In 2014, Carville joined Fox News Channel as a contributor.
Carville, the oldest of eight children, was born on October 25, 1944 in Carville, Louisiana, the son of Lucille (née Normand), a former school teacher who sold World Book Encyclopedia door-to-door, and Chester James Carville, a postmaster as well as owner of a general store. The town of Carville was named after his paternal grandfather, Louis Arthur Carville, the postmaster. Carville attended Ascension Catholic High School in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. 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", both of whom established the general store operated by the family in Carville in 1882. He was born in Ireland in 1847 and his father, Alexander Carville, in 1810.
He received his undergraduate and Juris Doctor degrees from Louisiana State University (LSU). During his undergraduate years at LSU, Carville was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity.
Carville spent two years serving in the United States Marine Corps, achieving the rank of Corporal, and later worked as a high school teacher. Before entering politics, Carville worked as a litigator at a Baton Rouge law firm from 1973 to 1979.
Carville was trained in consulting by Gus Weill, who in 1958 had opened the first advertising firm which specialized in political campaigns in the state capital in Baton Rouge.
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.
In 1992, Carville helped lead Bill Clinton to a win against George H. W. Bush in the presidential election. 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.
One of the formulations he used in that campaign has entered common usage, derived from a list he posted in the war room to help focus himself and his staff, with these three points:
- Change vs. more of the same.
- The economy, stupid.
- Don't forget health care.
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 the Liberal Party of Canada. In 2002, Carville helped Bolivian Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada win the presidency in Bolivia, while working as a Greenberg Carville Shrum (GCS) strategist. This was portrayed in the documentary Our Brand Is Crisis.
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.
Carville is 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. 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. Carville was particularly critical of Limbaugh for saying he wanted Barack Obama to "fail".
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani hired Carville as a campaign advisor in July 2009. Carville said 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." Carville, who works for Ghani pro bono, when asked about similarities between politics in Afghanistan and politics in Louisiana, responded: "Yeah, I felt a little bit at home, to be honest with you."
In 2010, Carville worked as senior advisor for the campaign of Colombian presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos.
He is acting as advisor for Daniel Scioli (Governor of Buenos Aires) re-election campaign.
He is a regular contributor with Stan Greenberg to the weekly Carville-Greenberg Memo at The National Memo.
As an advisor to Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, 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. 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. Carville went on to note,"I doubt if Governor Richardson and I will be terribly close in the future," Carville said, 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." 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 is married to Republican-turned-Libertarian political consultant Mary Matalin, who had 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. He is currently a professor of practice in political science at Tulane University.Carville takes a lead role in The War Room, a documentary about Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, together with George Stephanopoulos.
He appeared in the 1996 film The People vs. Larry Flynt as attorney Simon Leis.
He appeared in three episodes of the sitcom Mad About You playing himself, as head of a political consulting firm that hires Jamie Buchman, played by Helen Hunt.
He has a guest role on the sitcom Spin City, where he is interviewed for a job as campaign manager.
In the films Old School and Wedding Crashers, Carville makes cameo appearances as himself.
He appeared as himself in Our Brand Is Crisis, a documentary about the Bolivian presidential election.
Carville appears as the Governor of Missouri, Thomas Crittenden, in the 2007 movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
He appeared as himself in NBC's comedy 30 Rock, season 2 episode 8 "Secrets and Lies".
He appeared in cartoon form in the Family Guy episode "Running Mates."
He starred in Steven Soderbergh's HBO series K Street along with his wife.
Carville is a regular guest on The Tony Kornheiser Show where he picks both NFL and college football games against the USA Today spreads.
He voiced Judge Roland McFarlane in the King of the Hill episode "Jumpin' Crack Bass".
He made a cameo appearance in The Muppets.
He made a notable appearance on Good Morning America to condemn Barack Obama's response to the oil spill where he claimed that 'We're About to Die Down Here!'
Beginning in 2012, Carville and Matalin appeared in "Cocktail Party" commercials for Maker's Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
Carville appears as himself in the film G.I. Joe: Retaliation, introducing the President at a fundraising event.
He was portrayed on Saturday Night Live, mostly by Bill Hader.
He and his wife perform the epilogue to Hayes Carll's political comedy song "Another Like You"