Last week saw quarterly fundraising reports come out for Democratic candidates Jeff Jackson and Cheri Beasley. Jackson was first out of the gate, announcing that he had hauled in $900,000. Beasley took a few more days to release her money report, but when it came out, she had blown Jackson away with $1.5 million. Beasley has now almost caught up to Jackson in cumulative fundraising despite her opponent enjoying a one-quarter head start.
One of the most astute political observers in the state, Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College, adjudged Beasley’s fundraising as evidence that she is the frontrunner in the race. This conclusion is hard to argue with. The former state Chief Justice has outpaced her opponent by a wide margin two quarters in a row, and has advantages beyond fundraising. Much of the Democratic establishment has backed Beasely; she has a much stronger resume than Jackson, and she brings a diversity to the ticket that he does not. While Jackson is making a strong effort, he clearly has an uphill climb to pull off an upset.
But Jackson’s campaign is not a hopeless cause. Nine hundred thousand dollars is a healthy number for a candidate running second in his primary–which shows, given that Beasley raised so much more, the downsides of being an underdog. Jackson claims that most of his fundraising has come from small-dollar donors. This speaks to his core strength as a candidate with enthusiastic backing from political activists.
The key question for Jeff Jackson is who, exactly, are the activists powering his campaign. He represented a prosperous, white-collar district in the state Senate and most of the ardor for his campaign seems to emanate from young, white liberals. That’s not enough to win a primary in North Carolina. Forty-two percent of registered Democrats in the state are African American and many others are blue-collar, moderate Dems. Jackson likes to present himself as an heir to Beto O’Rourke. The danger is that he’s more like Eugene McCarthy or Paul Tsongas, an urban social liberal who can’t win over the party’s “Beer Track” majority.
Beasley has a direct route to solidifying African American support. She should also run well among feminist women seeking representation in the United States Senate. While her campaign has operated a bit below the radar, she is amassing the funds necessary to run a modern, statewide campaign. Polling also shows that she is highly regarded across the state, and she managed to run ahead of Joe Biden in both rural areas and majority-minority urban precincts the last time she was on the ballot. That should throw into question who is the kind of candidate to appeal to voters in conservative rural districts. For years, Democratic mandarins have thought rural areas wanted white-male candidates tinged with conservatism. Both Barack Obama and Cheri Beasley show that’s not necessarily true.
Several months ago I reflected that this primary is shaping up well for the Democratic Party. Quarter-three’s fundraising reports confirm that hunch. While Beasley is running far ahead of Jackson, both are raising the sums necessary for viable campaigns. There does not appear to be the “donor fatigue” about which some commentators worried when Jackson made his early announcement. Democrats may not win this election at the end of the day, but at a time when the national party is in a panic the state party should feel like it’s in a little less of a crisis.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.