What now for North Carolina's Democrats?
How are the North Carolina Democratic Party and the National Republican Party alike?
That is easy. Both lost elections this fall and do not know what to do about it.
It is particularly humiliating for North Carolina Democrats. They have to face a legislature totally dominated by Republicans, who have gerrymandered so effectively that it is hard to see how Democrats could regain control in the foreseeable future.
Thus, they are scratching their heads when they hear and read about how the Republicans lost their way and the Democrats won a great victory in November. Or, when they hear that North Carolina demographic trends favor Democrats in the long term.
So, what should the North Carolina Democrats do now?
One party activist told me they should follow the example of national Republicans and “and get some new leadership at the state and district level willing to critically evaluate our mistakes.”
He read that the Republican National Committee has a plan to review the 2012 elections to determine what worked and what did not. Their Growth and Opportunity project will address issues like “campaign mechanics and ground game, messaging, fundraising, demographic partners and allies, third-party groups, campaign finance issues, presidential primaries, lessons learned from Democratic campaign tactics.”
Assuming North Carolina Democrats are willing to follow the lead of the national Republicans, what should they be doing? Before they can follow anybody’s lead, they have to find a leader or a leadership group.
For the first time in 20 years, the Democrats do not have a governor who could claim responsibility to recruit party leadership. Nor are there senior legislative leaders up to the task.
That leaves statewide elected political leaders such as Council of State members Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Attorney General Roy Cooper, Commissioner of Insurance Wayne Goodwin, Treasurer Janet Cowell, Auditor Beth Wood, and Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson. None of them, of course, has the clout of a governor. But all have statewide contacts and supporters. Marshall and Cooper have high-profile positions and have earned widespread respect. Goodwin and Cowell have built good networks and are potential candidates for higher office.
Any of them who garnered enthusiastic support from the others would be a good candidate to take the lead in rebuilding the party.
The other major statewide elected official is U.S. Senator Kay Hagan. In recent years, North Carolina Democratic senators have not been active in state and local party matters. They have built their own organizations and fundraising efforts.
Hagan, too, has her own support group, and she is a successful fundraiser. Arguably, she should stay out of state party politics. But she has more to gain than any other statewide elected official from a strong active party. She is up for reelection in 2014 and her prospects would be improved by an enthusiastic, well-organized, and unified party.
Once Hagan or some other individual or small group takes responsibility, the first task will be to recruit and persuade the party organization to select a party chair and executive director who will bring unity and energy to the task. For an example, they could look back to the 1980s, which were also challenging times for North Carolina Democrats. People like current Congressman David Price, popular Raleigh lawyer Wade Smith, and current public relations executive Ken Eudy were recruited to party leadership positions where they helped strengthen the organization and prepared it for a string of successes.
For today’s North Carolina Democrats, time is wasting. The 2014 campaign begins in just a few days.
• D.G. Martin hosts "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/ A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.