During the 2012 election, Democrats pounded Mitt Romney with his “47%” comment. The attack worked because it reinforced the stereotype that Republicans, and Romney in particular, side with the rich at the expense of the middle class. In essence, it made true what many people already suspected and it turned the Republican “class warfare” argument on its head.
In North Carolina, legislative Republicans seemed to have missed that point. In the past two weeks, they’ve taken steps to cut unemployment benefits when the unemployment rate is 9.1%, deny health insurance to 500,000 people, and raise taxes on the working poor while giving a huge tax break to millionaires. In addition, Gov. Pat McCrory gave large raises to some of the highest paid political appointees while many North Carolina families are still struggling to recover from the recession.
A leaked polling memo from progressive groups indicates that Republicans are on dangerous ground. Voters believe that state government is helping powerful interests but doing little to help the middle class. They also believe the rich are getting richer while “hardworking taxpayers fall further behind.” Historically, these populist sentiments have united the middle in North Carolina, keeping Jesse Helms in office for 30 years and helping John Edwards unseat Lauch Faircloth.
In these early days of the legislature, Republicans are making it easy for Democrats to define them. Like Mitt Romney, they appear unconcerned with the plight of struggling North Carolinians but bound and determine to make life easier for big businesses and rich folks. Politics is about perceptions and if progressives put together the kind of sustained, comprehensive PR program laid out in the leaked memo, Republicans could quickly find themselves on the defensive.