, for a total of 10 million tons a year, much of which ends up in stunningly rank sewage "lagoons" that periodically leak into rivers and streams.