Gov. Roy Cooper is trying to help Democrats regain at least a share of the political power in North Carolina.
We believe the state functions better when there are at least two viable parties debating ideas on a level playing field and – in an ideal world – occasionally compromising with one another.
Democrats led by the governor hope to win majorities in the state House and Senate in 2020, which would let them take the lead in drawing the election maps when redistricting comes around again.
That might be a long shot for a party that gave up control of the General Assembly in 2010 and now lacks enough votes in either chamber of the General Assembly to block a veto override by Republicans.
But Democrats are encouraged by Cooper’s razor-thin victory in 2016 over Republican incumbent Pat McCrory, even as President Trump was beating Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 4 percentage points in North Carolina.
The Dems are in sad shape, statewide and nationally. Across the country, they’ve lost governorships and legislatures, both houses of Congress and the presidency. They’re locked in an interminable debate over message. It’s hard to say exactly what they’re for other than opposing Donald Trump. That’s not much of message.
In North Carolina, those on the left are pouring their energies into rallies and protests.
But marching up and down Jones Street in Raleigh will do far less to restore Democrats to power than driving around rural Pender County, making sure potential voters are properly registered, ready to vote and have a ride to the polls.
It may not be as much fun, but votes, not placards, win elections.
Cooper has already raised more than $1 million and the state’s Democrats hope to raise millions more. They'll need it.
Journalist Jane Mayer, writing in The New Yorker in 2011, reported how department store mogul Art Pope and his family and organizations spent $2.2 million on 22 North Carolina General Assembly races, winning 18 of them and turning the legislature Republican for the first time since 1870.
She wrote then that Republicans were planning moves to “suppress Democratic turnout in the state, such as limiting early voting and requiring voters to display government-issued photo IDs.”
Republicans did just that, and they redrew the election maps to make Republican victories almost inevitable. Several of those moves have been blocked by courts, and the Democrats hope new court-ordered maps will help them win back at least enough seats to thwart veto overrides.
State Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said the “Break the Majority” effort will spend money on recruiting candidates and crafting a winning message.
If the Democrats are to become competitive again in a state as closely divided as North Carolina, they'll need to be as strategic, practical and forward-looking as Republicans have been since the late Sen. Jesse Helms pioneered the use of direct mail in the 1970s to solicit political donations.
As GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse noted, Republicans have built a strong political infrastructure. They field good candidates for school boards and county commissioners, a “farm system” that will feed legislative and congressional races in the future.
The Democrats need to set realistic goals, recruit and support candidates on all levels, and, rather than protesting, concentrate on winning elections.
In the end, it’s ballots that matter, not witty posters.