Centrists v. Progressives in North Carolina

          "If Democrats think they can beat Trump by being pragmatic and scared rather than visionary, revolutionary, and bold, they better remember that a lie will beat a half truth every time." -Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

Now that Bernie Sanders is the clear front runner in the Democratic Party nominating process, having won the popular vote in the first three contests, taken the overall Delegate lead, and having won a decisive victory in Nevada in nearly every key demographic, the corporate MSM and party insiders are throwing around the idea that Bernie, a true progressive, and self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, cannot beat President Donald Trump in November, and that not only will he lose, he will bring about heavy losses for Democrats on down-ballot races across the country.

Polling last week by Emerson College suggests that Donald Trump beats every Democrat in the race except Bernie, and a local North Carolina poll by WRAL shows Sanders, Biden and Bloomberg as the only candidates who beat Trump in North Carolina.

When discussing down-ballot races, and specifically in North Carolina, a key Senate seat held by Senator Thom Tillis (R) is up for grabs. Should he win his own primary, centrists in the Tar Heel state are saying that Sanders at the top of the ticket will help re-elect Senator Tillis. This idea has no factual basis, but let’s examine the issue more closely.

In 2014, centrist Kay Hagan (D) lost the NC U S Senate race to Tillis. Hagan’s motto was, “not too far left, not too far right, just right for North Carolina.” Voters here didn’t think so.

In 2016, centrist Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) was at the top of the ticket and not only lost to Donald Trump (R) by 4 points, centrist Deborah Ross (D) also lost to incumbent Senator Richard Burr (R) by 6 points. No down-ballot victories for federal office were had by any Democrat in 2016 except the three U S House incumbent Democrats, David Price (NC-O4), Alma Adams (NC-12), and C. K. Butterfield (NC-01).

The March 3rd primary for U S Senate in North Carolina this year has 2 candidates who polls suggest would both beat Senator Tillis (one of the least popular Senators in the country) in a general election. Cal Cunningham is claiming he is the ‘progressive’ in the race, though his policy ideas are exactly what a centrist is, not a progressive. Cal has the support of the entire centrist Democrat establishment behind him. His main challenger is NC State Senator Erica Smith, who is an actual progressive, and is someone who backs Bernie Sanders policies, Medicare For All, and the Green New Deal, among others.

Of the two candidates, some polls suggest that it is the real progressive in this race, Erica Smith, that beats Senator Tillis by a larger margin. And no matter who wins NC Democratic U S Senate race, Voter turnout will be key to defeating Thom Tillis. Bernie Sanders is making that turnout higher so far, and it could reach or beat the level of turnout Barack Obama enjoyed in 2008, as both Obama in 2008, and Bernie in 2020 have outperformed their own poll numbers.

Centrist Democrat Cal Cunningham also ran for the NC U S Senate seat in 2010, only to lose to the eventual Democratic Party nominee, centrist Democrat and current North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who in turn lost to Senator Richard Burr, in the general election by 12 points.

On the U S House side, two centrist Democrats lost special elections to Republicans that were held less than 6 months ago in North Carolina in 2019.

While there is no proof that a genuine progressive and self-proclaimed Democratic-Socialist Bernie Sanders on the top of the Democratic Party ticket in November 2020 would harm Democrats in down-ballot races, recent history shows an abundance of proof that centrist Democrats cannot defeat their rival Republicans here in North Carolina even with a centrist candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton on the top of the ticket (in both 2010, and 2014, centrist Democratic President Barack Obama was not on the ballot, but his record was).

The Republican National Convention will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina in August of this year. In all likelihood, Trump and the NCGOP will see significant turnout in November here for their GOP candidates, just as they did in 2016.

In order for Democrats to defeat not only Trump, but their opponents in down-ballot races, Democratic turnout must be higher than in the past. Thus far, Bernie Sanders has won two contests, New Hampshire and Nevada where turnout was higher in both states than in 2016. Here are the demographics Sanders just won in Nevada: Men, Women, Whites, Non-Whites, Voters aged 17-29, 30-44, and 45-65, Liberal Democrats, Moderate Democrats, College Educated, and Non-College Educated. 


For further reading, check out this article by Alex Henderson, where new analysis details the evidence that Sanders could beat Trump — and has ‘hidden and underappreciated general election strength’


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