Yesterday, state Senator Terry Van Duyn of Asheville fired the starting pistol of the 2020 election when she announced she’s a candidate for lieutenant governor. With current light guv Dan Forrest term limited, she’s running for an open seat. She’ll be a formidable candidate.
Van Duyn has a strong track record of raising money and has been a respected presence in the Senate. Women across the state looked to her for advice and counsel as record number filed for office last year. She’s smart, articulate and connected.
However, my heart sank a bit when the tweet came across my feed announcing her candidacy. I’m not ready for 2020 to start. Besides, I think it’s too early and the timing stinks. Contrary to popular opinion, getting out first gets you nothing.
For most of my political career, races began about six months before the May primary. Candidates made their decisions during the fall of an odd-numbered year and began assembling staff and building the foundation of a campaign. The races really began with the New Year and the campaign that mattered only lasted a few weeks in April.
Today, candidates feel the need to get out early. It’s a mistake that’s driven by our hyper-partisan, hyper-politicized political environment. The biggest beneficiaries of early campaigns are the political operatives who start getting a paycheck now. The people who fund campaigns and the ones who determine the outcome of elections are still recovering from the 2018 cycle. Funders will decide who they support once the field comes into focus. Voters will determine their candidates when the ads start running more than a year from now.
Some people might point to Roy Cooper’s early announcement for governor as a rebuttal. However, Cooper’s announcement was the exception in exceptional times. A rudderless Democratic Party desperately needed a leader and Cooper stepped into the role.
There’s an old saying that the only time you’re guaranteed press in a campaign is the day you announce and the day you win or lose. Yesterday, Van Duyn competed with the largest December snow storm in recent memory and the largest political shit storm in recent history. Few people will remember she filed after they get through the holidays and settle back into their routines sometime in mid-January.
Van Duyn will be running for 15 months for a down-ballot race that will be buried under a presidential and US Senate primary. Most people who vote will not know she is a candidate when they go into the voting booth in March 2020. However, now that she’s out, she begins spending money that she can’t recover. The only people who will follow a race for a year and a quarter are political junkies like those people reading this post. We make up a small portion of the electorate and certainly not enough to determine the outcome of a primary that might have 2 million voters.
I hate to rain on Senator Van Duyn’s parade since launching a campaign feels like such a big deal. I’ve been in politics long enough to know that articles like this one suck. She can take solace, though, in knowing people will forget this piece faster than they will forget she announced.
Sigh. Let the races begin.
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 >