As I’ve been calling around the state talking to people about my campaign, I often get the refrain, “But those districts are gerrymandered. They’re safe Republican.” It’s a story that Democrats and analysts have been telling that’s just not true. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
When the Republican legislature redrew the districts, they made several of them more Democratic, including the Eighth Congressional District. In 2008, Kay Hagan won the district by two points. The Congressional vote in 2012 was 53-47 Republican. By most measures, that should be a swing district. Too many Democrats, though, have convinced themselves that it’s unwinnable.
When I began working in politics in the early 1990’s, any district in North Carolina where African-American voters made up more than 20% of the electorate was considered competitive. The likely vote in the 8th Congressional District is 25% African-American, 2% Hispanic and 1% Lumbee Indian. Sixty-nine percent of the voters are white. To win, a Democrat needs to win about 35% of white voters. If they can’t do that, they have a bigger problem than just district lines.
For years, Democrats have been losing a larger and larger share of white working class voters. A lot of liberals blame the loss on divisive social issues like guns and abortion. I blame it on the Democrats’ inability to offer them any economic incentives. The decline in white working class support in North Carolina mirrors the decline of manufacturing jobs in rural areas.
Working people haven’t had a raise in decades and some of them have lost their entire careers. Democrats need to offer them a program that creates opportunity and rebuilds areas devastated by bad trade deals and fraying infrastructure. I support a higher minimum wage but we also need to ensure we have viable businesses who can pay it.
We need to remove barriers to creating jobs by revisiting and reforming regulatory laws that hamper jobs. We also need to offer incentives for companies moving to or starting up in rural North Carolina. And we need to rebuild the infrastructure to reflect 21st century America, not mid-20th century America.
The state is dotted with once-thriving small towns with boarded up stores waiting for tenants and surrounded once-prosperous neighborhoods looking for residents. We need to give the people who still live there hope. Republican have won them by preying on their fears.
Democrats need to compete vigorously in districts like North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District. If they show that they aren’t giving up on the people who live there, then those folks might come home. But if Democrats don’t compete in districts like the Eighth, then they should settle into their minority status for another decade or so. The state is changing, but, post-recession, it’s not changing that fast.
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 >