Publisher's note: This post, by dallaswoodhouse, was originally published in Civitas's online edition.
Fresh off a victory in New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) arrives in North Carolina on Valentines Day, to begin his quest to win the North Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary with a unique opportunity
On a recent appearance on Capital Tonight on News 14
, Civitas spoke about the North Carolina Democratic primary for U.S. Senate between Cal Cunningham and Erica Smith and Democratic Presidential Primary.
National Democrats have endorsed Cal Cunningham
for the seat who comfortably leads the race in a recent Public Policy Polling survey
of likely Democratic voters, and so far, other than some TV ads from Cunningham
, there has not been much of a race to watch.
The most interesting news in the race happened off-camera. In October, the News and Observer reported on a leaked audio recording
of State Senator Jeff Jackson 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, 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.
Senator Jackson said
Senator Schumer responded:
"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."
Jackson went on to note that U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham appears to be following Schumer's game plan and has held few public events since he launched his campaign.
The race is seeing renewed attention after an outside group
, allegedly with Republican connections, launched a 2.4-million-dollar ad campaign supporting State Sen. Erica Smith.
According to the Associated Press
"A Republican-linked political committee that's behind a TV ad praising Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Erica Smith is spending at least $2.4 million to push her candidacy in a primary race,
a document says.
In a weekend filing, the Faith and Power PAC revealed to the Federal Election Commission the value of the expenses it's incurred for the TV commercial, along with mailers and phone calls."
The ad, seen HERE
"Who's the Democrat for U.S. Senate endorsed by progressives and unions? Erica Smith. Who's got the courage to vote for 'Medicare for All?' Erica Smith. The number one supporter of the Green New Deal? Erica Smith again. Erica Smith is one of us," a narrator says in the ad. "Vote Democrat Erica Smith for U.S. Senate, the only proven progressive."
Whoever is supporting the ad, North Carolina Democrats now have a real debate over who is the best candidate to take on Senator Thom Tillis.
Cunningham, who served a single term in the State Senate (2001-2003) ran for the Democratic nomination for Senate in 2010 but lost to Elaine Marshall. During that primary bid, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also backed him
, according to Politico
Smith is in her third term
representing Northeast North Carolinas 3rd State Senate District, after being elected in 2014. Smith has co-chaired the Joint Legislative Women's Caucus, served as second vice chair of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus, and served on the House and Senate bipartisan caucus.
North Carolina's March 3 primary is earlier than ever
and part of Super Tuesday. North Carolina has 110 delegates available in the Democratic primary, the third-most among Super Tuesday states, trailing only California and Texas.
With North Carolina being a large prize on Super Tuesday, Smith's candidacy opens an interesting avenue for Democratic presidential candidates to expand their base of supporters by endorsing her, especially Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Sanders and his supporters have long believed the supposedly neutral Democratic National Committee, worked against his nomination in 2016
Smith who supports Sanders policy positions
such Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal, has a similar complaint that national party is trying to pick the candidates
for North Carolina Democrat primary voters.
Clearly Sanders and Smith are outsiders in the race, running against the Democrat establishment.
Senator Sanders has denounced
fellow candidate Pete Buttigieg over the big-money backers of his campaign, saying the money flowing into his campaign from billionaires is "precisely the problem with American politics."
According to Open Secrets
, Cunningham has raised $55,000 from the joint fundraising committee for Democratic Senate challengers. Titled 2020 Senate Impact
, the committee brought in money from wealthy donors, including $5,600 from former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and $5,600 from billionaire hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel.
While Sanders and Smith share policy positions and concerns about Democratic establishment powerbrokers, they likely don't share many voters. Smith has the backing of fellow African American voters and liberal interest groups
. Sanders has built a coalition
of traditionally Democratic voters - union members, Latinos, and liberals with voters disproportionately younger than 45
, largely without a college degree, and just under half described themselves as "very liberal."
Both Sanders and Smith could help each other with endorsements. Sanders would have an opportunity to polish his brand as an outsider against the establishment, while making a play for voters of color, especially in the Democratic primary vote rich area of Northeast North Carolina. Smith would be noticed by the Sanders voters and many white voters that her campaign has not yet reached.
The recent PPP poll
found another interesting difference between Sanders and Smith supporters. Sanders is doing much better with men (21%-11%) while Smith is doing much better with women (6%-13%). A cross endorsement could help both close their respective gender gaps.
Sanders has little to lose. The Democratic establishment supporting Cal Cunningham is not likely with him anyway. Smith will still be outspent significantly by Cunningham and the party's establishment, and she needs to do something to raise her profile, and find a way to reach voters, she may not otherwise be able to afford to reach.
The saying "politics makes strange bedfellows" is often true. But in this case a Sanders-Smith coalition, is not strange and could benefit both.