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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

What do Louisiana and Afghanistan have in common? Well, the list is long, of course, but let's begin with James Carville. Famous Democratic consultant who got Bill Clinton elected to the White House has signed on with another dark horse presidential candidate - this one in Afghanistan. It's a campaign that is tougher than most for Mr. Carville, who's advised many international candidates.

So how do James Carville and his candidate plan to overcome the odds in time for the August 20th polls? NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has this story from Kabul.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: At a time when many Afghans prefer to lessen their leader's ties to the U.S. government, working with America's most famous campaign strategist may seem a risky move. But presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani jokes that James Carville's roots give him keen insight.

Mr. ASHRAF GHANI (Presidential Candidate): This is a Louisiana boy who understands. If you understand New Orleans, you understand Afghanistan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SARHADDI NELSON: The crack about Louisiana's reputation for corruption and back-room deals is one Carville appreciates.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JAMES CARVILLE (Consultant): I feel a little at home, to be honest with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SARHADDI NELSON: Jokes aside, Carville, who we reached by phone in New Orleans, says he sees real hope for Afghanistan's future. It's a future he wants Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank analyst, to shape.

Mr. CARVILLE: It's a fascinating country. It has a very distinct pull on people, and a lot of things that people think about Afghanistan over here in the United States is just wrong. Just because it has a failed president doesn't mean that it necessarily has to be a failed country.

SARHADDI NELSON: The president he's referring to is incumbent Hamid Karzai. His popularity is plummeting because of the growing Taliban insurgency and widespread allegations of corruption in his government. Yet a poll done in May had Karzai with more than a 20-point lead over his challengers. Ghani, on the other hand, is in third place.

He trails Abdullah Abdullah, an ophthalmologist and former commander in the Northern Alliance, which fought against the Taliban when it ruled here. Carville's goal is to try and force the presidential election into a second round. That will happen if no candidate gets a majority of the votes cast on August 20th.

Mr. CARVILLE: Look, anything gives you pause. Do we have our set of challenges? Of course. But, hey, I always believe in staying optimistic and offensive, that's my motto.

SARHADDI NELSON: Ghani is equally driven. He and Carville met in Washington this spring through mutual friends. Carville won't say whether he's being paid to advise Ghani. The candidate claims Carville is volunteering his time. He came to Kabul over the 4th of July weekend.

Mr. CARVILLE: I've learned a lot, took a lot of notes. And normally, you have a range of tools - from polling and focus group data to targeting and that kind of stuff. None of that is really available in Afghanistan, so it's kind of refreshing to go back and do campaigns the old-fashioned way.

SARHADDI NELSON: Ghani says some of his favorite advice from Carville is to keep his message short and on point.

Mr. GHANI: He's telling me not to be an academic, which is what I need to hear.

SARHADDI NELSON: Carville hopes to hit the campaign trail with Ghani in the coming weeks. He scoffs when asked if he worries that he'll end up in places where Western troops and the Taliban are fighting. He says risk is part of the job.

Mr. CARVILLE: And I doubt if I'll go walking around Helmand Province during a Marine Corps offense or something but, you know, it's what I do.

SARHADDI NELSON: The offensive in southern Afghanistan Carville was talking about will likely continue until the election next month.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.

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