Democrats certainly won’t be lacking for candidates heading into 2018. Across the state, people are announcing their candidacies for Congress and legislature earlier than at any time in recent memory. In the case of the General Assembly, candidates are running for districts that may not even exist in a few months. The court has ordered new legislative districts and if the GOP does to the legislative districts what they did to the Congressional ones last year, announcing this early is just folly.
That said, there seem to be more candidates than districts. Democrats will probably have a lot of primaries and some of those will likely involve incumbents in seemingly safe districts. There’s a strong anti-establishment element feeding off of Bernie Sanders’ criticism of the party. There’s an even stronger anti-Republican sentiment among the Democratic base which could prove dicey for Democrats who are supporting some Republican measures.
Environmentalists are miffed that a handful of Democrats voted with Republicans to override Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that limits homeowners’ ability to sue hog farms. Other Democrats are upset that twelve Democratic House members voted to support the GOP budget. Sustaining Cooper’s veto would have delivered Republicans a stinging rebuke and further rallied the base.
Democrats in the legislature need to learn how to be a minority party. In Congress, Democrats have proven to be powerful checks on the Republican majorities because they stick together. With the support of grassroots activists, they’ve effectively delayed any substantial legislative victories for Republicans during the Trump administration. Democrats in the NCGA should learn those lessons.
Most of the Democrats who have sided with Republicans come from safely gerrymandered seats. Those seats may change after redistricting but, for now, those members should be worried about primaries from the left. In this polarized environment, siding with the GOP is considered heresy by many progressives. Primary opponents will likely use these votes as wedge issues with an electorate that is already more left-of-center and less tolerant of people they believe are consorting with the enemy.
The state is also awash in dark money organizations. Some of those groups may play in primaries to get more amenable candidates, especially in safe districts. Primaries are much less expensive to win than General Elections because they have so many fewer voters. In a safe Democratic district, particularly one chocked full of new voters, a win is a big reward with much less risk.
With new districts coming, Democrats would be wise to stick together. The state is full of people eager to run for office. They’ve been politicized by Moral Monday protests, the Women’s March and opposition to the Trump administration. They have little tolerance for incumbents who would break ranks with Democrats trying to hold Republicans accountable. They also have the backing of powerful grassroots organizations like Indivisible, as well as shady big money organizations. In this environment, reaching across the aisle is a lousy argument to make in a Democratic primary.