For the past few months, I’ve been writing about the civil war within the Republican Party between the establishment and true believers. Now, we’re seeing a different kind of split play out in the Democratic Party. It’s less about ideology than it is about the demographic shift reshaping the Democratic Party both nationally and in North Carolina.
For the past twenty years or so, North Carolina Democrats succeeded by nominating white, business-friendly moderates, usually from small towns outside the urban/suburban corridor. However, the state is changing and so is the Democratic Party. Instead of needing to win more conservative voters in the rural areas, Democrats need to motivate a younger, more diverse base of supporters in urban/suburban ones.
Clay Aiken’s entry into the primary in the 2nd Congressional against Keith Crisco highlights the change. Crisco fits the tradition model. He’s been a successful businessman in Asheboro. His friends likely come from across the political spectrum and he has close ties to the old political establishment. In a district as rural and conservative as NC-02, that may be the better profile.
However, Aiken represents the future of a Democratic Party that will be younger, more diverse and more urban. It’s his demographic that the Obama campaign sought and won in 2012. Aiken has family across the district but he grew up in Raleigh and chose to settle there. He’s openly gay and to Aiken and most of his generation, that warrants a big shrug.
Aiken is a product of reality TV in a generation where everybody is a YouTube star. Following his announcement, Buzzfeed posted a list of controversial tweets that Aiken has supposedly deleted. (For the record, I didn’t find them controversial. I found them funny.) I doubt Crisco had that problem.
While the Republican Party may be undergoing a painful internal war, the Democratic Party is undergoing a fundamental demographic shift. The next generation of Democrats won’t tell us about picking tobacco on the farm. They will tell us about playing soccer or riding skateboards in cul-de-sacs.
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 >