Despite a slew victories in 2018, North Carolina Democrats remain in an unenviable place. Their Republican foes control a majority of the Council of State, both US Senate seats, and large majorities in the state’s Congressional delegation and state legislature. You don’t undo a decade of decline in just one election cycle.
But since the coronavirus upended American life, the political climate has shifted decisively toward Democrats at both the state and federal levels. With the exception of one outlier poll conducted for the pro-Trump One America News Network, survey shave consistently shown leads for Democratic candidates. Joe Biden looks favored to be the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 2008. Downballot, Cal Cunningham leads incumbent Republican Thom Tillis. And plumbing into the state elections, Roy Cooper maintains a large and durable lead over challenger Dan Forest.
Beyond polling, other aspects of the political environment favor Democrats as well. Consider campaign finance. Yesterday brought news of stellar fundraising for both Cooper and Cunningham. Senate candidate Cunningham posted a $7.4 million haul, the largest figure ever raised by a North Carolina Senate candidate in one quarter. Meanwhile, Cooper raised $5.5 million, even more than the eye-popping pile of cash he brought in at this time four years ago, and sits on an imposing $14 million war chest. The NRSC will likely invest heavily on behalf of Tillis, but if current trends hold it is quite possible that Democrats will outspend Republicans in North Carolina.
The hocus-pocus factor of candidate quality also looks good for the Party of FDR. Attorney General Josh Stein has crafted a dynamic image for himself and has raised more money than any North Carolina candidate ever to run for an office besides governor or US Senate. In the Lieutenant Governor’s race, Yvonne Holley contrasts favorably with the firebrand conservative activist she’s running against. And Democrats are fielding the most diverse slate ever for the other Council of State positions.
For Democrats, the stars are beginning to align. In addition to the nuts of and bolts of electioneering, this year may finally see the demographic tidal wave the party has been waiting for for over a decade. It was delayed by a dramatic rightward shift among rural white voters, but now the suburbs and even the exurbs of the state have moved toward Democrats at the pace political analysts expected a decade ago.
Now is the time to invoke the dreary cliche, “it’s not over yet.” While the environment looks fundamentally stronger for Democrats than it did at this time in 2016, the earlier years of the 2010’s provide cautionary tales that every North Carolina Democrat should post on a sticky note on their mirror from now until election day. In 2012, Obama looked competitive in the state as late as September–and the election ended in the near-obliteration of the North Carolina Democratic Party. Two years later, Kay Hagan had a healthy lead until just weeks before the election. Our state has a strong conservative streak that can be activated at the last minute. 2020 looks extremely promising for Democrats, but complacency is not an option.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.