Well, it’s on now. Former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Cheri Beasley announce her candidacy for U. S. Senate. The announcement wasn’t a surprise but her entry changes the dynamic of the race. She starts as a clear frontrunner.
The primary is still more than a year away so the field could continue to take shape. Still, Beasley enters with a lot of advantages. She just came off a bruising statewide race that she lost by a mere 400 votes out of almost 5.5 million cast. She’s battle-tested. She’s also won other statewide contests and is known by the donors and activists in the state as well as donors from across the country. As the first African American woman to serve as chief justice, she also brings a bit of star power.
Her chief opponent is state Senator Jeff Jackson. Jackson made a splash with his first quarter fundraising numbers and set a bar that Beasley will need to match, if for no other reason than to alleviate any skepticism of the Washington establishment crowd. Jackson has a head start and is engaging voters on social media, but he faces challenges that will be difficult to overcome.
The primary electorate will be 60% women and 42% African American. Beasley brings a resume that would make any candidate a formidable opponent and being an African American woman gives her a huge advantage. She only needs 30% of the vote to avoid a runoff and she should be able to solidify both African Americans and women behind her candidacy. At a time when people of color and women are ascendant in the Democratic Party, why would African American and women voters choose a white man with a thinner resume and less political experience over someone with Beasley’s profile?
Former state Senator Erica Smith and few other candidates are in the race. None of them are getting much attention from the donor class or the activists, the groups they need to engage at this point in the race. Smith has a profile similar to Jackson’s but lacks his innate communication skills and political instincts. Without either a more substantial profile or larger grassroots following, she will not likely keep up with Beasley or Jackson.
Beasley’s race is with herself. She needs to prove to the political establishment, the donor class, and the activists that she has what it takes to go the distance. She’ll need to raise real money by the end of the second quarter and she will need to build an online following and low-dollar fundraising base. If she does that, nobody that’s in the field right now can catch her. They are all just waiting in the wings in case she fails. There’s no reason that she should.