One of Randy Voller’s last acts as chair was to announce that he would not run for re-election to helm the North Carolina Democratic Party. He must be commended for his announcement as it was a selfless ownership of responsibility for this year’s election and provides the opportunity for the Party to start anew ahead of the 2016 elections. North Carolina Democrats have a lot of work cut out for them, yet I remain optimistic for what lies ahead for our party.
North Carolina Democrats will have to determine what their role is in the post-Citizens United world. While c(3) and c(4) non-profit organizations mobilized across the state on behalf of candidates, drawing in volunteers, and turning out the vote, the Democratic Party has something that those organizations don’t - a ready-made structure that also brings with it loyalty and sentimental value. Because the Democratic Party brings people together and the people see themselves in the Party, it has a significant advantage that must be realized and leveraged to win elections in North Carolina.
That advantage should be used to hold the majority party accountable. Most of the time it has been up to our Democratic legislative caucuses to call out the bad policies of the Governor, Speaker Tillis, and Leader Berger. In 2009-2010, former GOP chairman Tom Fetzer was unrelenting in his attacks of Governor Perdue and the Democrat-led legislature. Because the chair of the State Party has a remarkable bully pulpit, the next NCDP chair should be focused on calling out the NCGOP from Murphy to Manteo while helping reconstitute a year-round GOTV operation.
North Carolina Democrats must be ready to run a perpetual campaign that operates annually and not just every two years. We have municipal elections in odd-numbered years and nearly every major city holds their elections in those years. As a strategy, the state party should take more of an interest in these elections just as it did in 2009 in helping secure the victory of Anthony Foxx to be the first Democratic mayor of Charlotte since Harvey Gantt. These elections will help the state and local parties test out new strategies for presidential and midterm election cycles while helping secure the victory of Democratic candidates. By keeping volunteers and donors engaged in the odd-numbered years we can have a better launching pad for even-numbered year successes.
The Party will need professional field staff to help launch a year-round operation. While counties like Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth, Cumberland, Orange and many others have the capacity for running great county-wide campaigns we cannot have counties operating in 100 silos. Without a statewide coordinated effort, with clear goals and objectives that all counties buy into, we may find ourselves falling perilously short in highly contested statewide elections. Therefore there must be dedicated field staff for the Start Party starting with a State Field Director who supervises a number of Regional Field Directors who work with counties to build their capacity, including training local parties and their volunteer corps on successful GOTV methods and analysis.
While the House and Senate caucuses are responsible for recruitment and training of their candidates, the Party should also be involved in recruitment of strong and quality candidates for other offices, including those that will be on the ballot in 2016. We have three offices that must be targeted for the Council of State, including that of Lieutenant Governor, and a seat on the NC Supreme Court. While the party must remain neutral in primaries, it is incumbent upon the party to ensure that there are candidates for these races ready and eager to run.
To be successful in future cycles, it will be imperative for the NCDP to engage with the various groups constituencies of the Obama Coalition -- youth, women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT. The strength of that coalition tends to diminish in midterm elections, but the only way to keep that Coalition together will be through year-round engagement outside of elections. The Party’s caucuses are great vehicles for this kind of outreach work, however outreach shouldn’t be limited to just our constituency groups that make-up the big tent party, but must also include rural communities and their concerns. The only way to turn some of these communities from red to blue will involve going to those communities, hearing their concerns about our state, and directly asking for their votes and making them feel just as important and vital to the Democratic coalition as our urban and suburban communities.
Going forward we cannot understate the importance of our party doing all it can to restore the confidence of our candidates, elected officials, donors, progressive organizations and even ourselves in the North Carolina Democratic Party. By strengthening our resolve to run a top-flight organization we will see the return of some of our biggest donors and a renewed interest from our partners. Only by choosing to be a principled organization laser focused on winning elections and a party infrastructure centered on that goal can we hope to have the type of coordinated campaigns that other states, like Washington, Virginia, and Wisconsin run – a truly coordinated effort from the presidential campaign and every other candidate on the ticket using the state party as the vehicle.
Democrats literally built this state through stubborn resolve and a concrete vision; we can do the same to reinvigorate the North Carolina Democratic Party. This is what all of us, from the grasstops to the grassroots, must be committed to.