The gravitas to win

by | Jan 27, 2021 | Editor's Blog | 14 comments

Yesterday, I panned Jeff Jackson’s announcement that he’s running for US Senate and got a lot of blow back from his supporters. Maybe I was harsh, but I want Democrats to win the Senate seat and I do not believe Jackson or Erica Smith has what it takes. The leap from state legislature to U.S. Senate is huge and very few people successfully make it. Those that do usually come from positions of leadership, not the rank-and-file. Successful U.S. Senate candidates bring a higher level of gravitas to the campaign. 

Right now, we have three more viable candidates waiting in the wings. Attorney General Josh Stein has won two tough statewide contests and has built a record as both a champion of consumers and progressive causes. Anthony Foxx served as mayor of Charlotte, the state’s largest city, and as Obama’s Secretary of Transportation. And Cheri Beasley was the first African American woman to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina and basically tied her statewide election in November, coming 400 votes short out of almost 5.4 million cast. All three are battle-tested and bring broad profiles and networks that extend beyond North Carolina.

Foxx has been a target of national recruiting for the seat. He got high marks at U.S. DOT and as mayor, including overseeing the successful 2012 Democratic Convention. He brings the national connections that, like it or not, are essential for a U.S. Senate contest today. However, Foxx has so far shown little interest in running. He’s not making calls or showing up at public events. I doubt he will run, but if he does, he starts out as the front runner among those already in the race. 

Stein has proven to be a great attorney general. He has not shied away from controversial fights and has stood up for North Carolinians. Just this week, he brokered a deal to ensure that consumers don’t get saddled with the full cost of coal ash clean up. He’s also urging the state to expand rural broadband with money his office obtained in a settlement with Dish Networks. Stein, though, is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to succeed Roy Cooper in 2024 and a race for Senate would complicate that. 

Beasley just came off of a tough race for chief justice and has previously won statewide. While she ultimately came up 400 votes short in November, she built name recognition and gained stature beyond just North Carolina. She outperformed the other judicial statewide Democratic judicial candidates and proved to be a relentless campaigner. She would bring gravitas to the race and also appeals to the center of gravity in the Democratic Party. Black women are both the most loyal Democratic voters and among their hardest workers. If she won, Beasley would be the only African American woman in the U.S. Senate and the first to serve from a Southern state. Her historic candidacy would attract support from minority and progressive communities across the nation. And, unlike Stein and Foxx, she’s let people know that she’s considering the race.

The race in 2022 will likely be a low turnout affair. The Senate race will be at the top of the ticket and, to win, Democrats will need to a substantially better response from African Americans than they got in either 2020 or 2014 when Kay Hagan narrowly lost. At a time when our nation is in the midst of a cultural reckoning that demands more representation from under-represented communities, I believe Cheri Beasley is the right candidate. We need more people of color and women in office and Beasley has the resume and electoral experience to do it. She could make the low turnout midterm an advantage instead of a liability by driving up a disproportionately high African American turnout, like Barack Obama did in 2008. And the women who tend to do the work in Democratic politics would flock to her campaign.

That said, both Foxx and Stein bring stronger resumes and broader electoral experience than either of the currently announced candidates. They would be solid candidates with shorter learning curves. It’s still very early and other candidates may be out there, but I cannot think of them right now. I believe that resumes, political experience, and accomplishments matter, especially when the Senate candidate will lead the ticket. 


  1. Jim Neal

    As to your central proposition Thomas- I concur that it is incumbent on Democrats in North Carolina to rally behind a Black candidate for Senate in 2022. A reckoning- long past due- is taking hold throughout the nation and within the Democratic Party in regard to the galvanizing impact that Black candidates and Black voters have in winning statewide and national elections. The Democratic Party owes its current majority status in Washington to the incremental impact of Black voters- especially Black women- and Black candidates and activists. #BLM is the pivotal, defining social justice movement fueling voter turnout and participation- and a white candidate simply is not going to inspire the sort of enthusiasm as a Black candidate. Some have suggested that such is racist- preposterous. It’s no different than the DSCC or DCCC’s obsessive recruitment of white cis straight men who have military backgrounds and law degrees. It’s no different than the Party seeking to diversify its ranks by nominating female or Latinix candidates. There is an abundance of highly-qualified, competitive talent in the Black community. It’s not identity politics, it’s smart politics, it’s the politics on now and it’s winning politics. And long, long overdue.

    I hope Senator Schumer attends to the business of the people of the state of New York where I reside, and quits meddling in North Carolina Senate primary races. Eric Smith is smart as hell and incredibly qualified- she’s never lost an election I believe- and with some professional political assistance could have beaten Thom Tillis, but she was DOA after the DSCC jumped behind Cal without doing any due diligence on his (I don’t give a damn but he was running for Senate in North Carolina not New York) personal life which was hardly a secret. If Cal was reckless, the DSCC was guilty of malpractice.

    My Black friends and colleagues in Mecklenburg County do not hold Jeff Jackson in high esteem. You’ll hear more about that no doubt; Erica Smith did not endorse his 2020 Republican opponent because of some petty axe to grind. I don’t know Jeff and express no opinion- but I follow Tar Heel politics very closely and have some enduring relationships statewide. My hope is that a Black woman emerges as the nominee. In addition to Erica, I campaigned with Cheri in 2008. Not only is she battle-tested, but she exudes the gravitas and grace we all yearn for.

  2. :g

    Just out of curiosity, what is Roy Cooper going to do?

  3. John Rudisill

    Jeff Jackson is a great grassroots campaigner. Stein will run for governor. Foxx is just another insider who ran a bus company that went bust. Beasley has really little name recognition – ask any voter who ran for Chief Justice today, and 95 out of 100 couldn’t ell you either. I like Jeff, and I hope he goes for it.I think your position is a somewhat racist and sexist.

  4. Jeanne Milliken Bonds

    I agree with you, Thomas. I already saw lots of silly tweets and post today between Mark Walker and Jeff Jackson and it was a bit embarrassing because this needs to be an issue campaign.

    However, I would ask you to add Ken Lewis to your list. No need to recite his biography but he did run in the primary and 2010 and had the DSCC gone with him, we may be calling him senator right now.

    • Tim Tyson

      Ken Lewis is a warm-hearted, genuine and generous man with deep and profound insights into American–and especially North Carolina–history, culture and politics. His brilliant mind is exceedingly well-furnished, via Duke University and Harvard Law School, and he remains politically active; my father would have said Ken is a “draft horse” rather than a “show horse,” though the expression considerably undersells Ken Lewis’s appeal. Clarity marks his sharp mind and inclusive vision; Lewis digs deep but never neglects to find broad areas of agreement and overlooked opportunities for shared success. He would be a strong candidate and an outstanding U.S. Senator. I know a number of people who saw how he handled himself in the 2010 campaign and persistently urge him to run for office. If he has encouraged any of them in the slightest, I have not heard anything about it. Somebody should start an ad hoc committee and encourage him. I am a strong supporter of Cheri Beasley; either Lewis should talk Beasley into running for the U.S. Senate or Beasley should persuade Lewis to run. They both know how to build a strong case for what actually matters.

  5. Dave Connelly

    Gravitas? Up through November 3rd, 2020, the incumbent Judge Cheri Beasley could well have been either a gracious winner or a gracious loser. But with her insistence on the time and expense of two recounts, Ms Beasley moved from gravitas to ungracious loser. Her denial of defeat began to compare to the ex-President who shall not be named.

    • Lee Mortimer

      Given the Chief Justice race was as close as it was, two recounts were not unjustified. And she did issue a gracious concession. As for that unnamed presidential candidate, his race was not close. And to say he was “ungracious” would be a gross understatement.

    • Amy Holland

      We saw what an ungracious loser was on January 6, 2021. She ask for recounts and don’t blame her but did not accuse anyone of illegal votes.

    • Tim Tyson

      400 votes. A recount was not just appropriate but necessary, in an electorate of this size. And to use the words “Cheri Beasley” and “ungracious” in the same sentence it a sure sign the speaker knows nothing about her.

  6. j bengel

    I like Jackson fine; he and Jay Chaudhuri have both been reaching out to voters outside their districts. In Jackson’s case this appears to be a statewide appeal, and that’s been going on for far longer than his consideration of the open Senate seat.

    Whoever emerges from the primary will be preferable to any of the contenders from Team Red, but I find it difficult to get excited about Smith at this point. In a two way race between her and Jackson, I feel like Jackson has a considerable advantage. That could change, but the 2020 race didn’t demonstrate that Smith had the chops for a statewide race.

    Beasley is an intriguing choice, though, and in a three way primary, I could see getting behind her campaign. She has a “star power” advantage over almost all of the other Democrats currently on offer. The question is whether she can become a household name in the provincial regions. Jackson’s strategy of showing the flag in all 100 counties is a winning one, and if he can make it work without getting steamrolled by the MAGA faction in the more rural counties, he’ll be a formidable candidate.

  7. Lee Mortimer

    One thing you said yesterday I’d agree with is it’s way too early to be asking people to think about the next election campaign. As for Jeff Jackson’s timing, he seemed to have jumped in yesterday because Erica Smith jumped in the day before. Otherwise, your column had a lot of arbitrary pronouncements and the strong blow back reflected that.

    But let me just take a little issue with your analysis that Raphael Warnock in Georgia “drug (dragged?) Jon Ossoff across the line.” There was a tiny difference between Warnock’s and Ossoff’s vote totals. And arguably, Ossoff had a stronger opponent in David Perdue than Warnock against Kelly Loeffler, a political neophyte who was appointed to her Senate seat. So, maybe white moderates helped Warnock get over the line.

  8. ericboggs

    Great post, Thomas. Was curious after your previous post — if not Jackson or Smith, then who are the frontrunners? Agree that Foxx and Beasley are probably better candidates considering the broader context. We flip Burr’s seat with turnout, not by persuading white moderates that are gonna vote GOP no matter what.

    • Alexander H. Jones

      I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say they’ll vote GOP no matter what–there is room to grow in suburban and exurban areas–but swing voters constitute MAYBE 5-10% of the electorate in NC and have leaned right for decades. Dems need to equalize turnout with the GOP.

  9. Michael Burke

    nice, i like Beasley for the job, i hope others in the caucus look good and hard at her… i would rather have Stein as Governor… i have some of the similar issues with Jackson as you noted yesterday,if he should win the primary it will be a more difficult road for sure. NC is tough, we are pretty darn purple as a state (if districts are draw correctly) and folks aren’t afraid to split the ballot. I hope who ever is the primary winner understands this.

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