Democrats’ money strat­egy helps flip red NC dis­trict

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY LYNN BON­NER AND JIM MOR­RILL lbon­ner@new­sob­ jmor­rill@char­lot­teob­

It should have been a dis­trict where a Re­pub­li­can would win eas­ily.

It’s the north­ern tip of Meck­len­burg County where, in 2016, Re­pub­li­can Rep. John Brad­ford eas­ily de­feated an un­af­fil­i­ated can­di­date – Democrats didn’t even chal­lenge him – and Don­ald Trump won with 51 per­cent of the votes to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 43 per­cent in the area that would be­come Brad­ford’s 2018 dis­trict.

In­stead Demo­crat Christy Clark, a first-time can­di­date and ad­vo­cate for laws to pro­tect peo­ple from gun vi­o­lence, won Tues­day. Her vic­tory helped Democrats end the Re­pub­li­can su­per­ma­jor­ity in the House. Repub­li­cans can no longer marginal­ize Demo­cratic Gov. Roy Cooper on most is­sues be­cause they won’t have enough votes to eas­ily over­turn his ve­toes.

Vot­ers in the state’s largest coun­ties of Meck­len­burg and Wake re­placed Repub­li­cans with Democrats up and down the bal­lot in a wave that also swept out three in­cum­bent Re­pub­li­can county com­mis­sion­ers in Meck­len­burg and a long­time Re­pub­li­can sher­iff in Wake.

Asked what made the dif­fer­ence in this year’s races, GOP con­sul­tant Larry Sha­heen said, “That’s easy – money.”

In the state House cam­paigns,

Democrats in the closely con­tested races had sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial ad­van­tages.

Clark, a para­le­gal from Hun­tersville, out­spent Brad­ford, founder and CEO of a real es­tate and prop­erty man­age­ment com­pany from Cor­nelius, by nearly 5-to-1. She got $653,000 from the state Demo­cratic Party.

She beat Brad­ford by 333 votes in un­of­fi­cial re­turns.

It was a pat­tern in House races in the Wake and Meck­len­burg sub­urbs where Repub­li­cans lost. Repub­li­cans were run­ning in dis­tricts built to give them a par­ti­san edge.

They faced a wall of money and re­sources from the state Demo­cratic Party that was part of an ef­fort called Break the Ma­jor­ity. Cooper used his own donors and data­bases to help the ef­fort raise about $7 mil­lion.

“They got away with it be­cause the gov­er­nor was able to put half a mil­lion dol­lars into Christy Clark’s cam­paign and the Re­pub­li­can Party didn’t have the re­sources to com­pete,” Sha­heen said.

Brad­ford could not be reached.

In an in­ter­view, Clark said the ads were im­por­tant be­cause they helped in­tro­duce her to vot­ers. Tele­vi­sion was part of a larger cam­paign that in­volved weeks of door­knock­ing and other voter con­tacts, she said.

One ad tied Brad­ford to a lo­cal con­tro­versy, I-77 toll lanes.

“Break the Ma­jor­ity ran an in­cred­i­ble field game. I got sup­port from Moms De­mand Ac­tion,” Clark said. She is a for­mer vol­un­teer leader of the state chap­ter of Moms De­mand Ac­tion for Gun Sense in Amer­ica.

“We got out the vote and con­tacted thou­sands and thou­sands of vot­ers in this dis­trict,” Clark said.

Clark be­gan vol­un­teer­ing after the 2012 shoot­ing at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School, where 20 chil­dren and six staff mem­bers were shot and killed.

“My youngest child was in first grade at the time,” she said. “I could en­vi­sion that be­ing my child very eas­ily.”

Clark has spent time in Raleigh talk­ing to leg­is­la­tors about gun vi­o­lence.

The is­sue didn’t come up in the cam­paign, Clark said, though she saw a mailer that re­ferred to her as a rad­i­cal pro­tester.

“I don’t think they landed in the way they thought they were go­ing to,” she said. “Peo­ple have met me and know the dif­fer­ence.”

In Meck­len­burg County, Democrats in the four most com­pet­i­tive state House races raised a to­tal of $3 mil­lion. Their Re­pub­li­can op­po­nents, all in­cum­bents, raised just $1.1 mil­lion.

Three of the four Democrats won. The fourth, Rachel Hunt, led Rep. Bill Braw­ley by 64 votes Fri­day, with fi­nal bal­lots still to be counted next week.

In Wake County, all three in­cum­bent Repub­li­cans lost House races. They raised $992,000 to their Demo­cratic challengers’ $2.6 mil­lion. The Re­pub­li­can can­di­dates got far less fi­nan­cial help from their state party than the Democrats did from theirs.

Dal­las Wood­house, state Re­pub­li­can Party ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said the GOP knew it would face money chal­lenges. Democrats had an ad­van­tage in Cooper’s fundrais­ing abil­i­ties, he said, and “a tremen­dous amount of money com­ing from left out­side groups. That’s not unique to North Carolina. It cer­tainly hurt us.”

In the 2020 elec­tion, the fundrais­ing dif­fer­ences won’t be as stark, Wood­house said, and he ex­pects Repub­li­cans will win back some seats.

“I’m a be­liever in money in pol­i­tics,” he said. “In this case, it worked out for them.”

Democrats say by field­ing can­di­dates in ev­ery leg­isla­tive dis­trict for the first time, they put Re­pub­li­can in­cum­bents on de­fense and forced them to spend money around the state while Democrats were able to tar­get races.

“We had a clear-eyed vi­sion from Day One where the tar­gets were,” said Mor­gan Jack­son, a Demo­cratic con­sul­tant who worked on the Break the Ma­jor­ity cam­paign.

In ad­di­tion to Clark, the party gave a lot of sup­port to other Democrats ei­ther in con­tri­bu­tions or in-kind spend­ing. It spent nearly $900,000 on Hunt, $295,000 on Wes­ley Har­ris and $104,000 on Bran­don Lofton in the Char­lotte sub­urbs.

Hunt, who raised more than $1.2 mil­lion, spent $840,000 on TV ads, ac­cord­ing to WRAL’s Po­lit­i­cal Ad Tracker. That was more than all but three con­gres­sional can­di­dates. Clark spent $450,000 on TV.

In Wake County, Syd­ney Batch raised more than $1 mil­lion, with more than $595,000 of her to­tal com­ing from the Demo­cratic Party. Her op­po­nent, Re­pub­li­can in­cum­bent John Ad­cock, raised about $237,000, with about $80,000 com­ing from the state GOP.

Seven-term in­cum­bent Nel­son Dol­lar of Cary, the chief bud­get writer in the House, raised more than $500,000, with $57,400 com­ing from his state party. Demo­crat Julie von Hae­fen raised about $800,000, with nearly $538,000 com­ing from state Democrats.

In­cum­bent Re­pub­li­can Chris Malone raised about $250,000, while Demo­crat Ter­ence Everitt raised nearly $800,000, in­clud­ing Demo­cratic Party sup­port that reached nearly $490,000.

“It was a huge dif­fer­ence,” Jack­son said of the money. “Look, money mat­ters. Money al­lows you to get your mes­sage out to vot­ers. … We had to over­come a built-in ad­van­tage in ger­ry­man­der­ing Repub­li­cans have. And the only way to do that was through money.”

Christy Clark

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