Since he was first elected, polls have shown Sen. Thom Tillis to have low favorability numbers. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s in trouble since his numbers are similar to those Sen. Richard Burr carried throughout 2010 and 2016 when he won re-election, but it does mean that Tillis could and should face a competitive race. Even with his numbers, Democrats need to find a very strong candidate for 2020.

This year, I like women candidates. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Clinton’s loss and treatment by the media (but her emails!) and the record number of women winning in 2018, they have emerged as the most powerful force in the Democratic Party. They also present a great contrast to the party of old white guys.

To that end, I want to see Charlotte Mayor Vy Lyles or Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane take on Tillis. Both women have been successful mayors of the state’s largest cities. At times, they’ve won praise from people on both sides of the aisle. They are both pragmatic and moderate in temperament if not ideology. They’ve also avoided the bitterness that defines state politics these days so neither woman is walking around with a target on her back.

I also like mayors. Municipal leaders must be tuned into the people that they serve. They spend more time dealing with problems that directly affect people’s lives. They have to consider garbage collection and pot holes. They hear from neighborhood associations, open-space advocates, bicycle enthusiasts, affordable housing groups, developers and small business people. They are more attune to quality of life issues than ideological ones, though the two do overlap sometimes. We could use more people with those experiences in Washington right now.

Both women would face challenges. Neither brings high name recognition to the race and neither has extensive ties outside of the cities they run. They would need to prove that they can raise the money necessary to win a US Senate race in an age where those contests cost tens of millions of dollars. Still, I think the state electorate might welcome fresh faces and I believe if their willing to put in the work, the money would come. 

While Lyles has had a great first term as mayor, she’s still only in her first term. She’s been impressive so far and largely avoided controversies in a city that’s notorious for divisive politics. But Charlotte has always been a bit separate from the rest of the state. In some ways, they’re more attached to the Upstate of South Carolina than the rest of North Carolina. Lyles would have a lot introducing to do.

McFarlane, on the other hand, is a registered unaffiliated voter. She would need to become a Democrat before she could enter the primary. She’s had a long and successful tenure as mayor, but it’s not been without controversy. In 2017, she defeated an African-American attorney in a contentious contest that left the city politically divided. She’s been in fights over the development of downtown Raleigh, access to public transportation and debates over short-term rentals. Still, none of those battles would be disqualifying in a run for US Senate. 

Either woman balances the top of the ticket for Democrats. The party’s ticket should be as diverse as its rank and file. That’s their strength and Lyles or McFarlane would be strong contenders to take on Tillis. 


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