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Gary Pearce: 2022 Senate race may fuel family fights

By Gary Pearce

A “transition” is the time after an election when you stop fighting your enemies and start fighting your friends.

This year, Donald Trump’s attacks on the election have kept Democrats and Republicans fighting each other. But the fights within each party also have begun, or will soon.

Nationally, moderate and liberal Democrats have tussled over President-elect Joe Biden’s appointments. Republicans largely are holding their fire over the party’s future until Trump leaves office, although some are distancing themselves from him.

One battleground for both parties could be the 2022 U.S. Senate race in North Carolina. Democrats already are sparring over it. A herd of Republicans may run, including Lara Trump and a couple of congressmen.

We assume it will be an open-seat race. But there are rumors and rumblings that Senator Richard Burr might step down before his term ends. He has been under federal investigation for insider-stock trading. If he resigns, the Republican state executive committee will nominate three replacements, and Governor Roy Cooper will select one.

For North Carolina Democrats, 2022 will bring debate and perhaps definition about the character and direction of the party.

Future Democratic candidates likely will be urban, younger, Black, female and a click or two farther left of center than in the past. Think Josh Stein, Anthony Foxx and Cheri Beasley instead of Roy Cooper, Kay Hagan and Cal Cunningham.

Cunningham is a special sore point with some Democrats. And not just because he torpedoed what looked like a sure Senate win in 2020.

Black and progressive Democrats resent how Sen. Chuck Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee anointed Cunningham. The critics think he was picked because he fit a certain mold: white, male, good hair, a veteran, moderate and no real voting record to attack.

His defeat prompted one progressive Democrat to write me: “Democrats in NC would be wise to re-think their approach to winning US Senate races.”

He noted that there are 800,000 eligible but unregistered voters of color in the state, 500,000 of whom are Black. Georgia went Democratic this year because Stacey Abrams, who lost a close race for Governor in 2018, led a drive to register 800,000 first-time voters.

North Carolina Democrats, essentially, are split over whether they should embrace a more urban electorate or try to hold on to rural and small-town voters who have become decidedly Republican.

North Carolina Republicans feel no urgency to change. As one said, “we’re winning.” They lost races for Governor and Attorney General, but did well in judicial races, the Council of State and the legislature. And Trump carried North Carolina, narrowly.

“New look” Democrats argue that today’s voters are younger, more diverse, more urban, more likely to come from outside the state and more likely to have college degrees. They say Trump has badly hurt Republicans among college-educated voters and that rural “red” voters are lost to Democrats.

These Democrats believe a more urban, university-educated electorate is moving North Carolina toward a Democratic tipping point. They want to accelerate the trend.

As the progressive Democrat told me, Harvey Gantt in 1990 and 1996 and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 showed “the power of a candidate who can both inspire Black voters and appeal to the white voters traditionally available to Democrats.”

He added, “It requires, though, that the candidate and campaign have cross-cultural competence and the ability to speak credibly, creatively and passionately about the common interests of groups that wedge politics have driven apart.”

Trump’s gravitational pull muted conflicts in both parties in 2020. That will change in 2022.

Gary Pearce was a reporter and editor at The News & Observer, a political consultant, and an adviser to Governor Jim Hunt (1976-1984 and 1992-2000). He blogs about politics and government at www.NewDayforNC.com.   

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