by Jim Stirling
Research Fellow, John Locke Foundation
The North Carolina Democratic party saw significant movement in their party leadership recently, with more likely to come. WRAL’s Paul Specht in a long-winded but excellent report, which I encourage everyone to read in earnest, discussed the departure of the state Democratic party executive director Meredith Cuomo and Democrats’ perspective of this year’s election. While the loss of an executive director has significant implications for how a party operates, there is dissatisfaction with leadership within the Democratic party, meaning that there will likely be more turnover.
The three main issues Democrats have with their current leadership are they failed to recruit candidates for all legislative races, did not get funding from national groups and failed to organize their campaign quickly. Their belief that Cheri Beasley was underfunded is incorrect, given she is the third highest-funded candidate in the state’s history, second only to Cal Cunningham and Roy Cooper in the 2020 election. The blame doesn’t fall with the Democratic party’s leadership for these perceived issues Democrats have.
While the issues activists are addressing have some merit and have angered much of their base, much of this is not the leadership’s fault. Rather, they are a result of a combination of the predictions of a difficult midterm election climate and common issues with the unions in general. Earlier this year, Democrats had a very public squabble that seemed to disrupt their get-out-the-vote efforts, akin to the Bernie Sanders campaign’s issues with their union.
No one at the beginning of the year anticipated that Democrats would have a favorable policy issue assisting in driving out their base, as was the case with abortion. The unfavorable climate early in the year likely gave some potential candidates pause to run for seats that would have been competitive or leaning in favor of Republicans. While recruiting candidates can be challenging for any state party, fighting a party union, much like dealing with private sector unions, negatively impacts effectiveness and significantly increases cost.
Democratic frustration on these issues has been spreading on social media. The most common complaint from their activists has been the Democratic party’s choice of candidates to back.
Democratic activists have criticized their party over the last month for running candidates’ messaging aiming toward the middle of the road instead of running further left to focus on their base. If the party follows that advice, it will not only continue the exodus of voters away from the Democratic party we have seen since the 2020 election but also hurt Democrats’ ability to address the rural-urban divide we see in the state.
Having their cake and eating it too
Paul Specht’s piece for WRAL brings up two opposing goals for North Carolina Democrats. A desire to break the GOP’s advantage in rural counties while advocating more to their political base. Their political base does not share the same issue concerns as rural North Carolina voters, however. Social issues that are viewed favorably in counties like Wake and Mecklenburg are not the issues that will win over many rural voters in Randolph and Lenoir.
Hardline progressive ideas like Medicare for all or total student loan forgiveness don’t resonate with them the same way they do with the left’s base.
Suppose Democrats look to move their party even further to the left. In that case, this will alienate moderate North Carolina voters and drive the political discourse even further apart, much like we see on the national level. While this is good for Republicans and Conservatives in North Carolina, if one party goes further and further into extreme stances, political discourse suffers. Compromise and bipartisanship are already in decline, and we do not need to see our state’s politics becoming more divisive.