When the clock struck morning on Nov. 9, Americans from all corners began to ask what happened. While newspapers have been filled with reflections on the surprising Republican wave that hit our country, I’m concerned with something closer to home.
One of the television advertisements for my legislative campaign posed the question: “What Happened to North Carolina?” I’ve been asking that myself a lot over the past few weeks, and even more, what happened to the Democrats last month?
North Carolina has managed to push back the Republican tide more than other states, seating a Supreme Court Justice and picking up a couple of executive offices. As such, all is not lost here for Democrats in the Old North State. There is a way forward.
First, we need to develop a 100-county strategy that operates a permanent field operation throughout the state. My campaign employed an extensive ground operation that kept Republican gains in swing precincts at bay. While that was not enough to win in a sharply Trump climate, it provides a model for a holistic ground strategy that should take place every year.
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When not canvassing for our candidates, we should be knocking on doors and listening to voters for their concerns. When not holding rallies for a current campaign, we need to be hosting regular, calendared town hall meetings to appropriately disseminate the Democratic message. From 2005 to 2009, the DNC operated a successful 50-state strategy that led the way for a grassroots model that would come in the winning 2008 Presidential campaign. The North Carolina Democratic Party can and must do the same thing.
Second, we need to invest in strong municipal efforts that encourage effective local leadership as well as defend municipal autonomy from legislative overreach. Rest assured, the North Carolina Senate will continue to depict city leaders as far-reaching bastions of left-wing thought. We must aggressively and proactively respond, articulating the reasonableness and soundness of pragmatic leadership for our cities and towns.
Third, we need to overhaul our existing structure at state party headquarters and operate a leaner, more efficient operation. Democrats have to recognize that we are currently the minority party, and our party infrastructure must reflect that. As the minority party, our job is to offer principled opposition when necessary and cooperation when appropriate. Our job is not to maintain a bureaucracy that serves our own needs at the expense of spreading our message to the women and men of North Carolina.
Fourth, we need to highlight our next generation of leaders within the party. As frequently as we lament a lacking Democratic bench, we have the responsibility to highlight those we do have and raise the gauntlet, demanding that our new leaders rise to the challenge in the current climate and make the key steps necessary to lead when the time is right.
Fifth, we need to avoid duplication of efforts to unite like-minded initiatives toward rebuilding a Democratic structure. We cannot afford to have competing projects moving toward a same goal in an era of limited Democratic control. It is time to come to one table.
We must not allow a void to exist with our message going silent.
Since the early months of 2010, we have chattered to the din of cravings with every effort to try to fill the desires brought on by a political landscape leaving us quickly behind. We have done it with noble intentions but without consistent and forward-thinking vision. To borrow from the novelist, it is time for the one short tale we feel to be true.
The story says very simply this: Democrats built a modern state of economic innovation. North Carolina Democrats led the South into a new era where far fewer of our people were left behind than nearly any state around us.
We built a community that made sure fewer families struggled to get by and where our two North Carolinas became more nearly one. We will do it again.
Andrew Barnhill is the State Director of New Leaders Council-North Carolina and was the Democratic Nominee for N.C. Senate in District 9 (Wilmington). He is a member of the Executive Council of the N.C. Democratic Party.