With state Sen. Jeff Jackson training in the National Guard, Charlotte's Marisa Jackson is closing out her husband's crucial race for him. (Image submitted by Marisa Jackson) Marisa Jackson
With state Sen. Jeff Jackson training in the National Guard, Charlotte's Marisa Jackson is closing out her husband's crucial race for him. (Image submitted by Marisa Jackson)

With Sen. Jeff Jackson barred from campaigning during National Guard training, Marisa Jackson steps into her first (and last?) campaign. 

“This is outside of my comfort zone,” admits Marisa Jackson. “But I knew I had to rise to the occasion and finish his campaign as strong as he has been running it for the past year.”

Jackson, a 37-year-old communications professional for Charlotte’s Levine Jewish Community Center, doesn’t normally run political campaigns. But in the closing days of the 2020 election, she’s the closer for her husband, state Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat in a close race for re-election in NC’s Senate District 37 with Republican opponent Sonja Nichols.

Once touted as a prospective Democratic challenger for the US Senate, he surprised his supporters last week when he announced on social media that he wouldn’t be able to finish his campaign. 

“I’m in the National Guard and I’ve been ordered to attend annual training starting tomorrow and it’s going to run through the rest of the election,” Jackson says in the video. “So, this is it for me … But it’s not the end of our campaign because as of tomorrow, my wife Marisa is taking over.”

Marisa’s role as campaign closer comes at a critical time. After three commanding victories in prior elections, Jeff is facing a well-funded opponent for the first time in Nichols, the president and CEO of a security service firm who’s run a business-friendly campaign. And though she has specifically declined to support President Trump, Nichols told the Charlotte Observer there are “a lot of things” she supports about the Trump administration. 

Jackson’s 37th District is in play this year because court-ordered redistricting has stripped away solidly Democratic precincts in east Charlotte in exchange for traditionally Republican neighborhoods southeast of the city. A Democratic win in the redrawn district is crucial if the party wants to regain control of the state Senate for the first time in 10 years.

Some might see it as ironic that the district’s realignment is impacting Sen. Jackson so much. In the state Senate, he’s been an outspoken advocate to end gerrymandering. But Marisa doesn’t see it that way.

“If this is what had to [happen] to get a fair map, Jeff is the right person to take the challenge and fight for his place in the Senate,” she said.

‘People before politics.’

In an Oct. 27 Twitter video, Marisa addressed her husband’s efforts to end partisan and racial gerrymandering in the state.

“It was the first bill he ever filed,” she told Cardinal & Pine. “I think he just feels it in a fundamental way, the unfairness of letting politicians draw their own districts.” 

North Carolina Republican leadership in the Legislature has been chastised by federal and state court judges for partisan and racial gerrymandering in the last decade, although the most impactful ruling for this election came in September 2019, when a state appeals court panel ordered lawmakers to use a fairer, more transparent process for redrawing districts. 

In addition to ending gerrymandering, Marisa says there are a number of policies her husband has been trying to enact that will become reality if the chamber flips.

“Expanding Medicaid is one. Jeff would also like to make sure more young children get a chance to go to a high-quality preschool,” she says. “He’s big on early childhood education.”

Reactions from constituents have been both a blessing and a curse for Marisa as she enters the homestretch of the campaign.

“I’ve seen some of the messages Jeff has received and they aren’t always nice,” she said. “He’s used to that, but that was the scariest thing stepping in.”

On the other hand, she said she’s been overwhelmed by kind words from supporters, which has made the primarily digital campaigning fun. A sense of fun, plus social media savvy that rivals her husband’s, comes through in Marisa’s campaign messages. 

“My husband is a good person,” she said in an Oct. 25 video on Twitter. “Service just comes naturally to him.” 

Jackson enlisted in the US Army Reserve after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and he has served for 18 years, including a deployment to Afghanistan. “He stayed in the National Guard because it’s the right thing to do,” Marisa said last week.

But Marisa Jackson’s most powerful—and personal—message addressed health care. On Twitter she revealed that she is positive for the BRCA1 gene, which significantly increases a person’s chance of developing breast cancer. In January 2017, she elected to have a preventative double mastectomy to reduce the risk of cancer.

“Health care can be deeply personal, but we all know it’s also a major part of our current political debate,” she wrote. “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are real people behind these decisions. Jeff … gets this, and he’s the person I would trust to remember the person behind the politics.”

The “people before politics” messaging is on brand for the Jacksons. As in past elections, the senator has called his opponent “a really good person.”

Marisa has followed suit.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t met Sonja, but we have many mutual friends,” she said of Nichols. “From what I’ve heard she is lovely and has a beautiful family.”

While currently coordinating an Election Day poll-greeting operation, and reaching out to volunteers, Marisa said she’ll continue talking about what her husband intends to accomplish if he wins his newly competitive district.

“Jeff is running a 100% positive campaign about ending gerrymandering, early childhood education, and expanding health care,” she said. “He’s an honest and decent person and he’s run an honest and decent campaign. These days, that means so much to people.”