Grassroots Farm Team Endorsement in the US Senate Race

We're not endorsing a candidate. We're endorsing a philosophy.

North Carolina needs a strong, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in 2010. I don't think any NC Democrats disagree with that assessment.

But what is the path to victory, and how do you win what looks like an uphill battle against an incumbent who possesses honed political skills and a multi-million dollar war chest? How do you capitalize on an unprecedented Democratic organization that turned everything from North Carolina's Electoral College to the Auditor's Office blue? How do you inspire a Democratic electorate that chose President Obama not just because he was a break from failed Bush Administration policies, but also because he was a break from Democratic politics as usual in NC?

We need a U.S. Senate candidate who is willing to do what it takes to motivate the masses to care about their government in Washington. It's not just about the top of the ticket - it's about maintaining an organization that helped North Carolina Democrats maintain their majorities in the State House and the State Senate.

If the GOP takes the State House and/or the State Senate in 2010, we're going to lose the safety net that protects North Carolina's most vulnerable communities. We're going to push more teachers out of our educational system, and hinder years of progress that brought NC into the 21st Century. Perhaps most importantly, we'll see a sledgehammer taken to the foundation of our economy in the cynical guise of making government "more efficient."

A U.S. Senator has to be a leader, and what they do in Washington won't matter if they have no home to come back to. That's why the Farm Team would like to propose some guiding principles that I hope all three of our great U.S. Senate candidates can get behind:

  1. Invest in a vigorous field operation that empowers people to be a part of the process.
  2. Break from the politics and politicos that hurt our democracy.
  3. Demonstrate the courage to lead and inspire our fellow citizens.

Invest in a vigorous field operation that empowers people to be a part of the process.

This point is going to make or break the Democratic Party in 2010. The U.S. Senate race and all of the races under it on the ballot will benefit from a Democratic campaign that works to get people involved. There's a lot of talent out there that made President Obama's North Carolina victory possible, and they're still hungry for change. Don't believe me? I saw it first hand in Charlotte this past year as many past OFA volunteers came together to Get Out the Vote for Anthony Foxx, Charlotte's new Mayor. A talented field operation activated that volunteer base after Anthony inspired them. The result was a bustling campaign headquarters full of people committed to progress.

When I was in Iowa in 2007, every political insider doubted then-Senator Obama's ability to expand the electorate. On the night when we discovered that the last Des Moines Register poll of the Caucus campaign showed Obama with a huge lead, the insider ripped apart the DMR's numbers and methods. In spite of this, Obama still won. He won not because of his star power, or because of Oprah, or because of the fact that he was the only candidate who was right about Iraq. He won because Obama's field operation went to small counties and towns across the state early on in the campaign, and people like Mitch Stewart empowered these staff members and their volunteers to be the first and most powerful vectors for Obama's message. By the time other campaigns were calling Iowans across the state, Obama's team had talked to thousands of voters face-to-face.

Iowa and North Carolina are different places. But they're both full of nice people who are willing to listen to a neighbor.

Break from the politics and politicos that hurt our democracy.

North Carolina's voters are fed up. People in Charlotte have been waiting on I-485 for 20 years. WNC activists don't want more Duke Power plants. Citizens of Wilson and Davidson don't like that their community broadband is threatened by corporate interests. Residents of NC-08 want to know where the jobs went.

For some of these people, the thinking is as follows: who better to blame for these problems than Raleigh and its cast of corrupt characters, from Jim Black to Mike Easley?

Our neighbors witnessed a different kind of campaign in Obama for America. Instead of snark, there was humility. Instead of platitudes, there was empowerment. When the political chattering class said it couldn't be done, Barack Obama and an army of volunteers gave 'em hope.

Our next Senator won't be able to give 'em hope if she or he is still practicing the politics that dominated the last chapter of our history. If you're going to contrast yourself with your opponent - Democratic or Republican - attack based on substance; avoid childish games and "salting the earth." I remember all to clearly what happened to Erskine Bowles in 2004 when he dropped a vitriolic TV spot that accused Richard Burr of not caring about breast cancer - Sen. Burr responded with a heartfelt ad about his family's own battles with breast cancer. Though they might not be related, within the next week Bowles lost a 10-point lead in the polls. That sort of meltdown doesn't happen when a candidate has the courage to stand up to crass consultants.

If a U.S. Senate candidate wants Farm Team votes, they're going to turn their daggers to plowshares and practice mudslinging no more. They're going to break with the politicos who preach the mantra of "50% +1" and who don't care how their candidate gets there. And they're going to help inspire voters to go with new ideas straight down the ticket, so that new candidates with a strong work ethic and a commitment to open government can succeed in a sunnier political climate in NC. This isn't to appease any group - this is to demonstrate leadership and to peg the Democratic Party as the group that's above the fray.

If our Senate candidate can't lead our party away from what has been a moral disaster and what will be an electoral disaster, who can?

Demonstrate the courage to lead and inspire our fellow citizens.

As you may have guessed, these points are inexorably intertwined. You can't inspire North Carolina's citizens if you can't get your message to them face to face, and they won't believe you unless you've broken with poisonous politics and politicos.

Many supporters of the Farm Team find Cal or Elaine or Ken inspirational. That's a good sign. I think that inside each of them is an important courage that they've demonstrated in their past. Sec. Marshall had the courage to become the first woman on the Council of State. Ken Lewis had the courage to reach for the highest levels in academia and succeed. Cal had the courage to run for N.C. Senate at a young age and serve his country in one of the most dangerous parts of the world. Not one of these candidates lacks courage. They have a great case to make for themselves as Burr's replacement, and it is our sincere belief that voters want to hear a candidate's case more than a litany of attacks against their opponent.

It is my sincere hope that all three of these candidates demonstrates the courage to succeed not just electorally, but as a leader.

* * *

Larry Brown, the coach of the Charlotte Bobcats, likes to tell his players to "Play the Right Way." If North Carolina Democrats can't win the right way by returning to the fundamentals of what makes our party great - grassroots democracy, open government, respect for all people, inspirational leadership, progressive public policy - do we really deserve to win?

I think our answer to that question goes without saying.

Sam Spencer
Grassroots Farm Team


"attack based on substance"

avoid childish games and "salting the earth.


I think the Grassroots Farm Team has endorsed a set of values we can all appreciate in our senate candidates, and I respect the work they've done to empower young democratic candidates throughout the state.

Thank You FT

Once again promoting strong values for our state!

Great Post!

I'm always a sucker for Larry Brown quotes but, we have to win the right way with a full debate on all of the points you put out. I agree that the main aspect of our Senate candidate is that she or he be a real leader, not just capable of being elected.

Ya know I agree with 99% of this .... b-u-t

I can't help getting the image of dems sending their candidate off to fight a political knife fight armed with only thier virtue and a smile.

I actively oppose gerrymandering. Do you?


None of these philosophical points will make the Democratic nominee put away the sharpest tools for the general election.

But if you look at last year's primary, the campaigns perceived as the most negative - Clinton, Moore, Dellinger, Neal - all went down in flames in NC. Sometimes the point of view that seems innocent and naive is also the one that's moral as well as being the one that is the most cunning.