Taylor Batten

Has politics always been this nasty?

Things on my mind this Sunday morning, and some questions:

Has politics gotten a lot nastier, or am I just noticing it more because of my new job as The Observer's editorial page editor?

Sure, presidential campaigns have never been a place for sissies. But this is like someone injected the dirty Bush-Dukakis campaign of 1988 with an extra dose of poison. Willie Horton is bad enough, but accusing Barack Obama of being a terrorist? Linking John McCain to segregationist George Wallace?

Obama and McCain vowed early on to keep this campaign positive. I guess the operatives' attitude is: whatever works.

The good news: Election Day is just nine days off. Will the nastiness continue for four years, or is this just a campaign thing?

One reasonable argument against Barack Obama is that his rhetoric about reaching across the aisle doesn't match his record in the U.S. Senate.

Obama was part of the majority and so didn't have to reach across the aisle much. Members of the minority party tend to seek more bipartisanship just so they're not shut out.

So what will Obama do in the White House if elected? It seems unity has been too big of a campaign theme to ignore it if he wins. But then, George W. Bush ran as a unifier, too.

We have a candidate for most preposterous quote of the year. Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, who made $17 million last year and $96 million in 2006, went on “60 Minutes” last week and talked about how executives in the financial services industry are egregiously overpaid. Asked whether Lewis would request lower pay, bank spokesman Bob Stickler said: “It would be presumptuous for him to do that.”

Shareholders who have seen the stock slide nearly 60 percent in the past year could probably handle some presumptuousness about now.

Is there any better slice of Americana than the Mallard Creek Barbecue? Some colleagues and I dropped by on Thursday to the best political event going. Piles of barbecue, the tastiest Brunswick stew you've ever had, and dozens of politicians cordoned off like cattle, shaking hands 'til there are no more hands to shake.

Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling reported last week that just 4 percent of N.C. voters are still undecided for president, and 7 percent who have a preference are open to changing their mind. Who are these people?

PPP reports that Obama leaners who might switch are former Bush supporters who have had it with the economy but aren't sure they can bring themselves to vote for a liberal. McCain needs to convince them he can fix the economy.

And 70 percent of the undecided and leaners are suburban and small town voters (who are 58 percent of the population). Many of them are mad at Republicans but don't have much faith in Democrats either.

It adds up to good news for Obama: he leads 47-42 among committed voters, so only needs a third of the uncommitteds to win. And if he wins North Carolina, the fat lady is singing.

Are the Panthers as good as they look most weeks? Are the Bobcats as bad as they look?