State Politics

New NC Democratic Party leader says rural communities must be a focus

Wayne Goodwin
Wayne Goodwin

The N.C. Democratic Party’s new leader says the party needs to appeal to rural areas of the state as it seeks to win more seats in the legislature.

Wayne Goodwin, the former insurance commissioner, was elected the party’s new chairman on Feb. 11. He received 92 percent of votes cast by local party leaders from across the state.

Goodwin is a native of Hamlet – a small town in Richmond County near the South Carolina border – and got his start in politics as a state House legislator representing that area. He was the state’s insurance commissioner from 2009 until December, when he left office after losing his re-election bid to Republican Mike Causey.

Goodwin’s political resume makes him one of the most recognizable people to serve as party chairman in years.

“Serving as the chairman of the state Democratic Party was not something I’d ever planned to do,” he told The News & Observer, adding that he sought the position because the party needed someone with experience as a grassroots volunteer, as a candidate and as a statewide elected official.

“I’m from a rural part of the state, and I know that’s where a lot of our efforts need to be in the coming months and years,” Goodwin said.

In last year’s legislative elections, Democrats picked up several House seats in urban areas, but the gains were offset by losses in rural districts. And in the Senate, Republicans held onto all their seats and unseated a Democratic incumbent in Robeson County.

Goodwin says Democrats can do better in rural counties by focusing on issues that resonate there: jobs, Medicaid expansion, public school funding and a fair tax system.

“I think those things were not underscored as much as they could have been” in 2016, Goodwin said. “No one person can control the message or dynamic, but there were a lot of issues that received tremendous airplay over the last campaign cycle that perhaps prevented folks from realizing that the Democratic Party of North Carolina is the best party for fighting for opportunities for all.”

Looking ahead to the next election, Goodwin said the party’s focus will be on the state legislature. He wants to have fewer uncontested races where Republicans win by default and to flip enough GOP seats so Republicans won’t have a veto-proof majority.

“The paramount goal is to break the supermajority so that any veto by Gov. Cooper can be upheld,” he said.