The Gravitas to win

Published January 27, 2021

By Thomas Mills

Yesterday, I panned Jeff Jackson’s announcement that he’s running for US Senate and got a lot of blow back from his supporters. Maybe I was harsh, but I want Democrats to win the Senate seat and I do not believe Jackson or Erica Smith has what it takes. The leap from state legislature to U.S. Senate is huge and very few people successfully make it. Those that do usually come from positions of leadership, not the rank-and-file. Successful U.S. Senate candidates bring a higher level of gravitas to the campaign. 

Right now, we have three more viable candidates waiting in the wings. Attorney General Josh Stein has won two tough statewide contests and has built a record as both a champion of consumers and progressive causes. Anthony Foxx served as mayor of Charlotte, the state’s largest city, and as Obama’s Secretary of Transportation. And Cheri Beasley was the first African American woman to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina and basically tied her statewide election in November, coming 400 votes short out of almost 5.4 million cast. All three are battle-tested and bring broad profiles and networks that extend beyond North Carolina.

Foxx has been a target of national recruiting for the seat. He got high marks at U.S. DOT and as mayor, including overseeing the successful 2012 Democratic Convention. He brings the national connections that, like it or not, are essential for a U.S. Senate contest today. However, Foxx has so far shown little interest in running. He’s not making calls or showing up at public events. I doubt he will run, but if he does, he starts out as the front runner among those already in the race. 

 Stein has proven to be a great attorney general. He has not shied away from controversial fights and has stood up for North Carolinians. Just this week, he brokered a deal to ensure that consumers don’t get saddled with the full cost of coal ash clean up. He’s also urging the state to expand rural broadband with money his office obtained in a settlement with Dish Networks. Stein, though, is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to succeed Roy Cooper in 2024 and a race for Senate would complicate that. 

Beasley just came off of a tough race for chief justice and has previously won statewide. While she ultimately came up 400 votes short in November, she built name recognition and gained stature beyond just North Carolina. She outperformed the other judicial statewide Democratic judicial candidates and proved to be a relentless campaigner. She would bring gravitas to the race and also appeals to the center of gravity in the Democratic Party. Black women are both the most loyal Democratic voters and among their hardest workers. If she won, Beasley would be the only African American woman in the U.S. Senate and the first to serve from a Southern state. Her historic candidacy would attract support from minority and progressive communities across the nation. And, unlike Stein and Foxx, she’s let people know that she’s considering the race.

 The race in 2022 will likely be a low turnout affair. The Senate race will be at the top of the ticket and, to win, Democrats will need to a substantially better response from African Americans than they got in either 2020 or 2014 when Kay Hagan narrowly lost. At a time when our nation is in the midst of a cultural reckoning that demands more representation from under-represented communities, I believe Cheri Beasley is the right candidate. We need more people of color and women in office and Beasley has the resume and electoral experience to do it. She could make the low turnout midterm an advantage instead of a liability by driving up a disproportionately high African American turnout, like Barack Obama did in 2008. And the women who tend to do the work in Democratic politics would flock to her campaign.

That said, both Foxx and Stein bring stronger resumes and broader electoral experience than either of the currently announced candidates. They would be solid candidates with shorter learning curves. It’s still very early and other candidates may be out there, but I cannot think of them right now. I believe that resumes, political experience, and accomplishments matter, especially when the Senate candidate will lead the ticket.