State Senator Jeff Jackson is announcing today that he’s running for U.S. Senate. He clearly can’t read a room and has a lousy sense of timing. He’s jumping into the primary when the energy in the Democratic Party is with women and African Americans and an African American woman is already in the race. And nobody, except social media warriors, is clambering for the next election to begin. Within a few weeks, most people will have forgotten he announced.
Jackson’s candidacy reminds everybody of Cal Cunningham’s debacle, which reminded everybody of John Edwards’ scandal. Fair or not, North Carolina Democrats are wary of White, telegenic, male lawyers with thin resumes. To his credit, Jackson has been in the Senate longer than Cunningham, but since he spent his time in the legislature in the minority, he has no signature accomplishments.
After the Georgia results, Democrats had a gestalt. Instead of looking for White moderate candidates in Southern swing states, they should be looking toward Black candidates who inspire passion in the electorate. Raphael Warnock’s candidacy motivated a huge turnout among African American voters that drug Jon Ossoff across the line. Had a White candidate been on the ballot with Ossoff, the Senate would likely be Republican today.
In North Carolina, the last time Democrats won at the federal level, Barack Obama was on the ballot and he brought Kay Hagan over the finish line in 2008. Since then, Black turnout has been down and Democrats have suffered defeat after defeat. Jackson’s candidacy won’t likely juice Black turnout if he wins the nomination, so he will be more reliant on the collapse of the GOP, an iffy bet in the midterm following a Democratic victory for president.
Jackson is 38-years-old. He has time to wait. The Council of State will change when term limits force Roy Cooper to retire, opening opportunities for Jackson to get more experience and strengthen his resume. The state is getting an additional Congressional district and redistricting could create more opportunities. While women and African Americans are ascendant in the party today, that won’t always be the case as the party leadership becomes more diverse and Jackson’s profile, with more of a resume, will be less of a liability.
Jackson’s sole primary opponent, Erica Smith, has her own problems. She ran a less than stellar campaign in her primary against Cal Cunningham and has yet to show much ability to raise money. She also had little support from legislative colleagues who could have swung support toward her in the primary. She can change all that but she will need to show that she learned a lot from her loss and not just that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee rigged the game against her. If the race comes down to Smith and Jackson, Smith has the advantage, if for no other reason than their resumes are comparable, but the primary electorate will be about 60% women and more than 40% African American.
Personally, I am skeptical of candidates who get into races this early. The electorate and donor class is worn out from the drama of the 2020 election and looking for at least a short break from competitive politics. These politicians aren’t respecting the voters. Right now, there’s little enthusiasm for either of the announced candidates among the Democratic establishment. Savvier candidates would have waited at least a few more weeks. Either Jackson or Smith could gain momentum, but if they think anybody is paying attention to them in the last week of January, more than year before the 2022 primary, they need to get out of their bubbles a little more. Next spring, I may have different take, but, right now, I’m tired of politics.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >