I'm not going to kid you. If your goal is to win our state back from the reckless Republicans who run it now, there's no easy path. But in response to the No. 1 question people ask me, the answer is yes. There is a path. And it begins in Wake County.
But first, let's understand the challenge.
Awhile back, I said to a dour Democrat that it seemed likely the Republicans would remain in power in North Carolina for 10 years because of how they gerrymandered the election districts. But the Democrats will have an opening after the 2020 census, assuming that a Democrat is elected governor in 2020.
More like 20 or 30 years, the dour Democrat replied. Remember, he said, the governor has no veto power over redistricting bills. The Republicans will keep winning the General Assembly because they draw the districts. And they'll keep drawing the districts—in 2020 and in 2030—because they keep winning.
True. After they won in 2010, the Republicans drew districts that allowed them, despite winning barely half the votes in the 2012 elections, to gain a 33-17 majority in the Senate and 77-43 in the House.
There is no shortcut to reclaim the state via the election of a Democratic or independent governor, though winning the governor's office in 2016 will be critical. About that, the dour Democrat was correct. But after combing through the 2012 results, I think he was wrong about the next 10 years.
The challenge for the Democrats is to win control of the Senate or House by 2020, allowing them to negotiate the next redistricting with the Republicans. Ideally, the Republicans will lose both houses ... or stop being radical reactionaries.
Here's the way.
THE 2014 STATE ELECTIONS Democrats win two Senate seats and seven House seats that went to the Republicans in 2012 by very narrow margins. (Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, won by 21 votes.) Thank Moral Mondays for the crusade that turned public opinion against the GOP. The districts are gerrymandered, but you can win only so many seats with less than half the votes, and maybe far less now that voters know what the Republicans are.
FOCUS ON WAKE COUNTY Two of the seven most vulnerable House seats are in Wake County, held by Reps. Chris Malone and Tom Murry. As you go down the list of what the Republicans could lose in a swing election, four more House seats are in Wake (Jim Fulghum, Nelson Dollar, Marilyn Avila and Paul Stam), plus three Senate seats (Tamara Barringer, Neal Hunt and Chad Barefoot). All but Stam won by no more than 12 percentage points, meaning a swing of 6–7 percent to the Democrats takes them out.
Democrats won't win all of these seats in 2014, because it's a mid-term election and Democratic turnout is highest in presidential election years. But the Republican record in Wake County is awful (Dix Park, schools, transit), and in 2014 the four Republicans who control the Wake commissioners must stand for re-election. A coordinated campaign should begin next year in Wake County to hold Republicans accountable as a party, defeating—at a minimum—the four GOP commissioners, Malone and Murry. It should continue nonstop through 2016.
DEFEAT THOM GOOLSBY He's the Republican senator from Wilmington who coined the phrase "Moron Mondays." Without much money to spend, Democrats have to be selective. They can't target every reprehensible Republican, because many, such as Julia Howard and Pat McElraft, are in unwinnable districts.
But Goolsby's district is winnable. He won by 8 percentage points in 2012, and but his reputation has been hammered by angry clients suing him for allegedly losing their money. Another Republican under a cloud is Rep. Tim Moffitt, the Buncombe County legislator responsible for the Republican raid on Asheville's water system.
DEFEAT PAT MCCRORY IN 2016 McCrory is an empty suit, ethically challenged and so politically inept that he can announce he'll sign controversial legislation—the voter-suppression bill, for example—and say in the next breath that he hasn't read it. He won in 2012 by pretending to be a moderate, a line the mainstream press loved but is embarrassed about today. What the Democrats need is a populist candidate who can connect with regular people about jobs. Ideally, a younger Martin Nesbitt or folksier Janet Cowell. Josh Stein, perhaps.
DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFTS The dour Democrat was right about this: The growth of minority populations, plus steady in-migration of northerners who don't take to Southern Republicanism, will doom the GOP. He says in 30 years; I say 10. The Republicans won seven Senate seats in 2012 and 18 House seats by 12 percentage points or less. By the end of the decade, they'll lose them all, putting Democrats in the majority in the House and within one vote in the Senate. Then—
A DEMOCRATIC SWEEP IN 2020 Our Democratic governor, so popular after battling the Republicans in Raleigh for four years and vetoing their worst bills, is re-elected in a landslide that sweeps out the Republicans.
REMEMBER JIM VALVANO "Never give up. Never, ever give up." It's doable, Democrats, but only if you believe it is.
ABSENTEE BALLOTS No photo ID needed. Use the Wake school board elections this fall as a test case and go from there.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The tao of a Democratic revival."