James Carville

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James Carville
James Carville 1.jpg
Chester James Carville Jr.

(1944-10-25) October 25, 1944 (age 76)
EducationLouisiana State University (BS, JD)
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1993)
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service1966–1968
RankUSMC-E4.svg Corporal
WebsiteSpeech Booking Website

Chester James Carville Jr. (born October 25, 1944) is an American political consultant who has strategized for candidates for public office in the United States, and in 23 nations abroad.[1] He is also a media personality with expertise in U.S. elections who continues to appear frequently on cable news programs, in podcasts, and in his public speeches.

Nicknamed the "Ragin' Cajun",[2] Carville gained national attention for his work as the lead strategist of the successful presidential campaign of then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.[3]

Carville co-hosted CNN's Crossfire along with associate Paul Begala from 2002 until the show's cancellation in 2005. Carville was a CNN contributor until parting ways with the network in 2013.[4] The following year, Carville joined Fox News Channel as a contributor.[5] He is married to political consultant Mary Matalin. He has lectured in political science at both Tulane University[6] and Louisiana State University.[7]

Early life and education[edit]

Carville, the oldest of eight children, was born on October 25, 1944, at Georgia's Fort Benning, where his father was stationed during World War II.[8] His mother, Lucille (née Normand), a former school teacher, sold the World Book Encyclopedia door-to-door, and his father, Chester James Carville, was a postmaster as well as owner of a general store.[9][10][11] The town of Carville, Louisiana was named after his paternal grandfather, Louis Arthur Carville, the postmaster.[12] Louis Arthur's mother, Octavia Dehon was of Belgian parentage and had married John Madison Carville, described in a biography as "Irish-born" and a "carpetbagger,"[13] both of whom established the general store operated by the family in Carville in 1882.[14]

Carville graduated from Ascension Catholic High School in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, in 1962.[15][10] He attended Louisiana State University (LSU) from 1962 to 1966. In a 1994 feature in Newsweek, Carville characterized himself as "something less than an attentive scholar. I had fifty-six hours' worth of F's before LSU finally threw me out."

Carville served a two year enlistment in the United States Marine Corps, from 1966 to 1968, where he was stationed stateside, in San Diego.[15] He achieved the rank of Corporal.[16]

Following the conclusion of his military enlistment, Carville finished his studies at LSU at night, where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in General Studies in 1970 and his Juris Doctor degree in 1973.[17] Carville is a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity.[18][19] He later worked as a junior high school science teacher. Before entering politics, Carville worked as a litigator at McKernnan, Beychok, Screen and Pierson, a Baton Rouge law firm, from 1973 to 1979.[15]

Political career[edit]

Early political career[edit]

Carville was trained in consulting by Gus Weill, who in 1958 had opened the first advertising firm that specialized in political campaigns in the state capital in Baton Rouge.[20] In 1984, Carville managed then Texas state legislator Lloyd Doggett's unsuccessful US Senate campaign for the open Texas Senate seat.[21] Finding himself out of work after the defeat, Carville recalled, "I was scared to death, I was 40 years old, and didn't have any health insurance, I didn't have any money, I was mortified."[22]

Prior to the Clinton campaign, Carville and consulting partner Paul Begala gained other well-known political victories, including the gubernatorial triumphs of Robert Casey of Pennsylvania in 1986, and Zell Miller of Georgia in 1990, and Brereton Jones of Kentucky in 1991. But it was in 1991 when Carville and Begala rose to national attention, leading appointed incumbent Senator Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania back from a 40-point poll deficit over White House hand-picked candidate Dick Thornburgh. It was during Wofford's campaign that the "it's the economy, stupid" strategy used by Bill Clinton in 1992 was first implemented.

Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign[edit]

In 1992, Carville helped lead Bill Clinton to a win against George H. W. Bush in the presidential election. In an October 1992 interview televised on Louisiana Public Broadcasting's "Louisiana Legends" with Political Consultant Gus Weill, Carville spoke on the campaign crisis of Gennifer Flowers' allegations of an extramaritial sexual affair with Bill Clinton which emerged shortly before the 1992 New Hampshire Democratic primary. Carville remarked that Flowers "was paid $175,000 by a supermarket tabloid for sharing her story" and that "the mainstream media got sucker-punched" by her allegations.[23] Carville set out to shame the press, berating reporters with charges of "cash for trash" journalism, and added: "I'm a lot more expensive than Gennifer Flowers."[24]

One of the formulations he used in that campaign has entered common usage, derived from a list he posted in the campaign war room to help focus himself and his staff, with these three points:

  1. Change vs. more of the same.
  2. The economy, stupid.
  3. Don't forget health care.[25]


In 1993, Carville was honored as Campaign District Manager of the Year by the American Association of Political Consultants. His role in the Clinton campaign was documented in the feature-length Academy Award-nominated film The War Room.

In response to the 1997 civil lawsuit then Arkansas state employee Paula Jones filed against Bill Clinton over her claims of sexual harassment while attending a conference on official business, Carville infamously remarked: "Drag a hundred dollars through a trailer park and there's no telling what you'll find."[26] South Carolina U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham later made reference to Carville's trailer park line during the 2018 Brett Kavanaugh SCOTUS confirmation hearings in reference to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. During an October, 2018 interview with Michael Smerconish on CNN, on the topic of Graham alluding to Carville's "drag $100", Carville remarked that, at the time, "I was making a joke", and added "I'm always complimented when people use my lines; you always like to leave a little legacy out there."[27]

Elections work abroad[edit]

After 1992 Carville stopped working on domestic campaigns, stating that he would bring unneeded publicity. He then worked on a number of foreign campaigns, including those of Tony Blair – then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – during the 2001 general election; Ehud Barak of Israel's Labor Party (at the suggestion of Clinton, who had grown frustrated with Benjamin Netanyahu's intransigence in the peace process) in the 1999 Knesset election; and with the Liberal Party of Canada.

Brazil, 1994[edit]

In 1994, Carville consulted for Fernando Henrique Cardoso in his successful 1994 campaign for the Brazilian presidency.[28] Cardoso, a professor and Fulbright Fellow lectured in the United States during the 1980s at Columbia University on issues of democracy in Brazil. Cardoso, often nicknamed "FHC", was elected with the support of a heterodox alliance of his own Social Democratic Party, the PSDB, and two right-wing parties, the Liberal Front Party (PFL) and the Brazilian Labour Party (PTB). During his tenure in office, Cardoso's administration liquidated public assets and deepened the privatization of government-owned enterprises in steel milling, telecommunications and mining, along with making reforms to Brazil's social security income program and tax systems.

Ecuador, 1998[edit]

In 1998, Carville help craft a successful strategy to elect Jamil Mahuad Witt as President of Ecuador. Mahuad, an Ecuadorian-born attorney, earned a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, where he was Mason Fellow.[29] He was also a US State Department-sponsored Fulbright Fellow,[30] who lectured in ethics and politics at several universities.

Mahuad was elected Mayor of Quito in the 1990s before retaining the services of Carville to help him win the Ecuadorian presidency,[31][32][33] in a campaign in which Mahuad touted his educational background at Harvard.

In the wake of an economic crisis from falling oil prices and stagnant economic growth, Mahuad decreed a state of emergency, and embarked on austerity measures to stifle rampant inflation, including sales tax and gasoline tax increases, freezing bank account withdrawals, and the dollarization of the economy which included the sudden voiding and invalidation of the Sucre, Ecuador's currency since 1884.[34] In January 2000, Mahuad was forced from office in a military coup following demonstrations by Ecuadorians.[35] Mahuad fled to exile in the United States. In 2014, an Ecuadorian court convicted Mahuad, in absentia, of embezzlement during his time in office, and sentenced him to twelve years in prison.[36] Interpol also issued a warrant for his arrest. [37]

Bolivia, 2002[edit]

In 2002, through his firm Greenberg Carville Shrum (GCS), Carville strategized in Bolivia on behalf of Revolutionary Nationalist Movement presidential candidate Gonzalo "Goni" Sánchez de Lozada. The son of a political exile, Sánchez de Lozada spent his early years in Iowa, and studied at the University of Chicago.[38] Lozada, who is most recognized for his use of shock therapy economic liberalization and privitization, won a majority of votes in a three way race before coming to power in August 2002 in a coalition government formed with two other political parties.[39] Lozada resigned in October, 2003 and fled to exile in the United States following the 2003 Bolivian Gas Conflict. Carville's work for Lozada in Bolivia was portrayed in the 2005 documentary film Our Brand Is Crisis, which inspired the 2015 narrative form film Our Brand is Crisis.

Venezuela 2003 and 2004[edit]

In 2003 and 2004 Carville worked with Venezuelan business interests who sought to oust leftist president Hugo Chávez.[40][41]

Afghanistan 2009[edit]

Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani hired Carville as a campaign advisor in July 2009. Ghani, who renounced his US Citizenship in order to run for Presidency in Afghanistan,[42] attended high school in the United States in Lake Oswego, Oregon during the late 1960s, earned his master's degree from Columbia University in 1977, was a Fulbright Fellow in the United States who taught at UC Berkeley, and Johns Hopkins University in the 1980s, and worked as an economist at the Washington, DC-based World Bank in the 1990s.[43]

Ghani and Carville met in Washington in the spring of 2009 through mutual friends.[44] Carville wouldn't say whether he was paid to advise Ghani,[44] whereas Ghani claimed Carville volunteered his time.[45] Carville remarked at the time that the 2009 Afghan presidential election is "probably the most important election held in the world in a long time," and he called his new job "probably the most interesting project I have ever worked in my life."[46] When asked about similarities between politics in Afghanistan and politics in Louisiana, Carville responded: "Yeah, I felt a little bit at home, to be honest with you." Carville's objective was to help prevent one of Ghani's opponents, Hamid Karzai from garnering a majority of votes, to force the election into a second round.[47]

Colombia 2010[edit]

In 2010, Carville worked as senior advisor to elect presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia.[48][49] The Colombian-born Santos attended the University of Kansas for undergraduate studies from 1969 to 1973, graduating with a degree in economics and business. He returned to the U.S. as Fulbright visiting fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 1981,[50] and also earned a master's degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in 1981,[51] and lectured as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1988.[52]

Santos later joined the Washington, DC-based think tank, the Inter-American Dialogue, and served as Colombia's Minister of Trade,[53] and Minister of Finance and Public Credit of Colombia during the 1990s and early 2000s.[53] In 2006, then President Alvaro Uribe appointed Santos as Colombia's Minister of Defence. Santos supervised the military during a period of political tension and military action targeted at the FARC guerrilla group, including a controversial military raid on Ecuador's border,[54] and extrajudicial assassinations during the "False positives" scandal.[55]

Carville played a crucial role for Santos, helping him to analyze voter polls, and crafted a winning strategy,[56][57] that included the night-time distribution of pamphlets under the doors of voters’ homes predicting the end of popular social welfare initiatives if Santos wasn't elected.[58]

On June 20, 2010, after two rounds of voting, Santos was elected as President of Colombia and was inaugurated on 7 August 2010 in the midst of a diplomatic crisis with Venezuela.[59] The U.S. State Department remarked in official communications that it was "pleased" with the election of Santos, and praised the "spirited debate" before the runoff and Colombia's "longstanding commitment to democratic principles".[60] In 2017, Santos acknowledged that his 2010 campaign received illegal payments from Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht.[61]

Argentina 2015[edit]

He acted as advisor for Daniel Scioli (Governor of Buenos Aires) election campaign in 2015. Scioli was narrowly defeated.


Carville after delivering a speech at a Western Association of Venture Capitalists meeting in December, 2009

In 2004, he was brought in for last-minute consulting on John Kerry's presidential campaign, but he did not play a major role.

In 2005, Carville taught a semester of the course "Topics in American Politics" at Northern Virginia Community College. Among the guests he had come speak to the class were Al Hunt, Mark Halperin, Senator George Allen, George Stephanopoulos, Karl Strubel, Stan Greenberg, Tony Blankley, representatives from the Motion Picture Association of America, and James Fallows.

In 2006, Carville switched gears from politics to sports and became a host on a sports show called 60/20 Sports on XM Satellite Radio with Luke Russert, son of NBC journalist Tim Russert. The show is an in-depth look at the culture of sports based on the ages of the two hosts (60 and 20).

After the Democrats' victory in the 2006 midterm election, Carville criticized Howard Dean as Democratic National Committee Chair, calling for his ouster, as he believed Dean had not spent enough money. In late November 2006, Carville proposed a truce of sorts.[62]

Carville was the executive producer of the 2006 film All the King's Men, starring Sean Penn and Anthony Hopkins, which is loosely based on the life of Louisiana Governor Huey Long.

Carville had believed that Al Gore, whom he helped put in the White House as vice president in 1992, would run for president in 2008.[63] This prediction did not come true.

On March 4, 2009, Politico reported that Carville, Paul Begala, and Rahm Emanuel were the architects of the Democratic Party's strategy to cast conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh as the face of the Republican Party.[64] Carville was particularly critical of Limbaugh for saying he wanted Barack Obama to "fail".

He is a regular contributor with Stan Greenberg to the weekly Carville-Greenberg Memo at The National Memo.

Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential primary campaign[edit]

Carville continued his political consulting with work as an advisor to Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. In remarks on then rival candidate Senator Barack Obama, Carville declared in 2007 that Barack Obama was the Democratic candidate "most likely to explode or implode."[65]

Carville told The New York Times on March 22, 2008, that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who had just endorsed Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination, was comparable to Judas Iscariot. It was "an act of betrayal," said Carville. "Mr. Richardson's endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic," Mr. Carville said, referring to Holy Week. Governor Richardson had served in President Bill Clinton's administration as both United States Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of Energy, and Carville believed that Richardson owed an endorsement to Senator Clinton in exchange for being offered those posts by her husband. Carville also claimed that Richardson assured many in the Clinton campaign that he would at least remain neutral and abstain from taking sides.[66] Richardson denied Carville's account, arguing that he had not made any promises to remain neutral. Richardson claims that his decision to endorse Obama was "clinched" by his speech on race relations following the swirl of controversy surrounding Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright.[67] Carville went on to note,"I doubt if Governor Richardson and I will be terribly close in the future," Carville said,[68] but "I've had my say...I got one in the wheelhouse and I tagged it."

Even as Clinton's campaign began to lose steam, Carville remained both loyal and positive in his public positions, rarely veering off message and stoutly defending the candidate. But on May 13, 2008, a few hours before the primary in West Virginia, Carville remarked to an audience at Furman University in South Carolina, "I'm for Senator Clinton, but I think the great likelihood is that Obama will be the nominee."[69] The moment marked a shift from his previous and often determinedly optimistic comments about the state of Clinton's campaign.

After Barack Obama's clear lead for victory in the Democratic presidential campaign on June 3, James Carville said he was ready to open up his wallet to help Obama build a political war chest to take on John McCain in November.


Carville & former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin at a 2016 Polticon forum.

Carville was retained by Palantir Technologies as a paid adviser in 2011, and was instrumental in bringing about Palantir's collaboration with the New Orleans Police Department to quietly deploy predictive policing software in New Orleans.[70][71]

Carville has criticized Obama's political style and demeanor over the years. On November 18th, 2010, Carville spoke to an audience at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast and remarked: "If Hillary gave up one of her balls and gave it to Obama, he'd have two."[72] Carville made a similar remark to political journalist Eleanor Clift during the midst of the primaries in May, 2008, insinuating that Hillary Clinton was a tougher candidate, remarking: "If she gave him one of her cojones, they'd both have two."[73]

In November 2013, in light of President Barack Obama's declining poll numbers, Carville commented "I think the best thing he can do is take a toke on the mayor of Toronto's crack pipe, because his numbers are about 48."[74]

On October 21, 2018 Carville participated with Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson at the 2018 PoltiCon in Los Angeles in, "A conversation with Eddie Izzard."[75]

Trump Administration[edit]

In 2019, political pundit Mark Halperin consulted with Carville for his upcoming book: "How to Beat Trump: America's Top Political Strategists on What It Will Take.” Carville was asked what he would tell Halperin's sexual assault victims who have expressed disappointment and outrage that so many top Democrats were willing to talk with someone accused of such serious allegations, and remarked: "I know he's been accused by a lot of people and lost his job. The guy called me and asked me to speak to him on a topic that I obviously care about. And I spoke to him."[76]

2020 election cycle[edit]

Carville stumping for Michael Bennet in 2020.

Carville co-hosts a podcast along with Al Hunt: "2020 Politics War Room" which purports to offer "a backstage pass to impeachment and the 2020 Election."[77] He continues to make frequent appearances in MSNBC cable news programming to comment on the 2020 Democratic debates, caucuses and primaries, and the trajectory of the 2020 Democratic nomination and general election.

In January 2020, Carville endorsed Colorado Senator Michael Bennet's unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination.[78] Remarking of Bennet during the campaign season: "this is John Kennedy recloned, you can't get any better than this guy."[79] Bennet, who leaned hard on Carville's endorsement, garnered 963 votes in New Hampshire, or 0.3% of 300,022 total Democratic ballots cast in a year of record-shattering turnout.[80][81][82]

In February 2020, Carville suggested jettisoning the Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses, letting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi select the Democratic Party's presidential and vice-presidential candidates, and suggested Mitt Romney should "resign from the Senate to save the Democratic Party's ass, and run our convention." Carville further added he might cast a write in vote for Nancy Pelosi when he votes in Louisiana.[77]

In February 2020 media appearances and interviews, against a backdrop of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' rise in the polls, Carville expressed his displeasure at the prospect of Sanders being nominated, branded Sanders as a "communist" and pejoratively labeled Sanders' base of support as a "cult", warning of the "end of days" if Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination.[83][84] Carville used his media appearances surrounding the dustup to rail against the ascendance of progressive populist Democratic policy positions such as student loan debt forgiveness[85] and "people voting from jail cells."[86] Carville also decried banning hydraulic fracking for shale gas.[87]

In November 2020 Carville predicted that the result of the presidential election would be known by 10 p.m. on election day. After the result took an additional four days to become clear, Politico named Carville's prediction one of "the most audacious, confident and spectacularly incorrect prognostications about the year".[88]

Public speaking[edit]

In 2004, the New York Times noted Carville was making more than 100 speeches per year, to various audiences, including business groups, colleges and universities, and Democratic Party fundraising events. Charles Lewis, executive director at the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington research group remarked that “No political consultant has carved a space as unique as his." Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said at the time: “He's become a commodity of himself by design. He's a walking conglomerate." Joe Lockhart, a former press secretary to Bill Clinton characterized Carville as “a multimedia corporation, and he's been smart about it. He is a model of the future. This could not have happened pre-1992 when campaign consultants were viewed by a small audience. Now they are public celebrities."[89] Carville was noted to have been represented exclusively by the Washington Speakers Bureau, with a speaker's fee of $20,500 in 2004 to get him to the podium for an hour, plus first-class expenses and top accommodations.[90]

Personal life[edit]

Carville is married to political consultant Mary Matalin, who worked for George H. W. Bush on his 1992 presidential reelection campaign. Carville and Matalin were married in New Orleans in October 1993. They have two daughters: Matalin Mary "Matty" Carville and Emerson Normand "Emma" Carville.

In 2008, Carville and Matalin relocated their family from Virginia to New Orleans.[91] Carville joined the faculty of Louisiana State University's Manship School of Mass Communication in January 2018. His work at the Manship School will be supported by philanthropic gifts.[92]



  • All's Fair: Love, War and Running for President (1995), with Mary Matalin and Peter Knobler
  • We're Right, They're Wrong: A Handbook for Spirited Progressives (1996)
  • ...And The Horse He Rode In On: The People vs. Kenneth Starr (1998)
  • Stickin: The Case for Loyalty (2000) with Paul Begala
  • Suck Up, Buck Up... and Come Back When You Foul Up (2001)
  • Had Enough? (2004)
  • Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future (2006) with Paul Begala
  • 40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation (2009)
  • It's the Middle Class, Stupid! (2012) with Stan Greenberg
  • Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home, (2014) with Mary Matalin
  • We're Still Right, They're Still Wrong: The Democrats' Case for 2016, (2016)

Children's fiction

Film and television appearances[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]