A couple of days ago, a group of North Carolinians went to meet with Sens. Burr and Tillis to try to convince them to support Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. They came away angry and disappointed, as the 45-minute meeting failed to convince either of the two Republicans to support Lynch’s nomination.
Who were these North Carolinians? They were all members of the NC NAACP, and led by Rev. William Barber. When the meeting was over, Barber sought the press and said the senators’ refusal to support Lynch were backed by explanations that were “weak, bogus, and deeply partisan.”
Clearly, the state of North Carolina is losing out by not being represented by an independent, non-partisan like the good reverend. And then came the thought: Democrats are looking for someone to challenge Richard Burr in 2016; why not Barber? As the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee for North Carolina in 2016, Barber will have a much wider audience for his concerns about Burr’s performance. As crazy as this idea seems, there are actually a couple non-weak, non-bogus reasons to envision Barber as the perfect Democratic candidate. Here are some of them:
1. Aggression. Barber is the leading bomb-thrower of the NC Democrats and if he’s the nominee he won’t have any problem tearing Burr apart. By the time Barber is finished with him, Burr will be painted as the second coming of Bull Connor. Given our senior senator’s anonymity, he’s very vulnerable to an aggressive Democratic campaign that will define him first. In addition, many Democrats have expressed their desire for a candidate who will run on a purely progressive platform – bold colors, not pastels. Regardless of one’s view of Barber, one thing he will never be criticized for is timidity. As the Democrat nominee, he would take it to Burr and wouldn’t shrink from a fight.
2. It’d be an easier lift. Right now, Barber and co. are focused on taking back the General Assembly. This is a very lofty goal, and while one must admire Barber’s boldness, the fact of the matter is that it would take the equivalent of a political earthquake for the Democrats to take back the legislature. The Moral Monday movement did not achieve its desired results; while it it energized liberals across the state and especially in the Triangle, it had almost no discernible effect on the election results. Republicans even gained a seat in the State Senate. This had a lot to do with the Republican wave at the national level, but no matter what the national climate is, taking back the General Assembly would be very difficult.
Going against Burr would be an easier task, even if Barber might be an underdog. Unlike legislators in the General Assembly, Burr’s not sitting pretty in a gerrymandered district. Instead, his district is the entire state of North Carolina. To be sure, Barber is concentrating a lot of effort on ousting Burr in 2016 – as his recent visit indicates – but there could be benefit in taking on an even bigger role in the campaign. It could very well be his ticket to a U.S. Senate seat.
3. The black vote. Democrats need an energized African American vote to win statewide. What better way to do that than with a black nominee? While other African American officeholders have expressed interest in the race, Barber brings things to the table that they don’t. His ability to energize the black vote, as well as the white liberal vote, is just another point in his favor.
4. Name recognition. When PPP polled on him back in August 2013, Barber was already known by 54% of voters. This number, if anything, has probably grown since then. Besides Kay Hagan, he may well be the best-known potential candidate. Heck, he might even be better-known than Burr. Not bad for a minister from Goldsboro. Which brings me to my next point …
5. Religiosity. Democrats tend to shy away from religious language, often to their detriment, especially in a state like North Carolina with a lot of evangelical voters. Not so with Barber: he constantly couches his rhetoric in religious terms. He makes it clear that morality has a place in today’s political discourse, and the GOP has none of it. He definitely won’t cede the moral ground to the Republicans, and as a Christian minister it will be quite difficult to paint him as hostile to religion. Any reiteration of the ‘Godless’ ad run by the Burr campaign would rightly be seen as silly and desperate.
In a Burr/Barber contest, Burr would be the favorite. But he’s the favorite right now in any case. Why not take a chance and go with the reverend? While it’s true the Moral Monday movement has thus far been unsuccessful at stemming the conservative tide of the state legislature, when Democrats were feeling down in the dumps in 2013, Barber appeared on the scene and energized them like no one before. He was there for them in their time of need. It’s time for Democrats to be there for Rev. Barber and encourage him to run for U.S. Senate in 2016.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.