If Democrats Want to Win NC, Stop Preaching to the Choir

A man salutes during the national anthem as a crowd waits for President Donald Trump to speak at a rally at the Hickory Regional Airport on November 1, 2020 in Hickory, North Carolina. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

By Matt Leatherman

January 4, 2021

A former candidate for State Treasurer on why Dems have to move angry Trump voters if they want to reshape the state.

Ms. Cozzie Watkins broke the internet with her prologue pledging North Carolina’s delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

“Let me just be plain,” she started. “Black people, and especially Black women, are the backbone of this party and, if we don’t show up, Democrats don’t get elected.”


But candidates and campaigns cannot leave them out there alone. That is exactly what it means to take the Black vote for granted. And we have seen in successive elections that we have to have a very broad electorate to win a majority of the votes.

Bluntly put, the electorate that turned out in 2020 is challenging for us as Democrats. Some look hopefully to 2024 and the possibility of a more usual – lower – turnout.

Not me. The right answer to turnout always is “more.” Living our values means planning to win this electorate and also to grow it.

That’s a mighty tall order. Zero statewide Democratic challengers—those running for an open seat or against an incumbent—met it this time.

Still, the first step is clear: Make it a real priority. Getting out the vote absolutely is vital. But the plan can’t be premised on a different population voting this time than before. Quite the opposite. If new, friendly faces turn out, that’s a bonus. But campaign strategy is deserving of the name only if it aims at winning with who we know is coming.

Now, enough with the polite ambiguity.

Courting the Trump Voter

Blue-collar, high-school educated, white men seem disproportionately to be the surprise extra voters. Conventional wisdom – which I share – is that they’re in the polling booth for Donald Trump.

It is impossible to overstate the destruction these choices have wrought on countless individual lives across our state and country.

But I do not want these voters to go away. I very much hope that they’ll stay. Participating is a form of opting into society. Absence only aggravates alienation – and these folks are plenty alienated already, dangerously so.

Signing up to run statewide has to include signing up to contest these votes. Not all of them—as I told a politico friend recently. Conspiracy Theorists aren’t the new Soccer Moms.

Nor does “contesting” even mean winning the majority of them. But it does mean having a plan to collect enough of these votes to win the race.

Many suggest that’s impossible, that these voters are irreconcilable. That perspective implies that Democrats can win statewide only if they get lucky. Or, more honestly, that we expect Black voters to do far more than their share of the work.

Neither view is appropriate. The entire point is to run races differently.

Remember: We want these people to vote. That’s how our commitment to democracy differs from the autocracy that our Republican legislature has come to represent. Every voter that goes to the polls is a celebration—an affirmation of democracy, a renewal of civic vows, an invocation of one individual’s identity.

We as Democrats are at an important moment of steeling this spirit right now, rather than hoping for or betting on more routine, lower turnout. This is hard because watching voting results roll in this year challenged some of our most cherished myths. 

“When we vote, we win.” Well, we voted—but no one new won statewide. Indeed, we slipped in the judiciary. 

“Demography is destiny.” But the demographics keep changing, and the results stay the same.

We want to earn enough votes to win. So we want to rally the base, we want to get out the vote, and we want to keep going from there. We want to prioritize finding new votes that we can win.

So steel that spirit, be thankful for every voter in the booth and, 2024 candidates, get ready. We’re going to welcome every voter who decides to turn out, bar none. It’s your job to win them.


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