Politics & Government

Democrat says Chuck Schumer told him to spend campaign in ‘windowless basement’

North Carolina Republicans seized Monday on a leaked recording of state Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, explaining that U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wanted him to spend most of his time “in a windowless basement” making fundraising calls if he ran for Thom Tillis’ Senate seat.

The audio recording featured Jackson speaking to a politics class at UNC-Charlotte and was first reported by National Review.

In the recording, Jackson said he met with Schumer and told him that if he ran for U.S. Senate, he’d start by holding “100 town halls in 100 days” in all 100 counties.

“Wrong answer — we want you to spend the next 16 months in a windowless basement raising money, and then we’re going to spend 80% of it on negative ads about Tillis,” was Schumer’s response, Jackson told the class. Jackson went on to note that Senate candidate Cal Cunningham appears to be following Schumer’s game plan and has held few public events since he launched his campaign.

Jackson has since endorsed Cunningham over his N.C. Senate colleague Erica Smith, D-Northampton, who he describes in the recording as a “perfectly nice lady” who hasn’t raised much money.

Jackson tells the students at one point that they shouldn’t tweet out his comments because they’re “off the record.” The UNC-Charlotte class is taught by Charlotte Observer political reporter Jim Morrill, who’s heard in the recording leading the discussion; Morrill also instructed the students that the conversation was off the record and shouldn’t be made public.

In an emailed statement Thursday, Jackson said “I always ask to be off the record when I talk to students because I try to get them engaged, and that means being a little freewheeling. You push them a little to see if they’ll push back. Sometimes it leads to a great discussion, and sometimes it leads to one of them just recording everything and giving it to a conservative magazine.”

The N.C. Republican Party issued a news release Monday highlighting the National Review story and criticizing Jackson’s endorsement of Cunningham.

“It appears that Jeff Jackson agrees with the liberal DC establishment that a candidate should blow off voters and grassroots supporters, even if he is not willing to run a race utilizing those tactics,” the news release said, calling the endorsement “a stunning act of cowardice.”

In the recording (which was also obtained by the Insider after the National Review story), Jackson says he told Schumer “I think we have artistic differences,” and ultimately the disagreement with Schumer “kind of tipped the scales in favor of not running.”

Asked in the class about the 2022 race — where Republican Sen. Richard Burr won’t be seeking re-election — Jackson didn’t rule out a run. “2022 is a different story because the Senate seat will be open, and it’s going to be be a crowded field,” he said. “It’s less relevant who the Chuck Schumers of the world support, because I don’t think they can get involved in a race when you have eight or 10 people running.” Jackson notes that a successful Democratic candidate should “get in early,” launching a campaign shortly after the 2020 election.

Jackson also previews the 2020 N.C. Senate campaigns in the recording. He said that under new redistricting maps, Senate Democrats will be “competitive” in three of the five districts they need to win in order to take the majority. “We’ve got to find a minor miracle in four and a major miracle in five,” he said.

Jackson also gave the class his assessment of his party’s presidential candidates. He said Democrats are under a “mass delusion” that Bernie Sanders could have won in 2016.

“What a crock of shit — Bernie would have been crushed like a tin can,” he said. He says Joe Biden “ain’t my favorite,” but “I would feel very good” about a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket appealing to North Carolina voters.

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