This fall’s election for the North Carolina General Assembly is the most important in at least the last 10 years - possibly longer. Democrats have a tantalizing chance to finally break the Republican majority, which has been entrenched for a decade due to the nation’s most aggressive (and racist) gerrymander. We have a chance to finally end the spectacle of corrupt and unethical self-dealing by the likes of Phil Berger, Tim Moore, David Lewis and their Republican majority and make North Carolina an example of moderate and honest good government once again.
In January, I launched the Long Leaf Pine Slate, which is dedicated to making that happen. Our Slate of 11 Democratic challengers - 7 for the House and 4 in the Senate - is our path to breaking the GOP majority this fall. With the advantage of first quarter fundraising data, we now have a better idea of where our list of candidates stand.
Whether we like it or not (hint: no one does), fundraising is the ammunition of politics. Without enough financial resources, even the best candidates will fizzle. But on the flip side, it also isn’t everything. Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot really “buy elections.” (Just ask Mike Bloomberg!) Money is a “necessary, but not sufficient” factor. A good candidate with the right message and values still needs enough money to get their message out effectively; but all the money in the world won’t save a crappy candidate with a bad campaign.
I’m pleased to say that the candidates of the Long Leaf Pine Slate, like Democrats statewide, are raising the money they need to compete. But we’re still being outraised by the other side. Corporate interests are greatly stepping up their contributions to help protect the GOP majority. (More on that later.)
NC House candidates
In these tables, “R/D Funds Advantage” demonstrates the Republican edge in fundraising. All amounts reflected cash on hand at the end of Q1.
- Brian Farkas (D): $44,000
- Perrin Jones (R): $160,000
- R/D Funds Advantage: 3.6
- Adam Ericson (D): $16,000
- Ted Davis (R): $42,000
- R/D Funds Advantage: 2.6
- Nicole Quick (D): $29,000
- Jon Hardister (R): $110,000
- R/D Funds Advantage: 3.8
- Ricky Hurtado (D): $15,000
- Stephen Ross (R): $21,000
- R/D Funds Advantage: 1.4
- Dan Besse (D): $50,000
- Jeff Zeniger (R): $6,000
- R/D Funds Advantage: 0.1
- Aimy Steele (D): $23,000
- Kristen Baker (R): $45,000
- R/D Funds Advantage: 2
- Gail Young (D): $71,000
- Larry Pittman (R): $18,000
- R/D Funds Advantage: 0.3
NC Senate candidates
- Donna Lake (D): $45,000
- Jim Perry (R): $456,000
- R/D Funds Advantage: 10.1
- Allen Wellons (D): $20,000
- Lisa Barnes (R): $30,000
- R/D Funds Advantage: 1.5
- JD Wooten (D): $16,000
- Amy Galey (R): $101,000
- R/D Funds Advantage: 6.3
- Terri LeGrand (D): $148,000
- Joyce Krawlec (R): $122,000
- R/D Funds Advantage: 0.8
As you can see, there are several races - H09, H59, S7 and S24 in particular - where Republican incumbents have accumulated a significant cash advantage. Time to panic, right? Well, no. The numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. Democrats have reason for real optimism here - and when you look a little deeper, you can see big weaknesses by these Republican incumbents.
House District 9
Perrin Jones was appointed to replace Greg Murphy, who won the special election for Congress after the death of Walter Jones. He has never won an election himself. One of Jones’s main advantages as a candidate has been his personal resources; he has spent heavily on his own campaign. His fundraising looks formidable - until you realize that a large majority of it hasn’t been from people, much less voters. It’s been from corporate healthcare PACs. In Q1, Farkas dramatically outraised Jones among actual humans, while Jones raised 75% of his total haul from PACs. (His figure last year was 50%.)
Despite the disparity in their bank accounts, Farkas is still sitting on a significant amount of cash and is working much harder than Jones leading up to November. This district changed in the 2019 redrawing, making Farkas a real contender.
House District 59
Nicole Quick is in a tight race to replace Republican Majority Whip Jon Hardister. It comes as no surprise that corporate interests have opened their wallets to curry favor with a powerful legislative gatekeeper like Hardister. Yet again, under the covers, Hardister’s fundraising advantage reveals weak support from actual voters. Fully half of all his fundraising for the 2020 cycle comes from PACs. In Q1, while he received $38,000 from corporate PACs, he raised less than $2,000 from individuals.
While we hope to see improvements in Quick’s fundraising, her campaign is far from threadbare, either. Hardister is a smarter opponent than most in his caucus, but his unpopular positions, like opposing Medicaid expansion (the reason for those PAC contributions), have demonstrably cost him ground in his district. Will corporate cash help him paper over that hole? We’ll see.
Senate District 7
There’s no doubt that Donna Lake signed up for a challenge when she decided to run against local millionaire Jim Perry for the open state Senate seat. Perry was appointed to the seat just last year after the previous incumbent stepped down, and though he’s never won an election, he is extremely wealthy. Perry is a millionaire from a career in healthcare private equity. (He now runs an executive private aircraft business.) A majority of the money in Perry’s bank account is, in fact, his own. So far, Lake has raised money from many more individuals than Perry, and as a retired USAF Colonel and professor of nursing, has particular expertise to draw upon in the COVID era. She has the resume and funds to compete with Perry, depending on how savvy an opponent he turns out to be.
Senate District 24
This race bears a lot of resemblance to S7 - it’s a Republican seat whose incumbent isn’t running again. Like Jim Perry, Amy Galey entered the race with a $50,000 “loan” to her own campaign (plus subsequent contributions), which makes her cash on hand look much more formidable than it really is. Wooten, like Donna Lake, has raised money from more donors than Galey, but their checks have generally been smaller. Wooten’s biography - he’s a local boy turned USAF officer and now an attorney - is strong, and this race will depend in large part on which candidate works harder.
These are all districts where court-ordered redistricting in 2019 erased a large amount of the intended Republican advantage. All of them still tilt nominally to the right, but Democrats now face a fairer fight than ever before.
So, about all that corporate PAC money. Curious where it’s coming from? Well, there’s a short list of industry special interests giving heavily to protect the Republican majority:
- Duke Energy - Gives to both sides, but strongly favors leaders of the party in the majority.
- Anesthesiologists - There are no fewer than 7 active PACs representing anesthesiologists (who are medical doctors) in North Carolina. They give overwhelmingly to Republican candidates.
- Optometric Society PAC, Hospital Association PAC, NC Medical Society PAC, NC Hospital Association PAC - while some of these healthcare industry PACs give to both sides, they generally favor Republicans.
- NC Realtors PAC - A curiously influential PAC, these guys give to everyone, but prefer the party in power.
Sensing a pattern? Lots of industry PACs just prefer to give to the party in power, since they’re the ones with the juice to make regulatory changes (ex. tax cuts) those industries want. With a hearty investment in the Republican majority, they are loathe to abandon it.
It may come as no surprise that the healthcare industry is also investing heavily in protecting their Republican allies. This is directly linked to Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion. Increasing access to affordable healthcare would be a boon to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, but it would also result in many of them quitting their much more expensive private insurance. If you’re a for-profit hospital chain or medical specialist who makes way more money from private insurance than Medicaid, you probably don’t like that. So that’s why you’re seeing big checks from wealthy physicians to Republicans, particularly Perrin Jones.
The Long Leaf Pine Slate
One of the key reasons we launched the Long Leaf Pine Slate was to make it easier for casual observers to help Democrats take back our state.
Here’s the problem: if you’re not an avid politics watcher, it can be hard to figure out where your support is most needed. After all, there are literally hundreds of candidates running and they all need money. For candidates, it’s very hard to break through the noise; for donors, it’s also difficult to know who to support, unless you dig into a lot of time-consuming analysis.
That’s why we created our Slate to gather together just the strongest Democratic candidates challenging the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in must-win districts we need to back the majority. If you want to put your political contribution dollars where they’re most needed, this is it. The Long Leaf Pine Slate is not another PAC. Instead, it uses an ActBlue dashboard that directs all contributions directly to our candidates. We’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars this way, and will continue to do so until we succeed.
Want to help us end the corrupt, racist and unethical Republican governance of North Carolina? Check out our website to learn more. And remember - money doesn’t vote. But it can sure pay for a good flyer.