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Thomas Mills: Democrats were NC political stars

Editor’s note: The following are excerpts from blog posts by Thomas Mills on his website politicsnc.com. Mills is founder and publisher of the site.

By Thomas Mills

In North Carolina, the political stars of 2019 were the Democrats in the North Carolina House and Senate.

They showed that they’ve learned how to be a minority party. They upheld the governor’s veto time and again without losing the news narrative. In the process, they’ve set themselves up to be truly competitive for the first time in a decade.

Democrats started the decade by losing their majorities in both houses of the legislature for the first time in over 100 years. Two years later, they lost the governorship, too. They floundered for the first half of the decade as they tried to figure out how operate as a minority party.

But by 2016, Democrats had organized. They defeated an incumbent Republican governor, despite losing the state to Republican Donald Trump. In 2018, their organization and motivation ended the veto proof majorities the GOP held in both houses of the legislature. Then, throughout the 2019 session, the Democratic caucuses held together. They stopped the worst of the GOP’s legislation, including a budget that shortchanged our schools and failed to expand Medicaid.

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue get credit for leadership. Even when members voted for the original bill, they were able to keep their caucuses together to sustain vetoes. Governor Roy Cooper’s team gets some credit, too, for showing an ability to work with the legislative bodies, something that can often be tricky even when they are all of the same party.

Significantly, Democrats head into the important 2020 election cycle unified and with few internal splits. They’re building organizations and launching campaigns in districts across the state. After a decade in the minority, they’ve learned how to go on the offensive. It’s a crucial lesson to learn.

With 2020 here, I’d like to look at what the presidential candidates might mean for North Carolina.

We are one of the most evenly divided states in the nation. Most likely, the presidential campaign will play out heavily here. It’s not that we are the tipping point state, but Republicans probably can’t lose North Carolina and win the electoral college. That makes us a key battleground state.

So which candidates threaten Republicans the most in North Carolina? The moderates. Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bloomberg, if his billions get him off the ground like they should, could all win the state if they become the nominee. They’re safe candidates for moderate conservatives exhausted and embarrassed by President Donald Trump’s antics. In North Carolina, those voters make up the swing voters left in our polarized society.

I think Klobuchar, both in North Carolina and nationally, matches up best with Trump. She comes across as pragmatic, disciplined and unflappable. In contrast, Trump is uninformed, flailing and thin-skinned. Her path to the nomination is narrow, though. She’ll need to win or come very close in Iowa and use that momentum to launch a national campaign. It’s a tough road but not impossible.

Biden comes across as a safe choice. The reason his gaffes haven’t hurt him is that we all know who he is. He’s a decent, caring and empathetic man His policies are cautious and incremental at a time when a lot of Americans want a return to normal, even if that’s not really possible. At the national level, never-Trump Republicans are already gearing up to support him.

By March, we’ll know if Bloomberg’s massive ad campaign can launch him into the top-tier. The early primaries will weed out a lot of candidates and the former Mayor of New York may look attractive to people looking for a second choice. Bloomberg comes with some baggage, but being too radical isn’t part of it. He’s been a Republican, independent and is now a Democrat. He’s not Tom Steyer who tried to turn his personal obsessions into a political campaign. He’s a serious politician who happens to also be a billionaire. He ran New York so effectively in the wake of 9/11 that they allowed him to run for a third term. Again, he’s not threatening to centrist voters and could bring broad appeal to the general election.

I don’t think North Carolina will vote for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Both candidates staked their flags too far to the left for most of the swing voters in North Carolina. Sanders, in particular, will get savaged with his own words by the Trump campaign.

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