My election takeaways

My political judgment is notoriously lame. I'm not connected to the power structure, I'm a minor-league donor, and my hot temper doesn't serve anyone well. So with that giant shaker of salt, here are my thoughts a week after the election.

1. NC is a divided land. We're more or less split down the middle, with perhaps a slight tilt toward Daddy State. By a slim margin, our voting citizens favor the iron fist of conservative control over the soft touch of compassion and fairness. Unfortunately, that margin give R's a sweep in the seven statewide races, including the execrable Ted Blood.

2. Neither party in NC inspires passion among candidates or voters. Republican yahoos rule the roost on the right, ready to bully everyone and anyone who moves. Democrats play nice and, more often than not, get smacked. Meh.

3. The US Congress races show us that Republicans can't dominate without gerrymandering. So they'll try again to stack the Congressional deck, knowing that cheating is the only way they can win.

4. The parties are sorting into older and younger clusters. Republican voters are dying out, while a Second Baby Boom is reshaping the Democratic side. We have about 20 years before the current crop of younger, pissed off voters reaches old codger status and starts turning conservative. Which means this is the time to go all in on a progressive, aggressive social and economic agenda. Legalize pot. Strengthen the safety net. Protect public health. Pursue practical climate change policies.

5. Mockery is in order. The idiocy DJ Trump has inspired on the right deserves ridicule and scorn. Empty suits like Ted Blood. The sick cabal taking over the NC Supreme Court. The rabid insanity of Mark Robinson. Their only agenda is personal power and it's our job to call them out again and again and again. Unfortunately, this isn't something the NCDP does very well. They need our help.

7. In a state of Dr. Oz's, we need more John Fettermans. NC needs candidates and voters who agree that even a stroke-damaged Democrat is infinitely preferable to a diabolical fascist. Bring back the Yellow Dogs. Call bullshit each and every time it's warranted. Stop. Being. So. Damn. Nice.

8. Democrats need to get their messaging shit together. The avalanche of NC emails coming my way over the past 90 days has been depressing, demoralizing, and just plain dumb. It's hard to imagine a more ridiculous communications agenda. "The sky is falling! Give money." "The end is near! Give money." "The quarter is ending! Give money." "The quarter is beginning! Give money." "You haven't already given! Give money." "You've already given! Give money." WTF are they even thinking?

More to come .



My takeaways from 2022

1. GOP dark money groups bought the election

When analyzing the results, it's a mistake to compare what the candidates themselves and the state GOP and NC spent on races. The really big bucks - and the flood of ads and flyers - came from Koch network and Trump network connected dark money groups.

With the Dem candidates, you'd see a ton of dark money group ads against the candidates and very few from the Dem campaigns or allied groups themselves.

2. The NC GOP and dark money groups set the narrative

The Dems offered generic "vote for me, here's my lovely spouse, and I'll be a hard worker for NC" ads, while the NC GOP painted a scary (and disgustingly racist) portrait of their Dem opposition.

It's easy for the GOP and their dark money machine to do this when the only time we hear about the Democratic Party here in the state is either from a news story, usually slanted and geared to the GOP narrative, or at election time.

3. The NC Democratic Party has no media strategy

The NC Democratic Party needs to run ads on social media and television every day for the next two years defining the party's values and how those align with ordinary working NC voters.

The NC GOP and their dark money groups have fixed, in the minds of voters, what Democrats stand for and who we are. If we want to make gains, or even hold on to what we have, the party needs to hire a good ad agency - not some political consultants out for a buck in exchange for the same old advice - to build a brand and create strategies to show how the GOP, from top to bottom, doesn't have your interest in mind.

4 - The NC Democratic Party has no social media strategy

The posts from the Dem machine are uninspiring and usually just countering the current GOP narrative. There's no humor and no creativity. It's generic public relations blather that isn't shareable or impactful.

Get some professionals to help you.

In addition, the Dems need to think about using email to build relationships with potential voters and keep commitments from existing voters.

Like that unemployeed goof-off uncle everyone has that only calls you if he's wanting money, we're just inundated with constant, urgent screaming emails begging for cash.

Nix all the emails. Sure, it's cheap and you can raise a certain amount if you send out enough of them, but it's reached the level of spam.

Approach email use like a business. Why can't I have a monthly newsletter that tells me what's going on in different parts of the state with Democrats? Volunteer or canvasing opportunities? If I subscribed, why couldn't I hear, over the course of the year, something about Democrats in every single county in NC? Why couldn't I get a good set of talking points in every issue to counter the BS currently coming from Moore and Berger?

The NC Democratic Party is stuck in 2002 with its methods and approaches to media.

It's hard to motivate existing and new voters when all you have to offer is spam email and cringy generic focus-grouped-to-death ads that dance around issues or positions.

Seriously - the Democratic messaging is such a joke that McSweeny's made a spot-on parody of it. Hell, I shared that parody many more times than just about anything coming from the party or candidates this year.

Nothing's changed

I've been watching and involved with NC politics since the early 90s.

Nothing about the NC Democratic Party's methods or approaches has changed since they were losing to Jesse Helms.

Hello?!? There's a reason the Dems lost the NC legislature and continue to struggle. You can't just shrug and blame it all on Art Pope.

Well you have to have candidates if ...

... you want to win elections. This year the NCDP let the GOP win 14 senatorial and 29 house seats unopposed. UNOPPOSED!

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?



Always have someone on the ballot, even if you're sure they're going to loose. It shows that you're still willing to fight and make your presence known.

It takes time and effort to do this, recruiting people to simply put their name on the ballot and pay the fee. But it's something the party should have been doing for years.

Speaking of candidates, I'll briefly relate a story here about my own experience with the NC Democratic Party.

Back in the mid-90s, when Jesse Helms was running for another term in office, a certain out lesbian activist, well known in the community and connected to the state Democratic Party leadership, worked to organize an effort to "get out the vote" in the LGBTQ community against Helms.

I went to some meetings of this effort, which drew enthusiastic, on the ground Democratic organizers from around the state. This was before the primary and the organizers and volunteers had to decide which of the Democratic candidates they would back.

It was pretty clear early on that most everyone wanted to back Harvey Gantt. However, the lesbian organizer and two "straight" women from the Democratic leadership team in Raleigh led the meetings. They tried every trick in the book to delay voting on the question, putting people in small groups and circle meetings, wasting everyone's time and facilitating trying to set the different groups against each other. They were insisting on backing the "safe" white candidate and spent most of their time trying to convince everyone that Harvey Gantt would be the worst choice to make.

It went on like this for three meetings over a couple of months, again with people driving from around the state to participate. In the last meeting, as everyone was demoralized, the activist and leaders from the NC Democratic Party just declared the meetings over and told everyone to just go their own way.

Harvey Gantt was chosen by primary voters and had a good campaign. But the leadership of the NC Democratic Party just basically abandoned him, putting their time and money in "safe" candidates they thought would win.

And that attitude - just backing and spending time, money, and resources on "sure bets" continues today, based on everything I've seen. The incumbent Democratic legislator in my district just lost by a few hundred votes and had a very winnable seat. He ran a great campaign, had on the ground volunteers that circled around the district at least twice to knock on doors, but I didn't see the state Democratic Party lift one finger to help out.

Unless you're connected with some big donors in Charlotte or Raleigh or you're in a county or district that "matters", you're on your own if you're a Democrat running in NC.

The NCDP as a brand, or consumer product,

is really no longer relevant. With unaffiliated voters outnumbering Democrats (and Republicans), it's plain the rah-rah bullshit just won't fly anymore.

It's the issues that matter (it always has been), and we have to have candidates who champion those issues. Reproductive freedom, racial justice, economic parity, environmental responsibility, these are the things most on the minds of younger voters.

Don't just say you have a plan, show them the plan. Or better yet, get them to help you devise the plan. Get them invested, harness that energy.

And anybody reading this who is a member of the SEC: don't tell young Democrats they need to pay their dues, get more experience, learn the ropes. Because guess what? Those f**king ropes are frayed, worn out, and need to be replaced.

The branding question

I think it's possible for the Democratic Party to have a brand that matters in North Carolina. But that would require clear and passionate messaging. I have a hard time seeing that happening.

That said, REbranding is definitely worth considering. For the past couple of years, I've wanted Democrats to be part of The Democracy Party, a name which actually says something about what we're for. Unfortunately, that ain't happening either. Too many people stuck in the past (see comments above) with little understanding of the power of reputation, branding and values.

Same goes for the possibility of messaging "freedom and fairness" as an umbrella for public policy initiatives that promote and celebrate those ideas.

Issues and branding and strategy

Sure, issues matter, but have the issues really changed beyond the number of a particular bill the NC GOP is pushing and the day of the week?

Branding is a much more broad kind of thing that focuses on the basic values of whatever you're selling. It's not necessarily "rah rah" stuff.

I could easily see a series of ads based around different themes - women's health, working for families, working for our neighbors, the diversity of NC, etc - that would make it harder for the racist and divisive election campaigning by the GOP and dark money to stick.

The GOP doesn't need imaging or branding - they already have FoxNews, the Carolina Journal, and a host of extremist websites and social media that show what their basic values are.

The left - and the Democrats in particular - don't have anyone hammering on that basic message.

Remember "Look for the Union Label" in the 1970s and 80s? That campaign normalized supporting products made with union labor and, at the same time, showed how making those products connected directly with average working men and women.

Ad campaigns, however, don't work in isolation and aren't a panacea. Read through this history of the "Look for the Union Label" campaign and you find this:

However, as Paula Green and ILGWU leaders noted ruefully in the years that followed, the song may have stuck in listeners’ ears, but it did not sway their purchasing practices enough to slow the growth of non-union garment production (whether consumer activism on such a broad scale would even have been possible is another question). Was the song “ultimately a whistle in the wind as manufacturing job losses and foreign imports steadily grew,” as the New York Times wrote in 2004? Perhaps. As labor historians and organizers have consistently shown, advertising campaigns and appeals to consumers, however well done, are no substitute for on-the-ground organizing when it comes to building and sustaining the labor movement.

Ultimately, it's about having a strategy.

You can advertise and build an image for the brand all you want to. It makes people comfortable being interested in what you're selling and can blunt the constant message blaring of the opposition. But, when the rubber hits the road, you have to have a basic infrastructure in place, ready to embrace volunteers, knock on doors, and be ambassadors in every single local community in your state.

Coca-Cola didn't become a top brand by just advertising and saying, "Oh well, those people in western NC drink Pepsi, so we won't even bother trying to distribute it there."

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The NC Democratic Party needs to be completely reconstituted and rebuilt from the ground up. I’m tired of losing. I’m tired of the same (mostly) old, white men doing the same things they’ve done since the 1970’s and expecting different results.

We need to energize people. People who know how to talk to Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Asians, East Asian Indians, Jews, LGBTQ+, rural voters, young voters, independents, low information voters.

We need a constant and consistent message, and not just 3 days before an election. Voters need to know what Democrats stand for and why we are different than Republicans.

We need modern political strategies, not TV that no one watches or mailers that immediately get recycled.

We need people who understand North Carolina people and politics to run campaigns, and not robots from out of state who run cookie-cutter losing campaigns.

WRAL shows how ineffectiual the NC Dem Party is

This morning, WRAL published a piece looking at "Why GOP did better in NC than other states on election day". It's a concise demonstration of everything wrong with the NC Democratic Party's leadership and messaging.

First, the article only uses Republican House Speaker Tim Moore and a (supposedly) independent political science professor from Catawba College, Michael Bitzer.

As usual, for sourcing and opinion, the reporter only goes to the NC GOP leadership and only one academic that backs up the NC GOP's narrative and doesn't bother asking the Democratic Party or other academics that might have had a different point of view.

You can blame WRAL or the reporter here, but this is what you get if you don't constantly raise a stink about the bias towards only reporting the GOP narrative in NC's major news outlets - a bias that's been cultivated by the GOP for several years.

The narrative simply boils down the issue to the Democrats not motivating their base and "overplaying their hand".

What the article doesn't mention are the likely record millions of dollars poured into the races by conservative dark money groups that paid for hundreds of ads and flyers inundating voters with lies and racist fear mongering.

Millions of dollars, by the way, that WRAL directly profited from by carrying this advertising.

Also not mentioned are the months of free coverage given to GOP talking points and right-wing nutcases with WRAL's coverage of fear-mongering about immigrants and minorities and crime, trans and gay "influence" in our schools, anti-vaccine and anti-masking or normalizing the extremist views of figures like Lt Gov Mark Robinson.

Again, WRAL profited directly from these lies and racist and bigoted fear-mongering with hyped up news coverage to drive ratings. And these lies and fear-mongering were used as a basis for the ads that inundated voters.

The article also paints a picture of a GOP mandate in NC for the election and doesn't bother to note how close many of these races were with only a few hundred or few thousand votes separating candidates in many races in key areas. Again, WRAL promotes the NC GOP narrative.

I could go on and on here. There's no mention of the gerrymandering. Nothing on the NC GOP "voter integrity" squad goons that were out in polling places (and prompted monitoring in some counties by election officials) or voter intimidation by the NC GOP. And certainly nothing about NC GOP leadership figures that have, at the very least, not discouraged or decried violence against elected officials or, at the worst, have been happy to promote violence and conspiracy theories.

It's not just WRAL. If you look around the state, you see the same problems with coverage by NC's major newspapers and tv/web outlets. And it's been this way for many years, with the NC Democratic Party and their allies remaining silent or offering only tepid, ineffectual responses to this unbalanced coverage.

Look at the chart accompanying this article from IndyWeek about NC's uaffiliated voters.

In 2010, NC has 2.7 million registered Democrats, 1.9 million registered Republicans, and 1.4 million unaffiliated voters.

Today, in 2020, the state has 2.4 million registered Democrats, 2.1 million registered Republicans, and 2.3 million unaffiliated voters - an almost equal number in each category.

How the bloody hell does the NC Democratic Party expect to win any election by staying silent and allowing voters to simply shrug and drift away when they see a party unwilling or unable to make their voice heard?

Another way to look at it

The truth is, many of us complainers don't have the stomach or patience for nitty-gritty party machinery. I certainly don't.

Which is why "hire great people" is my solution to almost everything.

Help wanted
Eagerly looking for top-notch CEO to pull North Carolina Democrats forward into a bold new era. Essential skills: Strategy, communication, fundraising, confrontation.

Salary $750,000 plus bonuses for winning.

Job title: NC Democracy Party CEO
Start date: Immediately

We keep doing the same things year after year, and keep coming up short.

It's not that we're dumb, but the system we operate in is designed mostly to perpetuate itself ... not to win elections.


PS I don't know who has what on his or her plate right now, but it seems to me that our top elected officials should be leading the charge for Democrats to hire big.

Another approach

Another method that might work would be for a small group of liberals, passionate about NC's future, to convince a few millionares to kick in to a new PAC that would basically do all of the grassroots organizing, outreach, and advertising that the NC Democratic Party isn't doing right now. And convince them to donate to specific candidates, not the Party.

Then, use the people hired by this PAC and the candidates they back, after they make inroads and develop relationships in different parts of the state, to take over the party's leadership.

Hey, it worked for Art Pope ...

Candidates vs party

The next election cycle will either cement Republican gains (and lose our state for a generation) or it will put a halt to the GOP's momentum. If we keep doing what we've been doing, the future is clear and dark. Can you say "Mark Robinson"?

I've come to understand that individual candidate campaigns can't do what needs to be done. For better or worse, people (including unaffiliated voters) are marking ballots along party lines. For a slim majority of voters, the Democratic Party is not their preferred choice. They know what the GOP stands for (cut taxes, kill teh gayz) and the GOP lies about Democrats scare them. In the absence of powerful and meaningful branding, there's no there there. There's no rising tide. There are no lifted boats.

If I were king:

1. Change the name of the party (dba) to the NC Democracy Party. Small change, huge impact. Instead of standing for a bureaucratic organization, we'll stand for something more important: democracy itself.

2. Choose a message and stick the hell with it. It doesn't matter if it's wrong, just as long as it sounds good. My vote is for "Freedom and fairness." Say it loudly, say it again and again and again.

3. Uplevel candidate recruiting so it becomes part of branding. The Democracy Party would be a magnet for people who want to make a difference ... not a sinkhole of hopelessness and discouragement.

The North Carolina Democracy Party
Freedom & Fairness

New Coke

You've floated this idea change before, but I'm just not convinced. It could kick off a complicated legal process where the Republicans force the BOE to consider it a "new" party and force everyone to re-register again. It would also prompt endless ridicule by the Republicans and they could paint a narrative that the party is trying to "fool" voters by selling its "unpopular" radical left message under a new wrapper.

Coca-cola tried this in the 80s to get a leg up on Pepsi with New Coke. New Coke was a disaster because they changed the product, making it sweeter and tasting more like Pepsi, to gain that market. But existing Coke drinkers hated it because it was too sweet and Pepsi drinkers didn't like it because it tasted too much like Coke.

And the Democratic Party tried this during the Clinton area, making platform and party machine that was liberal, but with the enticing taste of conservatism to appeal to middle of the road voters. It worked in the short-term, winning some elections. But, in the long-term, it forced the GOP to go further hard-right into authoritarianism and Fascism to compete, leaving the Democrats alienating their core liberal and progressive voters.

Brands have overcome reputations foisted on them by competitors before. The best example I can think of is the Apple and Macintosh.

Back in the 90s, manufacturers of IBM clones spent millions bashing the Mac as elitist, expensive, and incompatible with business applications. Apple worked hard to overcome this, offering entry level models; new, well designed products like the iPhone and iPad for the mobile and apps market; and really focusing on incentivizing developers and software companies to create applications suitable for a wide range of business.

In about a decade, Apple went from something like 10% market share to a major player.

And they way they did that was listening to what their customers wanted and adapting to how they lived and worked or how they wanted to live and work.

And they didn't just shrug and say, "There's no use in trying - we can't do that". When they developed the iPod, they knew it wouldn't fly without a library of music that would be inexpensive and easy for customers to use.

Sure, there were mp3 players before, but the companies that made them didn't bother talking to the music companies, thinking they just couldn't make headway because of all the illegal downloading going on.

Apple said, "Screw that" and went them, making a business case on how it would be profitable for both Apple and the music companies and ways they could use DRM to discourage sharing of music from their platform. They pushed hard numbers on how much people would pay for high quality digital music, legally and officially available from the artists and record companies.

A typical computer company in the 1990s, like Gateway or eMachines, would think quarter to quarter about bottom line. How can we slightly change this thing we've offered for years and advertise it for back-to-school or Christmas and maximize profits this quarter?

Apple started not with the product, but with thinking about what they offered as part of the whole person and what they needed or wanted or might potentially want if it became available.

A political party isn't just a slate of candidates or a platform to rally behind. It's a social movement made up of ordinary citizens who share a common vision for what our society and government looks like and how it behaves.

What the party offers as a "product" is a way for these ordinary citizens to participate, to vote, and organize.

The problem is two-fold and basic.

The party's platform is what people want, if it's isolated from GOP rhetoric. So, it's facing the same issue that Apple encountered in the 90s.

The other issue is that the product - a means to engage and network with like-minded individuals to create power through group action - is broken.

Like Apple, people are looking for something that's easy to use, engaging, and fits with the way they live, work, and communicate. But, like clone PC manufacturers, the state Democratic Party is only looking at raw numbers from quarter to quarter, thinking in the short term, and not even trying to make inroads into markets (counties and districts) where they could build business.

A hot-shot CEO for the party isn't going to change things. It needs to be a fresh, forward-looking, diverse team of people that are focused on voters and voter needs - not focused on short-term polls, stick in the mud political consultants, and the needs of specific candidates that have been around for years and wield too much power in the party.

I don’t disagree with you

That said, I do think that new leadership at the top is essential. And that’s not gonna happen unless we pay up. A whole new team would be even better.

I don’t worry about being challenged by Republicans for doing business as the democracy party. No one is challenging us when we talk about being Blue, are they? It would be easy to use judo to have our cake and eat it too. Democratic for formal applications. Democracy for messaging.

New Coke failed because it sucked. It didn’t taste better than traditional Coke.

PS. I’m open to any and all ideas to break our deadly logjam. So far, I just don’t see or hear anything bold enough to interest me.

The #1 question on the NCDP executive committee's mind ....

.... when they meet next year should be "If you want a leadership position, do you have the time and energy to do the job?". NCDP Chair can't just be a title that gets waved around on a business card for a couple of years. I was very impressed with Jerry Meek when he became chair in 2005(?). He visited my county, Person, 3 times. He helped us canvass neighborhoods twice. In 2008 we kicked ass; we went blue for Obama and elected Kay Hagan to the senate. It's been downhill ever since.

Politics is indeed local. Local county party energy matters just like it does at the state level. Using people power from blue counties to help out in neighboring red counties can help. I had such help from the UNC college dems in Person County a couple of times.

NC has 100 counties. I am very tired of our senatorial candidates running around on the interstates while ignoring half of the electorate. Bowles failed in 2002 and 2004 by doing that. Beasley did the same in 2022.

My 2 cents.

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?

Jerry was wide open...

I remember the 2008 convention in New Bern like it was yesterday, he herded us cats very well. Made it seem like we weren't being led, we were doing it on our own, if that makes any sense.

If I had a dime for every

If I had a dime for every time I'd told the party they need to change their messaging, I could now personally fund the millionaires pac you suggested earlier.
I have told many, many party leaders, We message like we're trying to impress a dissertation advisor instead of reach people in their hearts. Better messaging could help convince voters that conservative ideas are not in their best interest.

We repeatedly aim too low.