Can Democrats do the 2022 math?

by | May 17, 2021 | NC Politics, New Day for NC | 3 comments

North Carolina Democrats want to change the U.S. Senate math in 2022. But is their problem math or English?

In 1990, Harvey Gantt lost the Senate race to Jesse Helms by 100,000 votes. Afterward, a Democratic consultant assured me: “North Carolina’s demographics are changing. We’ll win next time.”

Thirty years later, Cal Cunningham lost the Senate race to Thom Tillis – again, by 100,000 votes.

The electorate definitely has changed. In 1990, 2 million people voted. In 2020, 5.5 million voted. 

The percentages have changed. Gantt lost by 5%; Cunningham, by 1.7%.

But the outcome was the same. In fact, Democrats have lost nine of 11 Senate races since 1990.

Demographics haven’t changed Democrats’ destiny.

North Carolina is growing fast. We added nearly a million people between 2010 and 2020, from 9.5 million to 10.4 million, a 9.5% growth rate. We’re one of just six states that will get another congressional seat.

Many of the new people are urban, college-educated, younger, and racially and culturally diverse – more likely to be Democratic voters.

But many people moving here obviously aren’t voting Democratic. Many are older retirees, or military retirees. Many left other states because of high taxes.

There are still many rural, religious, conservative white voters. In both 2016 and 2020, the Trump turnout surprised Democratic pollsters.

James Carville, the sharp-tongued Democratic warhorse, thinks the problem is language. In a scathing interview with Vox, he said, “Wokeness is a problem, and we all know it.” Democrats are guilty of “faculty lounge language”:

“You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people? They come up with a word like “Latinx” that no one else uses. Or they use a phrase like ‘communities of color.’ I don’t know anyone who speaks like that. I don’t know anyone who lives in a ‘community of color.’ I know lots of white and Black and brown people and they all live in … neighborhoods.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with these phrases. But this is not how people talk. This is not how voters talk. And doing it anyway is a signal that you’re talking one language and the people you want to vote for you are speaking another language.”

He added, “And maybe tweeting that we should abolish the police isn’t the smartest thing to do.”

In an essay, “The Bitter Heartland,” Clinton Administration veteran William A. Galston says “social conservatives and white Christians” – that is, Trump voters – feel a powerful resentment toward political and cultural liberalism. Why?

“They have a sense of displacement in a country they once dominated. Immigrants, minorities, non-Christians, even atheists have taken center stage, forcing them to the margins of American life.

“They believe we (liberals) have a powerful desire for moral coercion. We tell them how to behave — and, worse, how to think. When they complain, we accuse them of racism and xenophobia….

“They believe we hold them in contempt.

“Finally, they think we are hypocrites. We claim to support free speech — until someone says something we don’t like. We claim to oppose violence — unless it serves a cause we approve of. We claim to defend the Constitution — except for the Second Amendment. We support tolerance, inclusion, and social justice — except for people like them.”

Carville concedes, “Democrats are never going to win a majority of these voters….  But the difference between getting beat 80-20 and 72-28 is all the difference in the world.”

For their 2022 homework, Democrats should study both math and messaging.

Gary Pearce was a reporter and editor at The News & Observer, a political consultant, and an adviser to Governor Jim Hunt (1976-1984 and 1992-2000). He blogs about politics and public policy at        


  1. Joanne Dufilho

    You mentioned reasons why Dems continue to lose to Republicans but you left out candidate selection. Cal Cunningham seemed to be on his way to beating Thom Tillis until his affair with he wife of a man serving under him in the military was revealed.

  2. Andy Stevens

    North Carolina Democrats should rise in unison against a constant reminder of their Jim Crow, racist past….but they won’t They want to defund the police. worse they want to denigrate the cop on the beat. They want to confiscate guns, too, and quietly rejoice that “woke ” Democrat Sheriffs use racist Jim Crow law to throw minorities under the bus at rates three times that of whites. When will reasonable “people of color” see they’ve been played for generations?

    • Melissa Myer

      The Jim Crow racist past isn’t in the past. There have been improvements in race relations, but it’s far from perfect. Learning from history helps to understand the present and where improvements can be made for the future. What I see is that you are being played by the right wing media. I don’t want to confiscate your guns or defund the police. I don’t hate the police but like any profession there can always be improvements. Starting with making assumptions or stereotyping those you come into contact with

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