NC Democrats seek Unity at annual dinner

Featuring former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as keynote speaker, Democrats are re-energized for unification while old hands feel that effort must include moderate voters

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
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RALEIGH — Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was the keynote speaker at the N.C. Democratic Party’s annual Unity Dinner on Saturday night. Labeled for years as the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, this year’s change in theme reflects a new focus by Democrats in the Old North State to come together in an effort to chip away at Republican legislative supermajorities.As chairman of the National Democratic Party Redistricting Committee, Holder emphasized the importance of unification to achieving electoral victories that would allow Democrats more influence in the drawing of congressional and district lines across the country.Nowhere is the presumptive partisan advantage that comes from drawing electoral maps more center stage than in North Carolina, where courts have ruled against the legality of the latest maps drawn by Republican majorities, but seasoned political consultants think the N.C. Democratic Party needs much more than a unity-themed dinner to win at the ballot box in 2018.Brad Crone, president of Campaign Connections, a Raleigh-based political consulting firm, thinks the Unity Dinner is a step in the right direction and may provide some positive energy for the party. However, Crone said unity is a minimum requirement to address political realities on the ground.”The political reality is this: Until Democrats get a message that unaffiliated voters feel comfortable with, you’re going to continue to lose elections in the state of North Carolina,” said Crone in an interview. “The party is becoming more liberal as a result of the activists playing a larger role in the work and the energy that’s in the party right now.”Crone said while he believes the unity message is a positive result of re-energized party activists, the party apparatus itself only touches about 10 percent of active voters.”What you’ve got to understand is the party apparatus is run by liberal Democrats,” said Crone. “That doesn’t necessarily translate into how an unaffiliated voter in Johnston County thinks. They don’t care about the party apparatus; they’re not paying attention to whether Eric Holder came and spoke or not. They’re worried about their health care premiums; they’re worried about affording daycare; they’re worried about school choice.”Though having Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, in the mansion on Blount Street does represent a campaign advantage for Democrats in 2018, said Crone, the reach of the governor in certain pockets of the state is limited.”Simply because Cooper has the platform to raise money [that will] put them in a position to compete,’ said Crone. “But don’t think you’re going into House District 6 with a liberal agenda and win the district, so the recruitment process and the message has to be much more centralized, much more centrist in scope.”Veteran political analyst and consultant John Davis gave similar advice to N.C. Democrats preceding the annual dinner via his monthly political report, in which he argued that although Democrats are stronger than they think, they still have more work to do to appeal to the middle of the political spectrum.”I would say that Democrats are stronger than they think because they have local and statewide leaders in place who are appealing to the state’s fastest-growing constituencies of urban voters, young voters, women and minority voters,” wrote Davis. However, “If the Democratic base in North Carolina is 42 percent of the electorate, which certainly includes all the liberals and most of the left-of-center moderates, how are they going to grow to 50 percent of the voters without appealing to centrist independents who couldn’t care less about political parties?” Davis stated that the most liberal 20 percent of Democrats has taken over the party recently, hindering efforts to find unity and balance with leaders and issues that will make centrist Democrats and moderate independents feel welcomed.”It is a cohort of angry liberals obsessed with labeling the motives of anyone who disagrees with them as racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynistic (hates women) and Islamophobic,” wrote Davis before offering a tongue-in-cheek hypothetical. “What if Nikki Haley is the GOP nominee for president in 2020? You know, the former Republican governor of South Carolina and current ambassador to the United Nations. Will it be fair for Democratic men who choose not to support her to be labeled sexists?”So as N.C. Democrats unite in anticipation of turning the tide in 2018, they face a challenge also confronted by Republicans in recent years in that their success, according to hardened political advisers, may be determined by how well their ideas accord with those of a fast-growing cohort of unaffiliated or moderate voters. To the degree that either political party fails to do so, a third way may open up, according to Crone.”I think we’re witnessing the demise of our party structures, both Republican and Democrat, and that there’s going to be an opportunity, it may not be in the near future, but in the medium- to long-range future, I think you’re going to see a viable third party develop.”