by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) was perfectly clear about the kind of candidate he wanted North Carolina Democrats to nominate to face incumbent senator Thom Tillis (R.) in 2020.
Last year, when state senator Jeff Jackson—a relatively young, white, male veteran—was being courted to enter the race, Schumer reportedly laid out his vision for a winning campaign strategy. After rejecting Jackson’s suggestion of holding town halls to interact with voters, Schumer said he wanted the Democratic nominee to “spend the next 16 months in a windowless basement raising money, and then we’re going to spend 80 percent of it on negative ads about Tillis.”
Though Jackson ultimately passed on the race, Schumer found a willing candidate in Cal Cunningham—a relatively young, white, male veteran who might be the most boring political figure of the 2020 cycle. But that’s exactly what Democrats are looking for in a presidential election year in which the party’s central campaign message amounts to little more than “Not Trump.”
Schumer and Democratic Party leaders certainly have a thing for Cunningham. Perhaps because he’s a boring white man, or because they see him as the most amenable to doing what he’s told. For the most part, Cunningham has followed Schumer’s orders, while outside groups spend millions on ads attacking his opponent. Majority Forward, a Democrat-aligned PAC, on Tuesday launched a seven-figure ad campaign criticizing Tillis’s record on health care.
Cunningham has even received help from the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump PAC founded by failed Republican strategists. The group released a 30-second television spot in May accusing Tillis of being too loyal to the president, a primary theme of Cunningham’s campaign.
The North Carolina Senate race has already been the target of nearly $14 million in outside spending. …