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Posts tagged as “2020 election”

Dueling messages (and a little lawn mowing) in Fayetteville congressional race

One candidate offers to mow your lawn. The other brings you home to Momma. 

As Election Day nears, the two contenders in North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District are rolling out new video ads to set themselves apart. 

Ads have always played a key campaign role, but the slowdown in events because of the coronavirus means the targeted messages through videos and social media are even more crucial.

Ads from both Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson and incumbent Republican Rep. Richard Hudson stress how they’ll serve voters of the 8th District, which stretches from east of Charlotte through Cumberland County. Hudson’s ads focus largely on his congressional accomplishments, while Timmons-Goodson’s are more likely to criticize her opponent’s record and spotlight their differences on the issues.

“We want people to know that they have a choice,” said Timmons-Goodson’s campaign manager Matt Vari. The campaign currently has ads on TV, radio, and Facebook as well as by mail. 

In her latest TV ad, entitled “Face,” Democratic challenger Pat Timmons-Goodson pays a socially-distanced and masked visit to her mother.

In her most recent TV ad, Timmons-Goodson tries to humanize the burden of COVID-19 by paying a socially-distanced and masked visit to her 85-year-old mother Beulah Timmons in Fayetteville. Unlike her first ad, which highlighted her military upbringing and judicial career, Timmons-Goodson this time criticizes Hudson’s response to the virus and his stance on healthcare.

Her tagline: “I’m Pat Timmons-Goodson, and my momma and I approve this message,” she says at the end of the clip with a big laugh. 

Hudson’s first TV ad initially looks like a lawn care commercial. A man (who turns out to be Hudson) is seen mowing a pristine yard while two women on a porch discuss Hudson’s congressional accomplishments for military families and veterans. 

“That’s our congressman,” one of the women says in admiration near the end of the ad. 

“Fort Bragg’s congressman,” says the other, correcting her friend. “He does everything!”

Republican incumbent Rep. Richard Hudson promoted his latest TV ad on Facebook by issuing a contest: Donate to his campaign for the chance to have him mow your lawn.

On the same day the ad started, Hudson launched a contest on his Facebook page: Donate $10 to his campaign and you enter a drawing for him to mow your lawn. Or the winner can nominate a military family for his “lawn service.”

Hudson’s campaign manager Robert Andrews said their strategy was to avoid mentioning or criticizing Timmons-Goodson. Rather, the main goal was introducing Hudson to voters who were new to the 8th District since congressional maps were redrawn.

“People always want to see going on the attack, or that sort of thing,” Andrews said in an August interview with The 9th Street Journal. “That’s not the deal right now. We just want to make sure that folks know who Richard Hudson is, especially in those new parts of the district.”

While the candidates’ TV ads may strike similar tones, their Facebook offerings diverge. Of the 10 Facebook ads that were active in the last week, all of them asked viewers to donate money or help his campaign. Seven of them emphasized the critical stakes of the election by capitalizing words like “URGENT” and adding exclamation points.

True to Andrews’ August prediction, Hudson has no ads attacking Timmons-Goodson’s judicial or public service record. But the campaign does criticize her prominent Democratic supporters such as former President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.

“My opponent has officially been endorsed by Obama,” reads one Facebook ad that launched in mid-August. “Stand against the liberal mob and sign our petition to keep socialism out & keep North Carolina RED!”

Hudson indirectly criticizes Timmons-Goodson by attacking her prominent Democratic supporters, such as former President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Timmons-Goodson’s Facebook ads give her bio and strike a contrast with Hudson’s. Some of the ads feature news articles and op-eds about her candidacy. (Four of Timmons-Goodson’s 20 active ads contain an exclamation point.)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in May added Timmons-Goodson to its selective “Red to Blue” program, which provides fundraising and organizational support to candidates in highly competitive districts. But the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball still say the race leans Republican.

The National Republican Congressional Committee did not respond to several calls from asking for comment about the race. 

Timmons-Goodson outraised Hudson nearly 3-to-1 in the second quarter, according to June filings from the Federal Election Commission. But overall, Hudson has the greater total of $2.3 million raised, compared to Timmons-Goodson’s roughly $1.1 million, according to Open Secrets, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending. 

‘I feel like nothing’s changed’: Black voters seek change through Triad congressional race

The Woolworth’s store on South Elm Street marks the start of downtown Greensboro. Its lunch counters, the catalyst of a national wave of sit-ins in 1960, are part of civil rights history that pulses through the city.

Sixty years later, there are new signs in downtown Greensboro that the movement for racial justice is still underway — and unfinished. The words “Black Lives Matter” are everywhere, including South Elm Street, painted onto the asphalt between February One Place and Washington Street.

In North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point, some voters will be carrying those words to the polls this year. The recently redrawn district is predicted to vote overwhelmingly blue — Kathy Manning, the Democratic candidate, is highly favored — but for some of its Black residents, whose desires are neither monolithic nor zeroed on police, words are not enough. Wary of sweeping campaign commitments, they are seeking material improvements for their communities.

“I feel like nothing’s changed. I feel like it’s just more in the spotlight,” V. R. Baker, who has lived in Greensboro for 23 years, said. But national protests following the police killing of George Floyd have shifted her perspective. “Demonstrating was beautiful because it woke people up. It was like an earthquake that woke people up.” 

“When the George Floyd situation came through, it just opened up old wounds,” said Jaye Webb, chair of the Greensboro Criminal Justice Advisory Commission. 

For the Triad area, the wounds are deep and many: the 1979 killings of five residents by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party during a march supporting Black textile workers where police failed to intervene, the 2018 police killing of Marcus Deon Smith, the 2019 killing of John Neville in Forsyth County Detention Center in Winston-Salem, long-unmet needs for basic community care and investment.

“Politicians, they say a lot of things, but they don’t necessarily act on them,” Ryan Upton, a junior at North Carolina A&T State University, said. “You can say it in front of us, but then when we’re going back to work and living our everyday busy lives, it’s like, okay, who really is doing it?”

The candidates have staked out distinct positions on the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a statement after Floyd’s killing, Manning wrote: “Too often, too many act as if black lives don’t matter. They do.”

Her campaign has neither discussed race further on its website, nor run Facebook or Google ads about race, according to online databases. 

During an interview with The 9th Street Journal, Lee Haywood, the Republican candidate, said: “I’m for ‘all lives matter.’ Yes, Black lives are included in there as well, but all lives matter.”

His campaign has not discussed race further on its website, though his first “issue” is public safety. His campaign has run one Facebook ad about the Black Lives Matter movement, which reads: “I belong to the oldest Black Lives Matter group in the nation: the Republican Party!” 

The candidates have not made clear what actions they plan to take in office against structural racism and police brutality.

Manning supports a ban on hogtying, the police practice that killed Smith and Neville, and she endorses the Justice in Policing Act, the House Democrats’ police reform bill, which she called “an important first step” in a statement without enumerating subsequent steps.

Haywood does not have a public plan. “The Republican Party, we’re not promising the Black people anything,” he said. “We’re not promising any checks. We’re not promising any freebies. We’re going to leave you alone as much as possible.”

In this moment of racial reckoning, though, Black voters say that they are not asking for “checks” or “freebies,” but for the government to repair systemic problems and tangibly serve communities in need.

“The problem is so deep-rooted. I would say, focus on mental health, expanding public education and the resources that it has, and also trying to secure these families that may not even have a place to live,” said Demetri Banks, a senior at A&T, referencing the low-income neighborhoods surrounding the university. “If we focus on that, everything will trickle down.”

Black voters interviewed by The 9th Street Journal said that when defunding the police is mentioned, it is about a need to realign budget priorities and redistribute funding to properly address social gaps.

“‘Defund the police,’ I feel like, is a stretch because they’re still needed, but I feel like if you’re going to give the money and resources to one emergency field, you should give it to the other,” said Christopher Slade, who has lived in Greensboro for 19 years. “If you have the resources to invest in police, tear gas, rubber bullets, then I feel like you should be able to invest in hospitals and help COVID research.”

Joy Kirk, who has lived near High Point for three years, has worried as much about her children’s interactions with the police as she has about her children’s safety after a recent rash of shootings in Greensboro and High Point.

“If the system wasn’t set up the way it was and designed for us to fail to begin with, there would be less Black-on-Black crime. But that justifies someone else, that’s held to a higher stature, to shoot and kill us?” she said.

In Webb’s work with the advisory commission, community members have urged broader investment in employment opportunities, healthcare, and crime prevention programs such as midnight basketball. 

“I don’t think we can allow police to police the police. I think if we don’t make moves on that, we could see the next Minneapolis,” he said.

For Webb and the commission, those moves involve increased transparency: repealing laws that could conceal police misconduct, establishing nationwide police decertification records, and making records about police personnel and correctional facilities widely accessible.

“It’s not in the matter of defunding the police from existence. I think it is reappropriating funds into other opportunities that would allow for communities to have resources,” he said. “Hopefully, our elected officials will understand not only that this is the right time, and that it’s not going away no time soon.”

North Carolina voters can fix most deficient ballots, unless judge intervenes

Editor’s Note: A federal judge on Saturday blocked changes to North Carolina’s absentee voting process, placing a temporary restraining order on the Sept. 22 State Board of Elections settlement that allowed voters to cure ballots with missing witness information by signing an affidavit. The announcement affects the following story in that instead of mailing cure certifications to voters whose ballots had missing witness information, county boards of elections will now hold those ballots while courts determine the next step. We’ll update this story with future developments. 

As much as 40% of the state electorate will vote by mail this year. But don’t screw up if you want your vote counted. 

Historically, three in ten absentee ballots have been thrown out because they do not meet necessary guidelines, said Gunther Peck, Duke history professor and voting rights activist. Now, more voters who make mistakes on their ballots will get a second chance to make it count. 

A joint motion filed last Tuesday in Wake County Superior Court revised the statewide ballot curing process so voters can simply sign an affidavit to fix the most common mistake in absentee ballots — incomplete witness information. Previous guidelines required voters to cast a new ballot. 

In North Carolina, a witness must certify that a specific voter completed the ballot by providing their name, birthday, address and signature on it. The North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans filed a lawsuit on Aug. 10 demanding various changes to the absentee voting process, including suspending the witness requirement for single-adult households. The organization and the North Carolina State Board of Elections agreed in the Sept. 22 settlement that the witness requirement will remain, but ballots without complete witness information can be cured through a cure certification, or affidavit.

When a voter slips up, the county board sends them a cure certification form. The form explains that the voter missed information in their ballot and asks that they provide a signature to remedy the deficiency. 

State guidelines require that county boards physically mail and email the cure certification to the voter, who should only return one form. If the county board does not have the voter’s email address on file, election officials are obligated to give the voter a call. 

The following deficiencies qualify for a cure certification, according to the state board of elections

  • Voter did not sign Voter Certification
  • Voter signed in the wrong place
  • Witness or assistant signed in the wrong place
  • Witness or assistant did not print address
  • Witness or assistant did not sign
  • Witness or assistant signed on the wrong line
Voters will use cure certification forms, like this sample form from Durham County, to address deficiencies in their absentee ballots, now including deficiencies in witness information.

The certification can be returned to the county board by mail, fax, email, or commercial carrier. Voters can also drop off the form in person at their county board’s office, an option that should be taken into consideration given U.S. Postal Service delays and the number of days until Nov. 3.

Mailed certifications and ballots that arrive in the county board office after Nov. 3 should be postmarked by Election Day. Certifications will only be counted if they are received by Nov. 12.

In the case of less common mistakes, such as ballots arriving in open envelopes, county boards would issue the voter a new ballot. 

WRAL reported that federal judge William Osteen warned that the changes the state board made to witness requirements for absentee ballots do not have his approval. Rumblings from the Republican-appointed judge against simplifying the absentee voting process have yet to turn into action, and county board offices are still mailing and emailing voters cure certifications. 

As of Sept. 29, hundreds of ballots across the Triangle are deficient. 

In Durham County, 387 of the 16,150 returned absentee ballots are currently deficient, said Derek Bowens, director of the Durham County Board of Elections.

In Orange County, 103 of the 9,784 returned ballots are currently deficient. Since Sept. 4, 27 ballots have been cured, said Rachel Raper, director of the Orange County Board of Elections. 

Raper said that incomplete witness information accounts for nearly 90% of ballot deficiencies in Orange County. 

In Wake County, 386 of the 35,175 returned ballots are currently deficient, said Gary Sims, director of the Wake County Board of Elections. 

Disparity in deficiency

Ballot deficiencies disparately affect Black voters, whose ballots were twice as likely to be rejected than those submitted by the state’s white voters in 2018. So far in 2020, the absentee ballot rejection rate of Black voters is nearly three times as high as that of white voters, according to a joint analysis of state board of elections absentee ballot data by ProPublica and WRAL News. 

Irving Joyner, voting rights advocate and professor at the North Carolina Central University School of Law, told ProPublica and WRAL News that unfamiliarity and lack of voter education may be a root of the disparity. Many Black voters are casting their ballots for the first time, the analysis said. 

Black voters in Durham County account for 17% of returned absentee ballots, but 44% of ballots that are pending cure. Meanwhile, the county’s white voters make up 67% of returned ballots and 37% of deficient ballots, Bowens wrote. 

In Orange County, inequality lies in both the number of deficient ballots and the mail-in voter turnout. White voters represent nearly 72% of returned ballots, while Black voters make up less than 6%. Even though white voters account for substantially more returned ballots, the percentages of deficient ballots are starkly close — 61% from white voters and 24% from Black voters, Raper wrote. 

Wake county does track not race-related information among absentee voters, Sims said.

Donald Trump Jr. wants YOU for his “army” against voter fraud

In a recent video for the Trump campaign, Donald Trump Jr. becomes a modern-day Uncle Sam, urging Americans to sign up for a new kind of war.

“We need every able-bodied man and woman to join Army For Trump’s election security operation,” he says.

The younger Trump’s video, posted on the Team Trump Facebook and Twitter pages on Sept. 21, follows the Trump campaign’s strategy to rile up Republican voters against the perceived threat of voter fraud. The president’s son claims that the “radical left” plans to cast “millions of fraudulent ballots that can cancel your vote and overturn the election.”

The solution: assemble the troops.

To “enlist today,” he tells supporters to visit defendyourballot.com, which links to a section of the Army For Trump website that encourages voters to join Trump’s Election Day team. The site says volunteers will primarily focus on get-out-the-vote efforts “to ensure any voters who did not vote early vote on Election Day,” and does not mention poll watching or voter fraud.

Experts say voter fraud is rare, including fraud in voting by mail. Both Facebook and Twitter have added disclaimers below the video from the president’s son that state voting by mail is secure, but neither site has removed the video under their misinformation policies.

No U.S. presidential candidate has ever mounted these types of attacks on the electoral process nor called for supporters to “enlist” against the opposing party, said Judith Kelley, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy and an expert in global democracy. But, she said, “dictators do it all the time.”

“The use of terms like ‘army’ is by no means coincidental,” Kelley said. “Once you start using language that hints at the use of force, you are stoking the embers.”

Every party has the right to contest an election on the grounds of potential voter fraud, she said, but those objections should happen after the election, and be accompanied by documentation alleging specific instances of fraud. 

Trump’s accusations of mass voter fraud, lodged before the election and without documentation, are “a blatant attempt to undermine the credibility of the process and erode confidence in it,” she said. 

David Dixon, chair of the Durham Democratic Party, called the president’s campaign strategy “the most blatant form of voter suppression or voter intimidation possible.”

“You’ll have regular people taking the law into their own hands at polls across the country, scaring voters,” he said. “I think that’s really going to affect turnout.”

The Durham Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.

Fifty-four percent of Durham voters are registered Democrats, compared with 11% of registered Republicans. As a blue county and a “monolith,” Dixon doubts Durham will see an instance of violent voter intimidation. But as the president and his campaign continue to use militaristic rhetoric, Dixon worries that Trump supporters in North Carolina’s more conservative counties will arrive at the polls armed. 

“Forty-five minutes north in Franklin or Vance County, there’s a possibility that folks may show up at the election site with guns or other weapons, thinking they’re doing exactly what the president told them to do,” he said.

On Sept. 19, a group of Trump supporters gathered outside of a polling site in Fairfax, Virginia, to wave “Make America Great Again” signs and chant “four more years.” The group did not directly harass voters but did form a line that voters had to walk around to enter the polling place. Several voters reported feeling intimidated. 

Dixon noted that the Trump campaign has chosen its words carefully, which provides deniability if there is any violence.

“It gives them wiggle room in case something does happen,” Dixon said.

Kelley and Dixon said Trump’s strategy to stir up fear and anger among Republican voters may signal his intentions to refuse to concede the election, an intention that the president himself has alluded to.

“His tactic is to create a situation that is so chaotic that he’ll be able to say, ‘We can’t accept the results of the election, because look at this mess,’” Kelley said.

The uncertainty of a pandemic election has given Trump plenty of opportunities to instill doubt in the electoral process, said Dixon, but voters will have to wait until November to see what sticks.

“He’s planting so many different seeds,” he said. “Once we get to November fourth, we’ll see what has been sown.”

Supreme Court fight adds intensity to Senate race

The day after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis broke some news to a crowd of cheering supporters at a rally for President Trump in Fayetteville. 

“All the press tried to swarm me when I was coming up here, but I thought I would tell you all first,” he said, surrounded by a sea of red MAGA hats. 

“As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I’ve seen the list of justices. [The president] is going to nominate one of those justices, and I’m going to vote for their confirmation.” 

The crowd erupted in applause. 

On Saturday, Trump said he would nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett, setting off a fierce battle not just over the nominee, who is said to be staunchly against abortion, but also over the timing of the vote. 

With less than six weeks before Election Day — and with many North Carolinians already casting votes by mail — Ginsburg’s death intensifies a Senate race that had already attracted millions of dollars and strong interest from around the nation. 

“This is gonna take a race where the volume was already a 10 and crank it up to 11,” said Chris Cooper, professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University. “It’s just going to make everything louder and more intense. … The partisanship, the intensity and the consequences—it draws into sharp detail the consequences of controlling the United States Senate.” 

Trump’s effort to speed ahead with a vote has put Tillis and other Republicans in a bind because they took the opposite position in 2016 after Justice Antonin Scalia died. They blocked hearings on President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. 

In August 2016, Tillis wrote a USA Today op-ed that said “the Senate should not hold hearings or votes if a Supreme Court seat opened up during the [presidential] campaign.” 

But the morning after Ginsburg’s death, Tillis tweeted his support for filling the vacancy, distinguishing the situation from 2016 by saying that the latter involved a “divided government” and a “lame-duck president.” 

That has prompted cries of hypocrisy and shameless opportunism. Tillis’s Democratic opponent, Cal Cunningham, has pushed for the seat to be filled after the election.   

But Tillis’s decision to support the nominee could be smart politics. It reflects the importance of court nominees to many evangelical Republicans. They are hopeful that a new justice could be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

According to FiveThirtyEight, Tillis has consistently trailed Trump in polls, indicating that some Republican voters who are gung ho about the president may feel hesitant about the senator. By doubling down on his support for the court nominee, Tillis may win them back. 

“He is sort of going above and beyond to try to prove his fealty to Trump to make up for the last year when he very briefly bucked him on the border wall,” said Jessica Taylor, the Senate and governors editor for The Cook Political Report. 

She referred to Tillis’s response to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency over illegal immigration across the Mexican-American border in 2019. Tillis initially said he would vote against the declaration but later backtracked and voted for it. 

Taylor said the Tillis campaign has probably done the math: Promising to confirm Barrett could alienate some moderate voters, but Tillis will win more support from his conservative base. 

“I think they’re just looking at it from a sheer numbers game of what’s my best path to try and move my numbers up,” she said. “And I think it is shoring up that Republican base.” 

The fight could also rouse voters on the left. As the de facto leader of the court’s left wing, Ginsburg championed gender equality and abortion rights, becoming a liberal icon and earning the nickname “Notorious R.B.G.” 

The possibility of this progressive ally being replaced by a conservative, anti-abortion justice could intensify turnout among young and female voters — who often vote Democratic.

“The big question is going to be unmarried women,” said Kristin Goss, a professor of public policy and political science at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. “The fact that whoever takes that seat could be a deciding vote on Roe vs. Wade could make a big difference for unmarried women, particularly younger, unmarried women.”

Goss said that this moment could also be a “flashpoint” for college students and millennials. That, too, could help Cunningham.  

The progressive organization NextGen America says Ginsburg’s death is providing new energy for young people to get involved in the campaign and vote. 

Immediately after the justice’s death, NextGen America debuted a new YouTube ad targeting young voters in North Carolina. 

“Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish was not to be replaced by Trump. But we can’t trust Thom Tillis to do the right thing,” the ad says. “He has ignored our needs and voted for Trump’s anti-choice, anti-equality judges. We need Cal Cunningham, not a Trump loyalist, in the Senate.” 

In a race that had been dominated by the coronavirus, healthcare and the economy, a new issue has emerged.

“This is not exactly an October surprise, but this is one of those things that happens in politics, where it’s an unforeseen event,” said John Hood, chairman of the John Locke Foundation and president of the John William Pope Foundation.

“It sort of knocks all the preconceived notions for a loop.”

Republicans need senior voters, but Trump is pushing them away

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has good reason to worry about senior voters in North Carolina. 

McCarthy told Axios that he spent hours telling President Trump his unfounded attacks on mail-in voting could not only doom the president’s re-election, but also imperil Republicans running for Congress. 

The House Minority Leader said that he’s particularly concerned about losing the senior vote, which historically leans right. “I tried to show [Trump] … you know who is most afraid of COVID? Seniors. And if they’re not going to go vote, period, we’re screwed,” McCarthy said. 

A new 9th Street Journal tally of absentee ballot requests from the North Carolina Board of Elections shows why McCarthy is so concerned. Democratic voters older than 65 have requested nearly twice as many ballots (13,319) as their Republican counterparts (7,007), according to the data available on Sept. 14. 

The numbers also show that Republicans account for 36% of the state’s voters who are older than 65, but only 23% of the absentee ballot requests for that age group. Meanwhile, Democrats represent 40% of the state’s senior voters and 44% of voters older than 65 who have requested ballots. 

Unaffiliated senior voters, who account for 24% of all senior voters, have requested 32% of the ballots.

As McCarthy feared, Trump’s repeated attacks on mail-in voting seem to be having an impact — particularly with Republicans. A WRAL poll last week found a third of likely North Carolina voters have little to no confidence that votes cast by mail will be counted correctly. The sentiment varied by party: While 42% of Republicans and and 39% of Independents said that they had little to no confidence in the mail-in voting process, only 28% of Democrats felt the same way. 

Republicans usually depend on senior voters, who voted 55% to 42% for Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

People over the age of 65 make up 23% of the statewide electorate. In the 2016 and 2018 elections, they had the highest voter turnout compared with other age groups. 

But COVID-19 has re-written the expectations for 2020: Adults ages 65 years old and above are the most vulnerable to the virus, representing eight out of every 10 coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. People in this age group may decide it’s in their best interest to stay home and mail in their ballots. But Trump’s repeated attacks on absentee balloting might discourage his older supporters from voting at all. 

Republicans can still overcome the disparity in mail-in balloting by getting people to vote in person. Early voting starts Oct. 15 and Election Day is Nov. 3. 

Terri Benforado, a 57-year-old Durham resident who plans to vote for Trump, said that she and her husband, who is over 65 years of age and also supports Trump, will vote early in person. 

Benforado said that she has always casted her ballot at an early voting site, and this year will be no different. She also volunteers as a poll worker on Election Day. She’s not concerned about potential health risks due to the coronavirus, which she said are exaggerated by Democrats and the left-leaning media. 

“I think there’s a risk, but there’s not a risk to my husband and I,” Benforado said.

Staff writer Rose Wong can be reached at rosanna.wong@duke.edu

Assistance with data analysis was provided by Joel Luther of the Duke Reporters’ Lab; graphic by Henry Haggart of The 9th Street Journal

What is Swing NC? And why did it give $53,000 to Deborah Ross?

About 10 blocks from the U.S. Capitol is a townhouse office with the kind of generic name you expect to find in Washington: Capitol Compliance Associates. It doesn’t seem like the kind of place that would help North Carolina Democrats funnel tens of thousands of dollars to their campaigns.

Capitol Compliance is involved with a fundraising effort that sounds like a band that performs at weddings, Swing NC. In reality it is a joint fundraiser between four Democrats running for the U.S. House and Senate: Kathy Manning, Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Cal Cunningham and Deborah Ross.

I stumbled across Swing NC, and then Capitol Compliance, when I was going through Ross’s campaign finance records for The 9th Street Journal. (She is running for the 2nd Congressional District, which is in Wake County.) It took days for me to unpack what this group entails and their money and I’m still not completely sure about the details. (I’ll update this story as needed!)

But I’m sure about this: our campaign finance system is a messy tangle of groups and bundlers and it’s difficult for anyone to make sense of it. The laws that govern the system are supposed to bring transparency to political contributions. But in practice it is hard to know the source of money and where it goes.

* * *  

I first became curious when I noticed in Ross’s receipts that as of June 30, Swing NC contributed $53,337.92 to her campaign. These donations were listed in four contributions.

This was the largest sum of money, out of 2,876 contributions, made to her campaign other than the $57,783 leftover from her 2016 Senate race. 

This was the first mystery for me. According to the Federal Election Commission contribution limits, the largest donation to an individual candidate committee is $5,000 per election from multicandidate PACs, local party committees or national party committees. Individual donations are capped at $2,800. 

Yet Swing NC contributed $43,795 and $6,539.17 on May 27 and $2,935 and $68.75 on June 30.

In the spirit of transparency, all candidates must report their contributions and disbursements in filings leading up to Election Day. 

I wondered why Swing NC was able to give beyond the allowed amount and, to add to the mystery, I found virtually no information about them. 

If you do a Google search for Swing NC, the first result will tell you to “find your swing” — at a 45-acre paddle and racquet sport campus that is coming to Raleigh in 2022. 

Ross could be a racquet sport enthusiast for all I know, but I ruled out the Swing NC sports complex as the source of her substantial campaign donation. 

At this point in my search, with nearly 25 tabs open and my computer fan hissing at me, I found the original FEC filings from Swing NC. The group’s filing statement of organization would solve the mystery, I hoped. 

It provided some answers, but also raised new questions. 

It turns out that Swing NC is a joint fundraising committee between Ross, Cunningham, Manning and Timmons-Goodson. The organizers filed to be a committee on March 3 and have raised $192,615 and spent $10,543.39, as of June 30. 

It is a collaboration between the four candidates to raise money, but it doesn’t have a website, team or much communication about the effort.

The report listed a Washington D.C. address, and it clarified that the group is a joint fundraiser. It also mentioned Judy Zamore, who was listed as the custodian of records and treasurer.

Those were important clues.

* * *  

So what is a joint fundraising committee and why would these four candidates opt into it?

To answer this question, I sought out Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher at the Center of Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks money in U.S. politics. He pointed me to their glossary of terms, which explains that the joint committees are a convenient way to raise money together. A committee can include two or more candidates, political parties (or both). 

Think of it like a co-hosted fundraising party (or parties). The group hosts events together, splits the costs and, ultimately splits the gifts that the guests bring (the donations). 

When I called Mayersohn, he told me this is a common practice in campaign finance. 

A joint fundraising committee is not a loophole to accept larger campaign donations, he said. Individuals can still give no more than $2,800 per candidate in the committee, regardless if they are donating directly to the candidate or through the team. With four candidates joined together in Swing NC the maximum individual donation is $11,200 to the team. 

But it’s easier for campaign contributors this way. Rather than receiving four separate calls or emails from Ross, Manning, Timmons-Goodson and Cunningham, the contributors just get one. This is all about efficiency. 

* * *  

Alan Swain, Ross’s Republican challenger, probably wishes he had his own Swing NC. He is alone in his fundraising efforts and is struggling. For every dollar Ross has raised, Swain has less than a nickel. He has raised a total of $53,867.13, compared with her $1.3 million. 

Put another way: The Swing NC collaboration alone has raised about the same amount as Swain has raised from all sources.

The address listed for Swing NC is Capitol Compliance’s townhouse. Zamore, who signed the FEC documents, happens to be the principal and founder of the firm as well. 

Her bio indicates she is a skilled political fundraiser with more than 14 years of experience. This election cycle, Zamore served as chief financial officer in Sen. Cory Booker’s presidential campaign. Under her direction, Booker raised a record $1.35 million in just 36 hours towards the end of his campaign in Iowa. 

Throughout the 2020 election cycle Capitol Compliance is tracking $3.2 million to 130 campaigns, funds and PACs helping candidates up and down ballots. Other clients include Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois, who are both running for reelection. 

Mayersohn clarified that Capitol Compliance is not raising funds on the candidates’ behalf, but instead is just filing FEC reports for the Swing NC team. 

“There’s a lot of ins and outs to filing FEC reports and these are the people who are very familiar with them,” Mayersohn said. 

Hiring an outside firm to manage these regulations is a common practice, he said. 

“It is the same reason that you would use an accounting firm or anything for any other purpose,” he said. “It’s their specialized expertise on how to handle loans and things like that.”

* * *

The list of donors to Swing NC ranges from ecologists in San Francisco, to people who are unemployed. Donations started at $100 and were capped at the maximum individual donation of $11,200. There are 181 donations listed on the FEC itemized receipts filing. 

In Ross’s FEC filings, the Swing NC contributions are listed under lump payments. If you want to look into individual donors, you have to go to the joint committee’s filing, which is where I found more details on who was contributing to this four-way team. 

But that  means if you’re a citizen of the 2nd Congressional District and you want to find out who gave to Ross through Swing NC, you need to do the detective work I did. 

I am still unsure if candidates solicit these donations, or if these committees are well known or if individuals know their funds will be split four ways when donating to Swing NC. 

When I called Capitol Compliance to ask, they were not particularly eager to help me untangle this. Neither was the Ross campaign. 

I called Capitol Compliance and was told I would receive a follow up from “compliance” (a department there?) with more information. 

At Ross’s campaign, my question about the formation and existence of Swing NC was met with silence. 

Eight days later, I have yet to receive a call back from either of them.

Staff writer Michaela Towfighi can be reached at michaela.towfighi@duke.edu

What it means to support the military to Fort Bragg House candidates

Most Americans don’t think about war every day. Many don’t even personally know a service member or veteran. At Fort Bragg, the nation’s largest Army post and one of the world’s largest military bases, the word carries a different meaning. 

“War is not just three letters in the alphabet here. It’s a way of life,” said George Breece, an Army veteran, former state representative and former chairman of the North Carolina Military Affairs Commission.

With its outsized influence in the 8th Congressional District, Fort Bragg automatically has the ear of its Washington delegation. Now, voters of the 8th District — which stretches from Charlotte’s eastern suburbs eastward to Cumberland County — must decide who they want as Fort Bragg’s next House representative. 

A military town that ‘beams with pride’

More than 120,000 soldiers and military family members live on base at Fort Bragg, and roughly 140,000 more live nearby in Fayetteville and other communities, said Elvia Kelly of Fort Bragg’s public affairs office. As the largest metropolitan area in the 8th District, Fayetteville’s voters could play a large role in the outcome of the congressional election.

One could think of Fayetteville as a “monotown” with one big employer: Fort Bragg. It’s hard to understate the installation’s influence on the local economy, said Kelli Cardenas Walsh, an Army veteran and a history and military studies professor at Fayetteville State University.

“People on both sides like to remind the community that without Fort Bragg, the economy of Fayetteville would greatly suffer, and I have no doubt about that,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, the Fayetteville community “beams with pride” and strongly supports the military, Breece said. But there’s also a downside to living near a major base. The community hurts when someone from Fort Bragg gets injured or killed in combat, said Dan Dederick, a retired Marine and one of North Carolina’s civilian aides to the secretary of the Army.

“You know these people, you like them, you go to church with them, your kids go to school with them,” Dederick said. “And then when something bad happens, they get killed or wounded, it’s real close and personal.” 

The base makes that close-knit community more diverse, too. Fort Bragg attracts people from around the country, Breece said, and sometimes service members marry overseas. The city hosts an international folk festival each year with a parade of nations to celebrate the different cultures represented. 

That combination of diverse city and traditional military base makes for intriguing voter demographics in Cumberland County: 43% of voters are registered Democrats, 23% are registered Republicans and nearly 33% are registered independents, according to Sept. 19 numbers from the North Carolina State Board of Elections. 

Unlike the rest of the 8th District counties, which traditionally vote Republican, Cumberland County historically votes Democratic. It was previously split between two districts, with the city of Fayetteville divided down the middle. 

This year, though, the redrawn maps reunite the entire county in one district and concentrate the power of the Fayetteville vote.

A proven incumbent, or a hometown challenger?

The incumbent in the race, Republican Rep. Richard Hudson, proudly calls himself “Fort Bragg’s congressman.” Serving the base is his “most humbling and most important duty,”  spokesperson Greg Steele said. Hudson’s commitment to Fort Bragg is proven by recent victories, Steele said, citing increased hazardous duty pay for certain troops and the creation of a pathway for service members to seek malpractice compensation from military health care providers

But Pat Timmons-Goodson, the 8th District’s Democratic challenger and the child of a Fort Bragg military family, argues Hudson has not earned the moniker he’s adopted. Standing up for soldiers, veterans and military families involves more than passing favorable legislation, she said.

“What our veterans and service members need are folks who will stand up with them in tough times,” she said. “That’s what leadership is, and that’s what it calls for.”

She criticized Hudson for his silence after intelligence officials concluded that Russians placed bounties on the heads of American soldiers and for his absence during a vote on the latest National Defense Appropriations Act. (Steele confirmed to The 9th Street Journal that Hudson was indeed not present for the vote.)

“I do believe that my opponent puts his political fortune ahead of the people within our district, including our military families and veterans,” she said. 

Hudson declined The 9th Street Journal’s request for an interview. Breece, who knows both candidates personally and will not endorse one, praised Hudson’s accomplishments and said he deserves the “Fort Bragg’s congressman” designation.

“Without question,” Breece said. “He’s worked very hard to get funding for whatever Fort Bragg needs.”

Rep. Richard Hudson, the Republican incumbent, stands outside Fort Bragg’s headquarters with Lt. Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla of the 18th Airborne Corps (left) and U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette (middle). Photo taken on Aug. 18. Courtesy of the Hudson campaign.

If reelected, Hudson will continue prioritizing military and veterans affairs, Steele said. His top priorities are pushing for additional funding to improve on-base housing and passing a bill he introduced in January to extend healthcare benefits for veterans’ caregivers. 

‘Losers’ and ‘suckers’

A piece published by The Atlantic in early September said President Donald Trump called service members who died in combat “losers” and “suckers” for “getting killed.” He also reportedly told former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” while visiting the gravesite of Kelly’s son, who was killed in action in Afghanistan 

As more news outlets, including CNN, the Associated Press and Fox News, confirmed various pieces of the story with their own reporting, Hudson took to Twitter to bash the article as “garbage” and a “hit piece.”

“I was there the next day when he stood in the rain to honor our fallen,” Hudson tweeted in the president’s defense. 

Steele offered no further comment, but said voters should look at Hudson’s track record to see what he’s done for the military community.

Timmons-Goodson, however, was outspoken on Twitter in her criticism of the president’s reported remarks.

“My father, brothers, nephews, and neighbors are not ‘losers’ or ‘suckers,’” she tweeted. Her father, Edward Timmons, served as a sergeant first class and an 82nd Airborne Army Ranger at Fort Bragg. “We all should honor the sacrifice of those who serve, our leaders should too,” she added.

A soldier, the father of congressional candidate Pat Timmons-Goodson, Edward Timmons, served as an Army Sergeant First Class and an 82nd Airborne Ranger at Fort Bragg and stands in military gear with a gun over his shoulder and a helmet on in a faded photo. Courtesy of the Timmons-Goodson campaign.
Candidate Pat Timmons-Goodson’s father, Edward Timmons, served as an Army sergeant first class and an 82nd Airborne Ranger at Fort Bragg. Courtesy of the Timmons-Goodson campaign.

Amidst the debate, Breece sees common ground: both candidates highly value the military. He’ll feel good about the election’s winner regardless of who it is. 

“Both of these candidates are very good and decent people, and they both understand Fort Bragg,” Breece said. I am confident that Fort Bragg will be well served.”

Democratic congressional candidate Pat Timmons-Goodson, left, speaks with three Fort Bragg veterans outside. All are wearing masks.
Democratic congressional candidate Pat Timmons-Goodson, left, speaks with Fort Bragg veterans. (Courtesy of the Timmons-Goodson campaign)

How Cooper and Forest differ on police and protests

North Carolina’s governor and lieutenant governor don’t seem to agree on anything. 

As candidates for governor, Roy Cooper, the Democratic incumbent, and Dan Forest, the Republican challenger, have sparred most bitterly over the response to the coronavirus. And they don’t see eye to eye on another group of issues that are important in this year’s election: systemic racism and police brutality. 

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers prompted countless protests across North Carolina and lots of discussion about what government can do on the issues of racism, protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. Cooper and Forest have emphasized drastically different messages. 

Cooper has spoken out against systemic racism and excessive use of police force. In a press briefing in late May, he proclaimed that “Black lives matter” and urged North Carolinians not to let people who destroy property undermine the message of peaceful protesters. 

Forest has focused more on the threat of violence from the protests. He has said relatively little about racial inequality and instead emphasized the importance of law and order. He said he stands proudly with the police. 

Forest: ‘We don’t put up with anarchy’

Forest says he will protect North Carolinians when “anarchists” take to the streets. Gov. Cooper failed to do so, he said. 

In an interview with John Woodard, a North Carolina YouTube user and podcast maker, Forest said the mainstream media didn’t tell the full story about the disorder in downtown Raleigh in May, when protesters smashed windows and destroyed storefronts. He said the coverage, or lack thereof, essentially gave Cooper a “free pass” to avoid action. 

“Not only did he not do a good job, he didn’t do anything,” Forest said.

“[People] shouldn’t have to wonder, when the violence comes to my town, what’s the governor going to do?” Forest said.

In the interview, Forest didn’t spend much time discussing why the protesters were there. While he acknowledged that “there will always be a racism problem,” he cited the nation’s success in eradicating slavery more quickly than other parts of the world.

“I do not believe that the vast majority of Americans think that we have a systemic racism problem,” Forest said. 

He said he finds it unfair that a handful of cases of police misconduct around the country have led some to believe that there is a systemic problem. 

A Facebook ad from the state Republican Party highlights Forest’s position to “Defend Our Police”

Police officers put their lives on the line everyday to protect citizens, Forest said in the interview. 

“We don’t put up with anarchy,” he said, “We don’t want to see our cities destroyed, we don’t want to see our police defunded.”

Restoring law and order is a central part of his platform. “Here in North Carolina, we Back the Blue!!!” says one Facebook ad.

Cooper: ‘People are more important than property’

After the violence in Raleigh, Cooper spoke at an emergency briefing. While he thanked police for working to keep the peace, he emphasized the importance of the protests.

Today the headlines are not about those protestors and their calls for serious, meaningful change,” Cooper said, “They are more about riots, and tear gas, and broken windows and stolen property. I fear the cry of the people is being drowned out.”

When the mayors of Raleigh, Charlotte, Fayetteville and Greensboro requested state highway patrol and National Guard soldiers to maintain order during protests, Cooper complied.

But he focused on the issues that caused the unrest.

We cannot focus so much on the property damage that we forget why people are in the streets” he said. 

“Let me be clear,” he said, “People are more important than property. Black lives do matter.”

In June, Cooper formed a task force to address racial inequity in North Carolina’s criminal justice system.  He also criticized Forest for failing to speak out against racism.

He accused Forest of failing to denounce a racist incident that occurred at 311 Speedway, a race track in Stokes County. Mike Fulp, the owner of the track, posted a Facebook ad for a “Bubba rope” for sale, shortly after a rope fashioned into a noose was found in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s garage. 

Cooper launched an ad campaign against Forest for not speaking out against Fulp, a Forest supporter. 

Smart strategies?

Defending the police and promoting law and order is a smart strategy for Forest, who is still behind in the polls, said Mac McCorkle, a former Democratic strategist who is now a public policy professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. 

But McCorkle said he thinks Cooper has played it wisely. He hasn’t supported defunding the police, which has made it difficult for Forest to label him an extremist. 

The unrest has eased since the summer, so the issue has less urgency.

“He needs a specific bill of indictment against Cooper,” McCorkle said, “He needs to be able to really concretely say something that makes people think that Cooper has failed on the job.”

Unless he finds that, Forest faces an uphill battle.

“The race seems very static, very stable,” McCorkle said, “and if it stays that way, Forest is in trouble.”

Why Moe Davis thinks he can win the Western North Carolina congressional seat

Never mind what the pundits and the prognosticators think. Moe Davis says he has a fighting chance to win the 11th Congressional District in Western North Carolina because his opponent is inexperienced and the district has new lines that make it more winnable for a Democrat.

In a wide-ranging interview with The 9th Street Journal, Davis, the Democratic nominee, said the district may have voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but voters have become disillusioned with the president and his party. That lack of enthusiasm should help Davis defeat his Republican opponent, 25-year-old Madison Cawthorn. 

According to The Cook Political Report, the 11th District is rated likely Repubican. But Davis said that evaluation is too dependent on results from the 2016 presidential election. 

Davis said the most revealing statistic about the new district isn’t Trump’s 17 point margin over Clinton in 2016. It is the more narrow 6.5 point margin in the governor’s race the same year.

“Two polarizing New Yorkers are probably not the best barometer for Western North Carolina,” said Davis, referring to Trump and Clinton. “The Roy Cooper, Pat McCrory governor’s race [is] a better measure.” 

That indicates the race is “doable,” Davis said. “And our polling is showing that we can win.”

Internal campaign polls are always questionable because they are often used to persuade donors to give money and to convince journalists that a race is winnable. But Davis insists his poll, conducted in July, shows real promise for his campaign.

Respondents were more supportive when they were read information about the candidates’ records and policy stances. By the last question, they preferred him 52% to 35%, he said.

“Our challenge over the next 48 days is to inform the voters so they can make an educated choice,” he said in the interview Wednesday. 

Davis was dressed casually in a denim button-down shirt and sat in front of a Zoom background with blue mountains and stars and stripes. Among the highlights: 

  • Davis was unapologetic about angry tweets in recent years that sometimes were vulgar or called for violence. He said that as a commentator for CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and NPR, “you tend to use bombastic language because you want to get noticed.” He compared himself to Seb Gorka and Rick Wilson, who have also generated controversy with their tweets and comments.
  • Asked about the spectrum of ideologies of the Democratic Party, Davis said he considers himself a moderate Democrat.
  • After the election, Davis plans to go to one of the many breweries in Asheville. “Win or lose, I’m getting an IPA and sitting on the porch,” he said.

At top, Moe Davis in an interview with The 9th Street Journal with his patriotic Zoom background.