The path forward: A reinvigorated, refocused state party

One of Randy Voller’s last acts as chair was to announce that he would not run for re-election to helm the North Carolina Democratic Party. He must be commended for his announcement as it was a selfless ownership of responsibility for this year’s election and provides the opportunity for the Party to start anew ahead of the 2016 elections. North Carolina Democrats have a lot of work cut out for them, yet I remain optimistic for what lies ahead for our party.

North Carolina Democrats will have to determine what their role is in the post-Citizens United world. While c(3) and c(4) non-profit organizations mobilized across the state on behalf of candidates, drawing in volunteers, and turning out the vote, the Democratic Party has something that those organizations don’t - a ready-made structure that also brings with it loyalty and sentimental value. Because the Democratic Party brings people together and the people see themselves in the Party, it has a significant advantage that must be realized and leveraged to win elections in North Carolina.

That advantage should be used to hold the majority party accountable. Most of the time it has been up to our Democratic legislative caucuses to call out the bad policies of the Governor, Speaker Tillis, and Leader Berger. In 2009-2010, former GOP chairman Tom Fetzer was unrelenting in his attacks of Governor Perdue and the Democrat-led legislature. Because the chair of the State Party has a remarkable bully pulpit, the next NCDP chair should be focused on calling out the NCGOP from Murphy to Manteo while helping reconstitute a year-round GOTV operation.

North Carolina Democrats must be ready to run a perpetual campaign that operates annually and not just every two years. We have municipal elections in odd-numbered years and nearly every major city holds their elections in those years. As a strategy, the state party should take more of an interest in these elections just as it did in 2009 in helping secure the victory of Anthony Foxx to be the first Democratic mayor of Charlotte since Harvey Gantt. These elections will help the state and local parties test out new strategies for presidential and midterm election cycles while helping secure the victory of Democratic candidates. By keeping volunteers and donors engaged in the odd-numbered years we can have a better launching pad for even-numbered year successes.

The Party will need professional field staff to help launch a year-round operation. While counties like Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth, Cumberland, Orange and many others have the capacity for running great county-wide campaigns we cannot have counties operating in 100 silos. Without a statewide coordinated effort, with clear goals and objectives that all counties buy into, we may find ourselves falling perilously short in highly contested statewide elections. Therefore there must be dedicated field staff for the Start Party starting with a State Field Director who supervises a number of Regional Field Directors who work with counties to build their capacity, including training local parties and their volunteer corps on successful GOTV methods and analysis.

While the House and Senate caucuses are responsible for recruitment and training of their candidates, the Party should also be involved in recruitment of strong and quality candidates for other offices, including those that will be on the ballot in 2016. We have three offices that must be targeted for the Council of State, including that of Lieutenant Governor, and a seat on the NC Supreme Court. While the party must remain neutral in primaries, it is incumbent upon the party to ensure that there are candidates for these races ready and eager to run.

To be successful in future cycles, it will be imperative for the NCDP to engage with the various groups constituencies of the Obama Coalition -- youth, women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT. The strength of that coalition tends to diminish in midterm elections, but the only way to keep that Coalition together will be through year-round engagement outside of elections. The Party’s caucuses are great vehicles for this kind of outreach work, however outreach shouldn’t be limited to just our constituency groups that make-up the big tent party, but must also include rural communities and their concerns. The only way to turn some of these communities from red to blue will involve going to those communities, hearing their concerns about our state, and directly asking for their votes and making them feel just as important and vital to the Democratic coalition as our urban and suburban communities.

Going forward we cannot understate the importance of our party doing all it can to restore the confidence of our candidates, elected officials, donors, progressive organizations and even ourselves in the North Carolina Democratic Party. By strengthening our resolve to run a top-flight organization we will see the return of some of our biggest donors and a renewed interest from our partners. Only by choosing to be a principled organization laser focused on winning elections and a party infrastructure centered on that goal can we hope to have the type of coordinated campaigns that other states, like Washington, Virginia, and Wisconsin run – a truly coordinated effort from the presidential campaign and every other candidate on the ticket using the state party as the vehicle.

Democrats literally built this state through stubborn resolve and a concrete vision; we can do the same to reinvigorate the North Carolina Democratic Party. This is what all of us, from the grasstops to the grassroots, must be committed to.



Thank you, Matt!

Many people have no clue how the party works at the different levels and only see the clown car antics. I appreciate your very thoughtful analysis.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.


I'd welcome seeing your hat in the ring.

We cannot win the elections

We cannot win the elections of the future with the party from the past. What worked 10 years ago, will not work today. Part of that is bringing along new people to run for office, for public office and party office. Business as usual will no longer cut it.

A little early strategy goes a long way

Matt, you nailed it. May I add that whomever next leads the state party approach it with a "work better" not just "work harder" plan. Determine the size of the needed voter segments for 2016, then define a message for each segment that increases their turnout. Tailoring the message to the constituency makes them care enough to go to the polls. Its not a one-message-fits-all approach like it use to be. We know we can't win with out unaffiliated voters so they need their own field team to develop turnout for democratic candidates. We must face the facts its a marketing job more than just a political one. Hope this feedback is helpful.

You're right about unaffiliated voters

Catherine you're absolutely right. Not all unaffiliated voters are progressive or unregistered Democrats. In Orange County, a fair number of them are. In counties like Wake and Wautaga where the county is almost a 33-33-33 split between Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters it's not possible to win without their support. Having a message that is telegraphed to them and totally different from what you would use with the rank and file. The independent voter is certainly one that should be sought after, but is a bloc of voters that the Party cannot afford to ignore.

Spot on, Matt

Hey Matt,
You're spot on. Good job man.

~Ray McKinnon

Thanks Matt

Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful commentary. I am hopeful that we can start the journey toward rebuilding our local and state party. I often hear how we need to exclude the big donors. Although I agree the grass roots is the key to growth, we must also be careful not to alienate all our donors. In this post Citizen's United political world, we need both grass roots efforts and fundraising to be successful. If we can find the right balance and develop the right message I am certain we can move forward.

Robert Kellogg

Three sectors of the Party

I think we can find the right balance by realizing there are three equally important parts of the party: grassroots, candidates/elected officials, and donors. None of these groups can be successful without the other and must work together. Trust in the state party and its ability to bring these three parts together is imperative to set that balance. We cannot afford to exclude any of these three groups.

How to bridge the divide?

First of all, thanks Matt for sharing your vision of what the Party should do and be. If you're not already on the Executive Council, you should be. This kind of guidance is exactly what we need, in every meeting or conference call that takes place.

All that said, I've seen several people make observations about Randy Voller's stepping aside, from the gracious one you wrote above to some that are not so gracious. While I do believe Randy has chosen the right thing to do, I don't believe it's going to be the panacea that a lot of people think it will be. The rift in the Party was there before Voller, and it will still be there afterwards.

Between now and February, a lot of people are going to have to swallow their pride and prejudice, and the only way that's going to happen is if influential people on each side reach out to the other. They have to acknowledge the issues that have pulled them apart, and work through those issues. We've tried to "think positive" and hope they go away on their own, and it hasn't worked.

And until something does work, we're not going to get any work done, if you catch my drift.

Bridging the Gap

I'm not currently on the Executive Council, but know from the last five years how it works.

You're absolutely right that Chairman Voller stepping aside from the chairmanship won't cure everything, it defuses a lot of the emotion. I cannot say that I've also agreed with our two previous chairs, but that has never inhibited my ability to work with the chair of our party. That's what it comes down to; putting personality last and putting the goals of an organization first. I believe that tone has to come from the various camps and a discussion occurring with the purpose of mutual understanding and not from a defensive posture.


Trust remains the most elusive category in the North Carolina Democratic Party. We
need to develop coping mechanisms and linkages that accentuate trust. Obviously, we need new leadership. But We also needmore cross county engagements that
address successes and the power of PACS to harm our efforts to succeed. Evidence of things unseen makes it exceedingly difficult
to win!

A dissenting note - You knew it would be so

Matt: Thank you for your laying out some thoughts on this issue - though I find it mostly filled with platitudes and things we have talked about for quite some time. You did not find the Philosophers Stone, useful as some things you cited may be. It is time for very sober reflection and not rah-rah and shallow platitudes.

The Democratic Party in NC cannot effectively win comprehensively and widely until it can cause redistricting in 2021-2! Do you concede that? Hope so, these are irrefutable facts. There are three things NCDP can do: (1) engage in a process to bring about an independent commission for redistricting in 2021-2 and (2) educate the party widely in an effort to make it much more effective including rural areas, and (3) adopt Vollers ten points, at minimum, asap - with a paid and experienced MANAGER as Chair! The duties of chair are not (1) fund raising personally, but managing those who do, and (2) running campaigns, but rather supplying the support the candidates need. Voller was accused of not doing those too things by people with highly parochial and spiteful motives. He instead focused on what little success we were allowed IN SPITE of a dissident and vindictive movement.

One thing needs to be settled going foward: Gov. Jim Hunt and his faction, in an attempt to control the party, did real injury to NCDP when he (1) announced publicly big donors should not to give to NCDP, implying he did not trust or like Randy, and (2) give money directly to the candidates (of course through him and a few others in PACs and other devices) in attempt to starve the party of money - it was said that was because Voller could not be trusted. That is plain old BS covering for his want to control the party. Well, we now have clean audits which put lie to the insinuations of Beth Wood of "problems" last earlier this year when she demanded her money back because she did not trust Voller. OBTW, this provided the cover needed for Hagan to take her campaign to Wake County instead of NCDP - and it also helped block fund raising from NCDP. So, Voller did a great job in spite of people dedicated to his personal, professional and political assassination and destruction with no regard to the damage to the party.

Matt, I never heard you flinch in the least when Voller was under attack and money was being denied to NCDP!! Did you, and please cite where? Instead, you seemed to work with Governor Hunt to inflict damage on the party these past two years. Is it possible you could convince him to make a public apology to the member of the NCDP, all million or so? Would be a nice thing to do, just as having Senator Hagan attend the SEC meeting on Saturday to thank the representatives of all the "little Democrats" for their hard work and money on her behalf.

So, while you are painting a fantastical picture going forward, there is unfinished business in the body politic. And yes, we need a unified Democratic Party, but: will it be the Blue Dog Triangulation of Hillary Clinton (and Kay Hagan) or the open party of Elizabeth Warren? Do we want it where we have surrendered totally to the Wall St crowd (apparently) or we want our own autonomy? The argument that any and all elections require money, so we have to chase it first, foremost and always, and that it becomes our total wrongful focus. That lack of foresight has driven the people who tried to kill Voller, money, money, money and to hell with any and all principles. So, Matt, what are your principles - win at any cost, money, money, money. All the nice points you make are just that, they have to be turned, along with many, many, many other considerations into things operational and effective by people with principles, real principles.

Will Governor Hunt, and his people, understand and admit they should not have cut off the NCDP in an effort to defenestrate Randy Voller starting in February, 2013, thereby truncating the ability of the Party to properly support the many candidates? Will you undertake to do this heavy lifting, or are you just fine that some folks can decide to fundamentally damage NCDP abritrarily? And, the rot goes back some ways, to include the Council of State's attack on and neutering of David Parker in 2012 - with some of the same players who went immediately after Voller. The biggest issue is the inability of our erstwhile political leaders to build and maintain a viable bench of candidates - back into the 1990s, and refusing to look at change which was coming and could be seen. That is why I am not for accepting some pleasing fantasies when I see many years of blood, sweat and tears and brutal honesty ahead, which will require real leadership and not just cheer leading.

So Matt, lay it all out, including the wrong and bad things which influenced outcomes and cost us elections, directly through denial of funds to the Party. Take responsibility for your roles in that if any, mostly as cheerleader. Ask your mentor to step up and perhaps think he may have been wrong.

I offer this a very close and acute observer and 45 years of successfully managing organizations small and large with a variety of missions, often under great stress and even fire. The way will be hard and harder, and we do need no Summer Soldiers who ride in victory parades and vanish when the Winter Soldiers step up to the tasks before them.

At risk may well be extinction as the Republicans continue and accelerate environmentally disastrous laws and policies. Much at stake, and not something to blithely treat as if it affected just some cross section of political hyper-actives in North Carolina. Above all, we need Public Virtue - look it up because we do not have much now - comes from the Roman Republic. It means do the right things for the right reasons and do not shirk or lie. Easy to say, hard to do.



Thanks, Bill, for your

Thanks, Bill, for your response and for always providing the thought provoking points you do. I’m not someone who keeps in regular contact with Governor Hunt and have only worked with him once when we helped do a fundraiser for Representative Larry Hall in Chapel Hill a few months ago. Nonetheless, I do know that Governor Hunt donated towards each of the events the NCDP put together during both 2013 and 2014, including the Sanford-Hunt-Frye, Western Gala, and Jefferson-Jackson. These are all contributions that are reflected in the campaign finance reports from the NC Democratic Party.

I also know that Governor Hunt worked with the former executive director by placing newspaper ads in newspapers across North Carolina as the legislature attacked public education. These were his way of standing up to the legislature and supporting the Party. Governor Hunt drafted the content while NCDP designed and purchased the ads.

I have always considered myself a team player, even when I’ve had questions or concerns about the captain. I worked with both Chairman Parker and Chairman Voller. I personally worked with Casey Mann and Audrey Hart several times on targeting of precincts across the state for Democrats, training local parties, training poll greeters, and other efforts that I thought would aid the Party in a constructive manner.

The State Party must engage in an honest assessment of what went well and what can be improved upon. I cannot do that alone, but there should be that assessment by party leaders committed to improving the NCDP. If I were a candidate for state party office, I would have offered a more specific blueprint for moving forward. Instead I offered my advice.

New realities

A couple of things jumped out about this post for me. One was acknowledging the "new reality" of a post-Citizens United election process. "Because the Democratic Party brings people together and the people see themselves in the Party, it has a significant advantage that must be realized and leveraged to win elections in North Carolina."

I'm sorry. I couldn't disagree more.

We live in a choice society.

Consumers have dozens of channels of tv. They have Netflix. They have online ordering. And they have millions of choices for where they get information about politics.

The large number of unaffiliated voters tells me that we're living in a post-political party world where individual voters don't have a heartfelt sentimentality for a particular political entity. Voters are increasingly clustering around issues they care about and, with things like Facebook and customized news feeds, only get news about the things they're interested in.

The thing I noticed about the last few election cycles is that independent non-profits and interest groups on the liberal side were doing all the heavy lifting. The Dem candidate concentrated on traditional media and public appearances and were rather "mushy" and non-commital about most everything, with general platitudes that are pretty much like this post. The Repugnicans echoed the themes that independent groups were hammering, reinforcing the broader messaging that was going on.

The Dems need to recognize that they're a loose coalition of broad interests.

In the end, I think you'll find that the Dems successfully got out more traditional, middle-of-the-raod Dem voters in the mid-terms that have a strong party affiliation, but missed the opportunity to compel "issue" centered liberals and progressives to actually show up.

Non-profits around the state were giving liberals and progressives plenty to be angry about, the party structure itself wasn't giving these voters a compelling narrative and the nagging to register and show up at the polls that they needed to feel they were _supporting_ specific candidates.