Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts tagged as “2020 election”

What are poll watchers, and why does Trump want more of them?

As he continued to sow distrust in the electoral process at a Sept. 8 rally in Winston-Salem, Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to take on alleged voter fraud themselves. 

“Watch it,” he said. “Be poll watchers when you go there. Watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing they do.”

Trump previously stated he had plans to send law enforcement officials to monitor the polls, which is prohibited by federal and state law. Poll watchers, on the other hand, are legal, so long as they don’t interfere with the voting process. But officials say their job isn’t quite as action-packed as the president would make it seem.

The role of poll watchers

Poll watchers have long been deployed by political parties to observe election proceedings and ensure each party gets a fair shot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They are prohibited from directly communicating with voters, but they can watch for potential offenses and track turnout to help estimate how a party’s candidate is doing. 

If they witness a potential instance of voter fraud, they can bring it to the attention of precinct officials or contact the county board of elections, “as long as it’s done in a nonobstructive manner,” according to Derek Bowens, Durham County’s director of elections. But such disputes are rare, he said.

“Election Day challenges are pretty nonexistent here,” Bowens said. “When we do get them, a lot of times it’s a misunderstanding of process on the observer’s part.”

Not just anyone can be a poll watcher. In North Carolina, the county chair of each political party can nominate two poll watchers per polling place. The nominees have to be approved by the county board of elections. Poll watchers must be registered voters of the county, cannot be candidates on the ballot, and must possess “good moral character,” according to state statute.

“It’s probably more subjective than it could be,” Bowens said. “But the threshold is pretty high for the board to reject someone. I’ve never seen that happen.”

Each county party may also nominate up to 10 at-large observers that can monitor any precinct, and state parties can nominate up to 100, but a maximum of three poll watchers from each party may observe a precinct at a time.

While the president can’t mobilize law enforcement to oversee the polls, North Carolina statute does not prohibit law enforcement officials from independently serving as poll watchers. However, they must follow the same rules as all other poll watchers and cannot communicate with or intimidate voters.

The prevalence of voter fraud

What about the “thieving, stealing, and robbing” Trump mentioned? “I have no clue what he’s talking about,” Bowens said.

Voter fraud is rare, but Republicans have latched onto a few recent cases. On Sept. 8, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger revealed investigations into 1,000 cases of double voting in the state’s June primary election and August runoff. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also announced on Sept. 3 that 19 foreign nationals would face charges for illegally voting in the 2016 federal election in North Carolina.

However, neither case of voter fraud altered the outcome of any race, state officials from Georgia and North Carolina confirmed. Trump has similarly claimed fraudulent ballots caused him to lose the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, despite losing by almost 3 million votes. Now, he’s urging supporters to try out the same fraudulent techniques he denounces. 

At a Sept. 2 briefing with reporters in Wilmington, Trump encouraged Republicans planning to vote by mail to visit their local polling place and attempt to vote again in person. 

“Let them send it in and let them go vote, and if their system’s as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote,” he said. “If it isn’t tabulated, they’ll be able to vote.” 

Intentionally voting more than once is a felony in North Carolina. Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, issued a statement the next day reminding voters of the state’s protections against double voting. The board also launched an online service called BallotTrax last Friday to allow voters to track the status of their absentee ballots. 

“If someone has voted, and we’ve logged their vote at the board of elections, when they present to vote in person, they won’t be able to cast their ballot,” Bowens said.

Damon Circosta, chair of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said voter fraud is “so exceedingly rare that it’s almost laughable.”

“Any time you get a conspiracy big enough that it could impact the outcome of an election, too many people know that you’re trying to do something fraudulent,” he said. He referenced one such case in the 2018 election for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where a Republican operative was accused of tampering with absentee ballots. That operative was indicted last year.

Some worry that Trump’s fear-mongering tactics will embolden his supporters to intimidate voters. But Circosta said such attempts at voter suppression won’t be tolerated — they’ll be met with “the full weight of the law,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s anything more sad than intimidating your fellow citizens out of the franchise,” he said. “We should pause and think about what we’re trying to do with democracy, and it’s certainly not silence other voices.”

Trump, GOP slow to support Republican for Greensboro House seat

The Trump rally in Winston-Salem on Sept. 8 was as much a campaign stop for the president as it was a reward for political allies.

“Representatives Greg Murphy, Virginia Foxx, Mark Walker, Dan Bishop, and Ted Budd, what a group. What a group. What a group, thank you fellas. They’re warriors. Boy, I’ll tell you, those House guys, they were in there, they were fighting for us,” Trump said halfway through his hour-long remarks, peering over an elevated podium at the recipients of his praise.

On cue, rallygoers cheered, waving red, white, and blue signs from the tarmac at Smith Reynolds Airport.

A few minutes later, the president directed his supporters to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Republican candidate for governor, and Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, Republican candidate for attorney general.  Applause erupted once more for both candidates, familiar faces from speeches preceding Trump’s.

Lee Haywood, Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point, sat three rows in front of the president. He went unmentioned. 

“Loved it, loved it, loved it,” Haywood said of the rally. “I like to hear Donald Trump get up there and tell the truth the way he sees it.”

The rally was a continuation of the candidate’s unreciprocated adulation of president and party, even as the GOP seems to be giving up and cutting its losses in the former Republican stronghold. Kathy Manning, the Democratic candidate, is heavily favored to win. Haywood has troubles with visibility and money, and the Republican establishment has balked at backing his campaign. The president not mentioning Haywood during a visit to the candidate’s district is only the latest example.

Last year, the General Assembly redrew the 6th’s lines from eight predominantly rural counties to Guilford County and part of Forsyth County. In the new district, Hillary Clinton won by over 20 points in 2016. No House Republican elected in 2018 represents a district that voted for Clinton by more than four points.

“It’s not just a major long shot. It’s an impossibility,” said David Wasserman, House editor at The Cook Political Report. “Republicans have abandoned [the district] for good reason, because it’s unwinnable.”

The new borders signal underlying social and political change in North Carolina’s Triad. If the district were on the ballot in the late twentieth century, it would have been very competitive, Wasserman said. But the urbanization of the Triad has driven a major blue shift.

“That’s probably not an area that [Republicans] would be too wise to invest their resources,” said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

One of those resources is the president’s political capital, which has not yet been spent on Haywood. 

“There’s no reason for Trump to mention Haywood. It would not have any kind of beneficial effect for the president or Haywood,” Wasserman said.

Haywood remains loyal to the president. One of his campaign Facebook’s first posts since the rally announces plans to attend a “Trump convoy and ride” in nearby Alamance County on Saturday, an event unlikely to provide much-needed local name recognition.

The campaign has also struggled with fundraising. Up to the most recent campaign finance filing on June 30, the Haywood campaign raised $15,365, while the Manning campaign raised $1.4 million. As of Sept. 13, Haywood estimated that his campaign has now raised a total of about $60,000.

“I’m going up against a very wealthy person over here. She can self-fund her campaign, and I’m just a regular guy,” Haywood said. Campaign finance filings show that Kathy Manning has made one $67.06 contribution to her own campaign.

Closing the gap has been impeded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has already shuttered six months of opportunities to woo voters face-to-face. What Haywood calls “a narrow path to victory” is now even narrower. He said he is focused on social media and grassroots outreach, so in an effort to materialize his campaign, in-person doorknocking is slated through the next month.

“The heavy hitters that usually give money, they’re reluctant to do so,” Haywood said. “Everybody knows this is a tough race. They’re starting to come through. They’re starting to realize that this is a winnable race.”

While the Forsyth County and Guilford County GOPs have supported the campaign since its start, Haywood declined to comment on state and national support. However, he said that the Trump campaign was aware of his own and that he hoped for a shoutout if the president returns to North Carolina — Haywood’s best bet against a difficult pandemic and a difficult map.

“About the only thing my campaign is missing is a swarm of locusts,” Haywood said.

Update: This story has been corrected to indicate that Kathy Manning has made one $67.06 contribution to her own campaign. An earlier version incorrectly said she had not made any.

Senate debate surprise: Cunningham hesitant on vaccine

After his first question prompted a puzzling response from the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, the debate moderator asked a second time. Would Cal Cunningham take a coronavirus vaccine that was approved by the end of the year?

“I would be hesitant,” Cunningham said. “I’m going to ask a lot of questions.”

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis pounced. 

“We just had a candidate for the U.S. Senate look into the camera and tell 10 million North Carolinians he would be hesitant to take a vaccine,” he said, waving his hands up and down for emphasis.

It felt like a role reversal for the two parties. It’s typically the Republicans who are skeptical of scientific expertise and public health measures such as mask requirements. 

But on Monday night, it was Cunningham who said it was “incumbent on every American” to question the government and Tillis who responded, “I trust Dr. Fauci,” referring to Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease doctor.

If you didn’t see it live, you will surely see it and read about it again in ads and mailings. The exchange was the most memorable moment in the first televised debate between Tillis and Cunningham, two candidates in one of the most competitive and costly Senate contests in the country. 

In the hour-long debate, the candidates sparred on healthcare and systemic racism, while also repeating barbs from their campaign ads. 

Cunningham quoted the Gospel of Matthew. Tillis called Biden Cunningham’s “running mate” and zinged Cunningham for using a tax incentive to renovate his butler’s pantry. 

“I didn’t know what a butler’s pantry was because we didn’t have them in the trailers I grew up in,” Tillis said. 

From the outset, the pandemic dominated the debate.

Before either candidate spoke, the debate moderator, WRAL anchor David Crabtree, explained that the candidates had been spaced 12 feet apart and had worn masks until reaching their podiums. 

Asked to comment on the president’s handling of the pandemic, Tillis sidestepped. He praised the administration’s travel ban and then pivoted to boast about his efforts to increase testing and access to personal protective equipment. 

Cunningham put the blame on President Trump and the federal government.

“I think that we are exceeding and experiencing an unprecedented failure of leadership in this country,” he said. “We have tens of thousands of Americans who have lost their lives, often without being able to be with their loved ones in their final hours. We’ve had millions of people out of the workforce, tons of jobs lost, but it’s also the lost moments. It’s missing high school graduations. It’s grandparents who can’t be there for birthdays, weddings, funerals.”

Cunningham also accused Tillis of dilly-dallying after being briefed on the coronavirus in January.   

“It took him almost six months to come up with priorities,” he said. “Instead, I was listening to North Carolinians, talking about the priorities I hear.”

Following the pattern of the president, who has called the coronavirus the “China virus,” Tillis shifted blame overseas.

“Make no mistake about it. China’s responsible for this crisis,” he said. 

And then came the surprising exchange over the COVID-19 vaccine. Cunningham defended his position, describing skepticism of government as one of the “finest traditions of America.”

“I think that’s incumbent on all of us right now in this environment with the way we’ve seen politics intervening in Washington,” he said.

“Cal’s a trial lawyer. He’s not a doctor,” Tillis replied. “He’s not a scientist. He’s not an epidemiologist. What he’s saying is what he thinks will get him elected. Because that’s what (Kamala) Harris said.”

Tillis and Cunningham are scheduled for two more debates on Sept. 22 and Oct. 1. 

The many controversies of Madison Cawthorn add intrigue to Asheville race

On the third night of the Republican National Convention, the would-be youngest member of Congress, Madison Cawthorn, got a moment in the national spotlight when he gave a speech in front of more than 17 million viewers. But his national debut was marked by a gaffe when he mistakenly said James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence.

Instead of being celebrated as a rising star, Cawthorn faced stories that said he had fumbled American history.

It was a high-profile misstep for the candidate from Western North Carolina whose campaign has been marked by several controversies in the past few months. He has come under criticism for a 2017 Instagram post celebrating his visit to Adolf Hitler’s vacation home known as “Eagle’s Nest,” which he said had been on his “bucket list for awhile,” and “it did not disappoint.” He referred to Hitler as “the Führer,” a German term of reverence.

Cawthorn also has a real estate investment company called SPQR Holdings LLC, which stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus, a Latin term for the Senate and the Roman People that some people link with white nationalist groups. 

His Democratic opponent Moe Davis has seized on the controversies to portray the 25-year-old Republican as naive and out of step with the 11th Congressional District, which has new boundaries for the 2020 election that make it more friendly for a Democrat. In a statement to CNN, Davis said the controversies “paint a pretty clear picture of someone that’s got some explaining to do.”

Perhaps. But the district, formerly home to Mark Meadows, now the White House chief of staff, is still considered pretty safe territory for a Republican.

The candidates 

Cawthorn, a business owner from Hendersonville, North Carolina who has not held elected office before, wants to claim Meadows’s open seat. 

Cawthorn was home-schooled in Henderson County and spent one semester at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia before dropping out. He worked at a Chick-fil-A restaurant and as a staff assistant to then-U.S. Rep. Meadows.

AVL Watchdog, a local news website in Asheville staffed by Pulitzer Prize winners, has revealed inconsistencies in Cawthorn’s campaign biography, which suggested that he was unable to attend the U.S. Naval Academy because of a car accident that left him partially paralyzed. But AVL Watchdog obtained a deposition in which Cawthorn acknowledged that his application to the Academy had already been rejected before the crash. He is now CEO of a real estate investment company and a motivational speaker. 

Cawthorn has said he wants to be a voice for Generation Z, those born in the late 90s and early 2000s, and is running to oppose “AOC, The Squad and the radical left-wing mob,” referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive Democrats.

His opponent is Davis, 62-year-old retired Air Force colonel and former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay. Davis earned his bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University and his law degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law. 

A once ardent prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay and defender of the terrorism policies, Davis resigned when he refused to be pressured by what he alleged was political influence from the Bush administration to streamline high-profile terrorist cases and use evidence obtained by waterboarding. He then became a vocal critic of the handling of cases there and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which critics say is a euphemism for torture. In 2008, Davis testified on behalf of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s personal driver, a fact that Cawthorn uses as ammunition to call Davis a “terrorist defender” on a website Cawthorn created to attack his opponent. 

In 2011, Davis joined the faculty at Howard University School of Law, and in 2015 he became an administrative judge with the U.S. Department of Labor, retiring last year.

Davis told AVL Watchdog that he decided to run for Congress after surveying the likely candidates and deciding that he had the strongest credentials to take on Meadows. 

“I was disappointed when [Meadows] dropped out of the race because I thought he was an easy target,” he said to AVL Watchdog.

Davis now faces a candidate who lacks experience but has star power in the Republican Party. 

In June, Cawthorn pulled off an upset when he beat Trump-endorsed Lynda Bennett in a runoff. Cawthorn then made it clear that he supports Trump and has tied himself closely with the president. He sums his positions up on his Facebook ads with a four-point list: “Pro-Trump, Pro-Life, Pro-Gun and Pro-Law Enforcement.” 

That seems to have pleased the president.

“Madison Cawthorn, a real star. You’re going to be a star of the party,” Trump said to a crowd of supporters at the Flavor 1st Growers and Packers facility in Mills River on August 24. Cawthorn, bound to a wheelchair from a car accident that left him partially paralyzed at 18, beamed as he sat maskless in the crowd. 

Controversies

Cawthorn has been on the defensive because of the controversies. 

 In addition to the visit to Hitler’s home and the name of his company, he has been criticized for a July appearance at a private border wall in El Paso, Texas.

AVL Watchdog reported that his Instagram video in front of the wall included debunked claims about human trafficking of American children across the border. The claims originated with the far-right conspiracy movement, QAnon

Cawthorn’s spokesperson John Hart told AVL Watchdog that the candidate “categorically disavows QAnon.” 

Davis seized the opportunity to call out Cawthorn for a lack of integrity. 

“My QAnon cult, alt-right opponent’s #StolenValor effort proves the USNA made the right call,” Davis tweeted, referring to his rejection from the Naval Academy. 

Where they stand

The candidates generally follow their parties on the major issues in the campaign. Davis supports a public option healthcare system, which consists of expanded Medicare while still allowing people to opt for private insurance. Cawthorn wants to foster a competitive free-market system that he predicts would “drive down costs.”

For gun rights, Cawthorn advocates for few restrictions while Davis supports background checks, red-flag laws, and  restrictions for purchasing assault weapons that are similar to a concealed carry permit.

When asked about reparations to compensate people for slavery and racial inequality, Cawthorn said he strongly opposed the idea and called the concept “racist.” Davis supports it and thinks the recently approved reparations resolutions passed by the Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Commission should be expanded to the federal level.  

Both candidates agree on the importance of securing broadband service in rural areas, but they disagree on how to do it. Davis supports HR 7302 Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act that would use $80 billion of funding to provide internet access for rural communities. Cawthorn proposes a reform to the formula used by the federal government for payments in lieu of taxes to give local governments more money to fund their unique infrastructure needs. He also suggests offering tax incentives to corporations to provide the service. 

Redistricting

The Republican grip on the 11th District has slightly diminished in the new map. The district now has all of Buncombe County, including liberal Asheville, which had been partly carved out of the old map.

That made the district more competitive, said Chris Cooper, professor of political science at Western Carolina University.

“It made it possible for Davis,” he said. 

The Cook Political Report recently downgraded the district from a solid Republican district to likely Republican. 

Counties now included in the district are Polk, Avery and parts of Rutherford, all three of which voted for Trump in the 2016 election. Trump won Polk by 28.2 points and Rutherford and Avery by about 50 points each. But Burke and Caldwell, two counties that also heavily voted for Trump, were moved to the 5th District. 

Still, that’s only a small boost to Davis.

“Even with redistricting, even with large proportions of unaffiliated, it is still a district that tends to vote for Republicans,” said Cooper. 

According to the latest financial reports from June 30, Cawthorn raised a total of $803,058, compared with $493,434 for Davis.

“Davis is the best candidate the Democrats have had in this district since Heath Shuler,” said Cooper, referring to the former NFL quarterback and moderate Democrat who represented the district from 2007-2013. When the district was redrawn to remove half of Asheville, Shuler announced his retirement from the House in 2012. 

The district is now closer to when Shuler first ran and won, giving Davis a better shot. 

But Mac McCorkle, a public policy professor at Duke University, said Davis needs a significant push from a Democratic wave across the state in order to win.

“If Moe Davis beats Cawthorn, Joe Biden is gonna be winning North Carolina, and he’s gonna be winning the nation pretty big. It’s gonna be a blowout,” said McCorkle.

At top, Madison Cawthorn and Moe Davis. Campaign photos.

Update: This story has been corrected to indicate Davis’s position on assault weapons is not to support a ban but instead to seek the same requirement for purchasing them as for obtaining a concealed carry permit.

Wake County congressional seat looking promising for Democrats

Even as a Republican running for a GOP held seat, Alan Swain has to level with himself. Things don’t look good for his campaign in the redrawn 2nd Congressional District.

“I’m a realist. It’s a tough, uphill battle,” Swain said. 

Once deep red, the 2nd is now projected to flip blue. The Cook Political Report rates the race “likely Democratic.”

Swain’s opponent, Deborah Ross, is a fixture in the state’s Democratic party. She challenged Republican Sen. Richard Burr in the 2016 Senate race, losing by a narrow margin of 51.1% to 45.3%.

Ross is on the ballot after winning the Democratic primary in March alongside Swain and Libertarian Jeff Matemu, who both ran uncontested.

To the right, NC-2 Republican candidate Alan Swain, wearing a blazer with a US Army pin, stands outside. To the right, NC-2 Democratic candidate Deborah Ross, wearing a white blouse, stands in front of an American flag.
Republican Alan Swain (left) and Democrat Deborah Ross (right) are running for the North Carolina 2nd Congressional District seat. (Credit: Alan Swain; Deborah Ross)

The path to a new Democratic House seat emerged after a panel of judges ruled the old map was unconstitutional due to gerrymandering. In the newly redrawn boundaries, eight districts are expected to lean Republican and five Democrat, compared to the previous 10 to three divide. 

The 2nd District was formerly composed of Franklin, Harnett and Nash counties, and pieces of Johnston, Wake and Wilson counties were mixed in too. In 2016, Franklin, Harnett, Nash and Johnston voted for both President Donald Trump and Burr. 

Now the district is contained solely in Wake County, with the additions of urban Raleigh and Cary providing a Democratic shift to the district’s limits. Meredith College political scientist David McLennan called that an advantage for Ross. 

“Now [the district] encompasses a lot of Wake County, which is very favorable to Democrats,” he said. 

Ross won Wake County 55.33% to 41.51% in her 2016 Senate race.

The new boundaries pushed current Congressman George Holding, a Republican, to not seek reelection.  

“What I have learned about our government, and elections, and public life could fill a book,” Holding said in a public statement announcing his retirement in December. “I should add, candidly, that, yes, the newly redrawn Congressional Districts were part of the reason I have decided not to seek reelection.”

The candidates

Ross’s fundraising adds another advantage. She has raised over $1.3 million through June 30. She had a generous headstart with $57,783 left over from her Senate campaign against Swain, who has yet to hit $100,000. He is running a largely self-funded race and has donated almost $25,000 to his effort. 

Still, the Republican candidate’s resume makes him formidable. As a retired Army colonel, a former executive officer to the White House drug czar for two administrations and a small business entrepreneur, Swain has diverse work experience. His next goal is to support his community with a seat in Washington. 

“I served my country, and now I’m being asked to serve a second time. I was a citizen soldier. And now I’m being asked to be a citizen statesman,” he said.  

Neither candidate was born in North Carolina, but both have woven themselves into their adopted communities. 

Ross arrived in North Carolina over 25 years ago to attend law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She and her husband now live in Raleigh with their dog, Wylie. 

After practicing as a civil rights lawyer, Ross made her political debut running for the North Carolina House of Representatives, where she served for more than 10 years. While in office, she acted as both majority and minority whip, as well as the chair of the Judiciary, Ethics and Election Laws committees. 

Ross said her time as a state legislator allowed her to push her policy agenda while collaborating with other politicians across the aisle.

I brought people together to find solutions, even people I did not always agree with, whether it was government ethics reform, expanding voting rights, increasing pay for educators, or issues of racial justice,” Ross wrote in an email statement. 

She also served as the state director of the American Civil Liberties Union, a point Burr’s campaign used in the Senate race to paint her as too liberal to lead the state

Ross’s involvement in state politics makes her a familiar name on the ballot. She’ll use that popularity  to her advantage, McLennan said. 

“She’s well-known,” he said. “If you look at her time when she was in the Legislature, she spent as much time if not more than any person I’ve ever seen, not just being in her office but going up into her district.”

Swain, who moved to Raleigh in 2017 to spend more time with his three daughters and grandchildren, began volunteering with the North Carolina Republican Party following the 2018 midterm election. 

“Next thing I knew after several interviews they asked me, ‘we want you to run for office,’ and here I am running for Congress,” he said. 

The coronavirus pandemic has allowed Swain to serve his community in a new way. As president of the North Carolina Asian American Coalition, Swain, who is half Japanese, has partnered with 19 other Asian organizations to purchase personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. Together, they have contributed over 50,000 items to more than 60 hospitals in North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and India, according to Swain’s campaign website. He said he has also provided disposable masks to local small businesses out of his own pocket. 

Swain said these acts highlight his commitment to Wake County. That commitment is at the core of his politics, he added. Although he lists priorities such as increasing funding for law enforcement, advocating for school choice and protecting the Second Amendment, he said his focus is on what benefits the 2nd District. 

“I may have conservative views, but I want to do what’s best for Wake County in North Carolina and the city of Raleigh,” he said. “If it doesn’t help Wake County, if it doesn’t help the state of North Carolina, I’m not going to vote in favor.”

The “D.C. gridlock,” motivated him to seek office. Frustrated by a lack of bipartisan collaboration in Washington, Swain said he hopes to draft and support House bills that will have a chance to pass in the Senate. 

He said he’ll follow former President Harry Truman’s advice on navigating D.C.: “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

“I’m not a career politician. I’m not seeking any higher office,” he said. “I don’t need this job. I want to make a difference.”

On her campaign website, Ross outlines nine priorities from access to affordable health care to providing a path to citizenship that keeps families together. Some of her agenda items include creating a public option for health insurance, increasing the maximum Pell Grant award to increase college affordability and protecting access to abortion. 

“I will work to pass paid sick leave, increase the minimum wage, protect and strengthen Social Security, and fight to end inequities in health care and education,” she wrote. 

The path forward

For now, though, Ross and her team are focused on voter registration. 

“My team is working with a coordinated field effort to turn out voters in our district to help elect Democrats up and down the ticket,” she wrote. 

For a Swain victory, there would need to be an increase of Republicans voters in November, according to McLennan. 

“It would take a massive turnout by Republicans and a lower than expected turnout among Democrats for Deborah Ross to lose,” he said. 

The 2nd District boundary contains almost 80% of Wake County. Swain knows in Wake there are 282,534 registered Democrats compared to 184,791 Republicans as of Sept. 5

“There are more Democrats registered in my county or my district than there are Republicans. The whole fight for me has to be in the center,” Swain said. “But that doesn’t change my desire to represent this county.”

Heading into the final two months ahead of election day, Ross has over 25 times the cash on hand at $473,072 compared to Swain’s $18,221. 

Ross has spent over $25,000 so far on Facebook advertisements, mainly used to ask for donations to her campaign and introduce herself to voters. Swain, on the other hand, has spent just over $1,600 on the platform. 

In addition to leading the field in campaign donations, Ross outweighs her opponent with over 25 endorsements ranging from PACs like Emily’s List to unions such as the American Federation of Government Employees. 

Swain has no endorsements listed on his campaign website. 

Despite the imbalance, Swain is not discouraged. For hope, he turns to the campaign logo embroidered on his jacket: an outline of the state filled by the American flag, with a heart over Wake County at the center.  

“We’re the heartbeat of North Carolina,” he said. “If you want the state to stay red, you better focus on Wake County. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

New map and new challenger bring energy to Fayetteville race

For the first time in years, political experts say North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District is not a safe Republican seat.

Last year, after throwing out gerrymandered district maps that favored Republicans, three North Carolina judges forced the Republican-controlled state legislature to draw more competitive maps. That changed the dynamic in the 2nd and 6th Districts, which Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Report rate as sure flips for Democrats. 

The 8th might be in play, too. Rep. Richard Hudson, the Republican incumbent, may boast more money in the bank, but Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson outraised him 3-1 in the most recent fundraising quarter ending June 30.

Sabato and Cook moved the 8th into the “lean Republican” column –– rather than the usual  “solid” or “likely Republican.” But they and other analysts are still skeptical that redistricting and a strong challenger will be enough to flip a district held by an eight-year incumbent.

New district, new challenger

The new 8th District stretches from Charlotte’s eastern suburbs across seven mostly rural counties to Fayetteville. 

Cumberland County, home to Fayetteville and Fort Bragg, historically votes Democratic, and the new maps move the once-split county entirely inside the 8th District. But the six other counties largely voted Republican in 2016 and 2018. 

Timmons-Goodson, the Democratic candidate, calls Cumberland County home. Born in South Carolina, she moved with her family to Fort Bragg when she was in elementary school. Her father served in the Army for 18 years. 

The 8th District stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville. Source: NC General Assembly

Timmons-Goodson’s experience comes from law and the judiciary, not the state legislature or business world. After earning undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she served as an assistant district attorney in Cumberland County. From there she rose through various judgeships, eventually becoming the first African-American woman on the North Carolina Supreme Court. President Barack Obama then appointed her to a six-year term on the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights.

“She’s not a woman who’s sitting there looking for the partisan side,” said Timmons-Goodson’s senior advisor Thomas Mills. “She brings a temperament that I think people are looking for right now.”

On the campaign trail, she stresses the importance of supporting veterans and military families, particularly with quality healthcare. The existing Veterans Administration healthcare system fails to meet the needs of veterans, she said in a recent interview with The 9th Street Journal, due to a high number of vacancies throughout the VA.

“The military community means a great deal to me, and my father was a veteran,” she said. “I had the benefit of the health care that’s provided through the Veterans Administration, and so I know how important it is to the veterans in this area.”

Timmons-Goodson faces Hudson, who has represented the district since 2012 when he defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. Larry Kissell. Hudson sits on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. 

Hudson was born in Franklin, Virginia, and grew up in Charlotte. He and his family now live in Concord. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Hudson first worked as communications director for the North Carolina GOP. For the next 12 years he worked as a staffer for four former GOP House members –– including U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes (R–N.C.). His wife, Renee Hudson, served as chief of staff to President Donald Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway. 

As Fort Bragg’s congressman, Hudson also prioritizes issues affecting veterans and military families, said campaign manager Robert Andrews. In addition to improving the VA, Hudson wants to ensure veterans have adequate pensions and access to affordable housing. 

Andrews said Hudson was not available for an interview in time for publication.

Will the 8th District flip?

Timmons-Goodson won’t discuss how analysts are assessing the race. Instead, she says her priority is to introduce herself to the voters and let them know how hard she will work for them. 

“I believe that a majority of them will say that the current representative should look for another job,” she said.

Timmons-Goodson has criticized Hudson for not speaking up for his constituents and for not speaking out against the president. She noted that when Trump called for a boycott of Goodyear tires, Hudson did not stand up for the thousands of workers that Goodyear employs at its Cumberland County factory. Hudson told local media that he was not aware of the president’s tweet until a reporter pointed it out to him.

The Hudson campaign chides Timmons-Goodson for out-of-state financial support flowing to her campaign, Andrews said. Outside of North Carolina her biggest donor bases were New York and California, according to second quarter Federal Elections Commission filings. FEC records show 134 donors from both states gave approximately $116,000 of the $846,000 she raised in the second quarter.

At the end of June, Hudson had raised $2.3 million, compared to roughly $1.1 million for Timmons-Goodson, according to Open Secrets. But she outraised him by about $517,000 during the second quarter. She says she’s aiming even higher for the third quarter and is “feeling really good” about the numbers so far. 

But strong fundraising by itself is not enough to win an election, says Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College. 

Moreover, Bitzer says the redistricting process only made the 8th District slightly more favorable for Democrats by including the entirety of Cumberland County. Hudson still has the advantages of incumbency and a generally friendly district, so Democrats will need high voter turnout, he said. 

Bitzer also says that national dynamics, maybe even more than the individual candidates, will likely determine the outcome of the 8th District. There’s a strong relationship between how a district votes at the presidential level and how it votes down the ballot, Bitzer said, and that pattern might be magnified this year.

For all the hype about being the “most competitive” district in North Carolina, the 8th District has a relatively slim chance of flipping, Bitzer concluded.

“If that seat went Democratic, then there’s a tsunami that has bowled over at least North Carolina, if not the rest of the country.”

At top, incumbent Richard Hudson and Pat Timmons-Goodson are vying for the 8th Congressional District. Photos from their campaigns.

Update: This story has been corrected to note that Timmons-Goodson moved to Fort Bragg in elementary school, not when she was 2 years old, and that she was an assistant district attorney, not the DA, in Cumberland County.

Redrawn Greensboro congressional seat predicted to flip to Democrats

In a post on his campaign Facebook page, Lee Haywood smiles, posing neither masked nor socially distanced from Madison Cawthorn, a fellow Republican congressional candidate.

On Twitter, the Kathy Manning campaign shares a photo of Manning in a pink and green mask, standing distanced from North Carolina State Council of Machinists President Theodore McNeal.

This familiar dynamic, in which face masks have been politicized, is playing out in North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, where Haywood and Manning face each other and a transformed electorate in the midst of a global pandemic.

The redrawn district seems to be Kathy Manning’s to lose. Republican incumbent Mark Walker declined to run for reelection after court-mandated redistricting converted the district from an amalgamation of eight counties to just Guilford County and the southeastern portion of Forsyth County. Its borders encompass Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point, which make up North Carolina’s more urban, more Democratic-leaning Triad region. 

In 2018, Manning lost by 6 points in her bid to unseat Ted Budd in the 13th Congressional District. This year, she emerged from a crowded primary in the 6th with nearly half of the vote — a race perhaps more competitive than the general election will be.

Candidates focus on healthcare, economy

Manning, a former immigration lawyer, has never held public office but has emphasized her community and nonprofit work in her campaign, citing public service such as Greensboro’s Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts as work she will continue if she wins.

Haywood, a small business owner, also has never held public office, though he has emphasized his conservative ties instead. A self-described “constitutional conservative,” he served for the past two years as chairman of the congressional district’s Republican Party before making a leap into the election.

“I only became active in politics 10 years ago with the emergence of Barrack [sic] Obama and his vision for a radically changed America,” Haywood writes on his campaign website.

In an election cycle dominated by racial, healthcare, and economic fault lines laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic, this race has been no exception, even as both candidates largely follow party platforms.

“I’m a pragmatic person,” Manning said during a July 28 event with the Forsyth County Democratic Party. She does not support Medicare for All, the universal single-payer healthcare system advocated by progressives. Instead, she has backed a public option, in which the federal government would provide its own health insurance plan, as well as the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina. “The most pragmatic way to get good, affordable healthcare to everybody is by building on the ACA, rather than dismantling it.”

Haywood is aligned with his party on healthcare. He has proposed overhauling the ACA for a private, free market-driven system.

Both candidates tout their small business experience as good preparation for charting the district through the pandemic and toward economic recovery. While both favor extending programs such as low-interest loans to mitigate the effects of the pandemic recession, their approaches sharply diverge for the post-pandemic future. 

Haywood has stressed the need to eliminate the ballooning national debt, while Manning has leaned on past work in the Triad as evidence of her ability to guide long-term economic development.

Haywood confronts ungiving new district

The new district lines are unkind to Haywood and Republicans at large. Barring a major gaffe by Manning or a statewide red wave, he is considered a long shot in the now blue district. In Guilford County, Hillary Clinton won by almost 20 points in 2016; she won Forsyth by more than 10 points. In both counties, about three-times as many Democrats as Republicans turned out in this year’s primary.

The redrawn 6th Congressional District includes all of Guilford County and part of Forsyth County. Map from NC General Assembly.

“It’s nice to have a district that reflects the electorate finally,” State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) said. “Guilford’s pretty blue, and we haven’t had a Democratic representative in a long time. I think it’s going to be good to have somebody that reflects more of our values.”

The newly drawn political landscape has led pundits to forecast a Manning win. The Cook Political Report rates the district as “likely Democratic,” and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball rates it as “safe Democratic.”

Beyond the new map, Haywood faces a name recognition problem — compounded by his lack of incumbency, Manning’s 2018 race, and a pandemic that has stifled traditional avenues of voter outreach — which his campaign is trying to solve by positioning Haywood alongside Donald Trump.

On Facebook, the Haywood campaign’s chief social media platform, the president has made several appearances, including in an ad from early June, where his face accompanies “Keep NC-06 Red” and an invitation to donate to and get involved with the Haywood campaign. But the president has neither endorsed nor boosted Haywood.

“To embrace the president, given the president’s relatively low approval rating, is certainly a strategy if you want to maximize turnout amongst people who like the president. But there’s just not enough of those folks [in the district],” David Holian, a political scientist at UNC Greensboro, said, adding that the association might also turn out voters against the president and, in turn, Haywood.

Manning outpaces Haywood in fundraising

Without his own voter base, Haywood has struggled to amass funds. 

From the start of the campaign up to the most recent Federal Election Commission filing on June 30, the Haywood campaign has raised just over $15,000, with about $7,000 cash on hand. Almost all contributions to the campaign have been made by individuals, save a $1,000 one by the Greater Greensboro Republican Women’s Club and $200 from a committee for B.J. Barnes, Summerfield mayor.

The Manning campaign has raised almost 100 times more — $1.4 million, with about $300,000 cash on hand. More than 85% of the total fundraising amount is from individual contributions. 

“My opponent is a very rich limousine liberal, and I have a very profound monetary disadvantage,” Haywood said during a June 11 event with the Forsyth County Republican Party, sandwiched between asks for donations.

Mac McCorkle, a public policy professor at Duke, said that the disparity reflected the likely outcome. 

“This is seen as a Democratic victory. The Republican forces are probably not encouraging people to waste money on this race,” he said. 

The lack of institutional and party backing, coupled with a redrawing that has compacted the district around a strong Democratic base, will be difficult for Haywood to overcome. 

“It’s like trying to reverse political gravity,” McCorkle said. “Subject to some major change, all the vectors are pointing in one direction — that it’s a blowout.”

At top, candidates Kathy Manning and Lee Haywood. (Photos from their campaigns)

Your questions about mail-in voting, answered

After four years of relentless partisan drama, when wearing a mask or buying a can of black beans has become a political statement, the 2020 election was destined to be contentious. A worldwide pandemic of respiratory illness just made it weird. 

Between now and Election Day on Nov. 3, a record number of people will vote by mail to avoid interacting with others and potentially contracting the novel coronavirus. Typically 4% of the state electorate vote by mail, said Damon Circosta, board chair of the North Carolina State Board of Elections. This year, the number will be between 30 and 40%. 

If you, too, are considering mail-in voting, The 9th Street Journal is here to cut through the chatter and answer your questions about the process. 

What is all the fuss about mail-in voting? 

Mail-in voting has been part of American democracy since Civil War soldiers re-elected Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 election. The elderly and voters with disabilities or chronic illness have found postal voting a safe and convenient way to pick their political representatives, said Mac McCorkle, director of POLIS, the center for politics in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. 

Voting by mail gained fame in recent months when it was attacked by President Trump, who claimed, without evidence, that it would invite fraud and lead to “the greatest rigged election in history.” Meanwhile, the president and his wife both requested absentee ballots on Aug. 12. 

Cost-cutting measures by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Greensboro resident and longtime donor to the president, heightened the controversy after he took over the U.S. Postal Service on June 15. 

The brouhaha isn’t over. DeJoy temporarily suspended the measures, but the announcement and comments from the president left many people unsure how mail-in voting will play out in this year’s election. 

What is absentee voting? Is it different from mail-in voting?

President Trump repeatedly made false distinctions between absentee voting and mail-in voting, confusing many voters. Mail-in voting is actually just one type of absentee voting. 

You can vote in one of three ways: Show up at a local precinct on election day, or vote absentee, which includes casting your ballot at an early-voting precinct or mailing in an absentee ballot.

“Absentee is anything with the exception for voting in person on election day,” Circosta said. 

Any registered voter in North Carolina may request an absentee ballot, no reason or special circumstance required

Are Durham election officials ready for the volume of mail-in ballots they are likely to  receive? 

They say they are.

Durham County has already had a 350% increase in absentee ballot requests compared with 2016, according to Derek Bowens, director of the Durham County Board of Elections. 

Through last Friday, when the first batch of absentee ballots requests were mailed out, 40 people in the elections office were working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. putting together absentee ballot packages, which include return envelopes, “I Voted” stickers and instructions for how to complete the ballot, Bowens said. 

Starting this week, only 10 people will be needed to put together and send out ballot packages every day, Bowens said. 

In addition to the staffers processing requests and stuff envelopes, more than a dozen will authenticate ballots and call voters if their ballot is deficient and cannot be accepted. 

Bowens said that he is not concerned about a shortage of workers because the county can enlist a temporary employment agency. 

The mail-in voting process will cost the county at least $100,000, Bowens said, but that can be covered through an existing county election budget, potential CARES Act dollars and budget amendments requested from the Board of County Commissioners. 

Is the Postal Service ready for the volume of mail-in ballots that Durham will receive? 

Well, let’s just say that if you are voting by mail, do it early. 

Postal Service spokesperson Philip Bogenberger did not answer The 9th Street Journal’s questions regarding mail-in voting in Durham, but postal officials have warned that they could have difficulty because some states have late deadlines for requesting ballots.

Thomas J. Marshall, the general counsel for the Postal Service, sent a letter in July to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, warning that “certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s standards.” 

Marshall told officials with tight schedules to require that residents request ballots at least 15 days before an election, and that ballots requested too close to the deadline may not “be returned by mail in time to be counted,” according to the New York Times. A separate analysis by the Times confirmed this could be a problem in 19 states. (The Times said the deadlines in North Carolina might provide sufficient time.) 

Another possible problem: Changes to the Postal Service that DeJoy had already implemented prior to reversing the announcement. 

At least seven mail sorting machines were removed from a post office facility near the Charlotte Airport, which DeJoy said that he will not replace while testifying in front of the House Oversight Committee on Aug. 24. 

Bogenberger did not answer The 9th Street’s Journal’s question about whether any mail sorting machines in Durham county were removed. 

Will Trump’s attacks on the Postal Service hurt his own party? 

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is worried about that, according to Axios. McCarthy is privately encouraging voting by mail and warned Trump recently that their party could be “screwed” by his bluster against mail-in voting.

“We could lose based on that,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Alayna Treene, an Axios White House reporter.

McCarthy said the party can’t afford for Republicans to sit home, afraid of getting COVID-19, while Democrats flood the field with mail-in ballots.

“I tried to show him…you know who is most afraid of COVID? Seniors. And if they’re not going to go vote, period, we’re screwed,” McCarthy said.

Indeed, as Trump rails against the Postal Service, his campaign and other Republican candidates are quietly encouraging supporters to vote by mail. 

WRAL reported that the North Carolina Republican Party sent out ballot request forms to selected voters in July, along with an edited tweet by President Trump. 

The original tweet said, “…Absentee ballots are fine because you have to go through a precise process to get your vote privilege. Not so with Mail-Ins. Rigged Election!!! 20% Fraudulent Ballots?” 

The party highlighted the first half of the president’s tweet that praised absentee ballots in yellow, and blurred the last three sentences that disparaged mail-in ballots. 

While the Republican Party mops up after Trump, Democrats have been pushing their base loud and clear to vote by mail. And the results are paying off. 

State Board of Elections data shows that 53% of absentee ballot requests so far this year came from registered Democrats, compared with 15% from Republicans, according to WRAL

It’s hard to predict the impact of the mixed messages about mail-in voting. 

McCorkle said that misinformation and Trump’s comments surrounding mail-in voting may fire up some to vote, but the less politically engaged may shy away. 

“In between COVID-19 and what President Trump is saying, some people might not vote,” he said.  

Trump’s comments could indeed hurt his own party. FiveThirtyEight reported there is no historical evidence that mail-in voting gives one party an advantage, although this year could be different. 

What are the pros and cons of voting by mail? 

Pros: You don’t have to leave your home and worry about any interaction with someone who might have the coronavirus. No standing in lines, either. 

Cons: Voters make mistakes. Thirty percent of mail-in ballots in Durham County have historically not been counted because they don’t meet necessary guidelines, said Gunther Peck, Duke history professor and voting rights activist. 

“There have been problems with mail-in ballots because if people don’t cross every T then the ballots get thrown out,” Peck said. 

Peck said that recent changes to the state mail-in voting process, promoted by the advocacy group Democracy North Carolina, may reduce the rate of rejected ballots. 

Voters will be contacted if their mail-in ballots do not meet the criteria and then asked to resubmit their votes. The county office will call, email or send a letter to the voter, depending on the number of days until Election Day on Nov. 3. 

Another change is that local boards of elections have begun processing absentee ballots five weeks ahead of Election Day, Peck said, allowing ample time for voters to fix ballot mistakes. 

The best advice: Send in your ballot as soon as possible.

I received an official-looking mailing from the Center for Voter Information with an application for an absentee ballot. What is that about? 

The Center for Voter Information is a Washington D.C.-based organization that aims to increase voter turnout. It is a partner organization to the Voter Participation Center, which is particularly dedicated to increasing voter registration among young people, people of color and unmarried women. 

Page Gardner, founder of Center of Voter Information, told ABC-11 that the organization has mailed 1.8 million absentee voter request forms this year in North Carolina alone. 

Garder said many people want to vote by mail but don’t know how, and that’s where her organization steps in. 

“We’re doing a very robust voter registration in North Carolina,” Garder said. “We’re exceeding our original goals and we’re seeing an enormous response to our vote by mail application.” 

However, Circosta said that the third-party mailings are confusing some voters, who don’t know why they received the forms and where they came from. 

The state board of elections, concerned that the mailings can confuse voters, has told groups it will review them to ensure they comply with state and federal laws and don’t do more harm than good.  

“These efforts typically are legal, but they can be confusing or frustrating for voters and erode confidence in elections, especially when they are unsolicited,” states an Aug. 6 press release by the State Board of Elections. 

At top, photo of Durham elections office by Henry Haggert | The 9th Street Journal

He won with People’s Alliance support, then lost without it

Early this month, the local People’s Alliance political action committee once again displayed its influence on Durham elections.

By a wide margin, voters selected first-time candidate Alexandra Valladares, who was endorsed by the political action committee, to win an at-large seat on Durham’s Board of Education on March 3. 

Valladares beat incumbent Steven Unruhe, who Mayor Steve Schewel, former Mayor Bill Bell, fellow school board members and the Durham Association of Educators all endorsed. The left-leaning People’s Alliance supported him in 2016 but not this year, despite wide appreciation for his contributions to the school board.

“He is among the finest teachers in the memory of Durham’s public school system. And he was an excellent school board member,” said Tom Miller, a coordinator for People’s Alliance.

Valladares, an educator and high-profile volunteer leader in the schools, was the better candidate partly because the school board lacked a Latinx member, Miller said. Durham Public Schools identifies more than 32% of its students as “Hispanic/Latino.”

“It is a reasonable expectation, where an excellent candidate is available, to have the school board reflect, at least in one member, that makeup of the constituency,” he said.

Valladares, a Durham Public Schools graduate and a DPS parent, has worked with BOOST, a Duke University program that encourages middle school students to pursue training in science and medicine. She has led multiple district projects as a volunteer, including convening a Superintendent-Parent Forum series for Latinx families.

A former resident of McDougald Terrace, a musician, and a Human Relations Commission member, Valladares emphasized the need for Latinx leadership during her campaign for the seat.

“Ya es Hora!,” was one of her campaign slogans. In English that means “It is time!

Unruhe, a national-award winning educator, taught at Northern and Riverside high schools over 29 years. During four years on the board, he helped revise the budget to increase funding for the construction of new two schools, among other accomplishments.  

Both competed for the People’s Alliance endorsement, one of many decided during the PAC’s Jan. 14 meeting, where over 600 members were present.

This year, the decision about who to endorse for the at-large school board seat was difficult for PAC members, Miller said. 

Steven Unruhe logged many high-profile endorsements during his re-election campaign, but the People’s Alliance backed Alexandra Alladares this time.

Valladares did not comment for this article, despite multiple requests for an interview. But Unruhe was frank in his disappointment in the close nominating vote he lost. “I have serious reservations about this process because the vote in endorsing was 51% to 49%. That somehow translated in the minds of People’s Alliance organization into a 100% endorsement of my opponent,” Unruhe said. 

Disagreement over who should win on March 3 bloomed on social media after the endorsement vote. 

On Jan. 27, a letter posted on a Facebook account named Miel Etant Possum asked alliance members to support Unruhe, despite him losing PA’s endorsement. 

While it is rare for many of us to support a candidate outside of the PA endorsements, we feel in this case that Steve is a much stronger candidate,” the letter said. “We believe Steve represents the values that are at the heart of the PA and a progressive Durham.”

The letter, no longer public, was signed by 110 people. 

On Feb. 1 Ronda Taylor Bullock, a scholar who works to reduce racism in schools, published a letter on Facebook promoting Valladares. She argued that there was a clear racial dimension to the school board race and that voting for Unruhe would support white supremacy in Durham. 

“I’m arguing that from a critical whiteness lens, this is indeed an act of upholding white supremacy,” the former Hillside High School teacher wrote. “There are currently zero Latinx board members and by supporting a white male, folks are saying this is OK for a district that’s 33% Latinx.

Her letter was signed by 167 people.

Unruhe said what he perceived as “the nastiness” of the campaign solidified his decision to not run for elected office again.

Miller acknowledged the divisiveness of the endorsement process and election in this school board race. The political landscape in Durham has shifted, he said. 

“Years and years ago, we chose progressive candidates to run against candidates being promoted by conservative organizations,” he said. 

The school board race, however, highlights how multiple progressive and qualified candidates are now running against each other which makes the People’s Alliance endorsement more challenging.

“To make it more difficult for our members to choose from among progressive candidates who are longstanding and effective and loved members of our own organization,” he said. 

However, Miller said he envisions that unity is ahead.  

“As difficult as this decision about this school board contest has been, moving forward, it’s going to be one People’s Alliance committed together to support progressive change,” he predicted.

In downtown Durham, overflow crowd greets Bernie Sanders

A thin, black folding wall cut U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Durham rally in half.

On one side was the Durham Convention Center’s main ballroom, filled wall to wall — and to capacity — with ardent supporters of the Democratic presidential candidate front-runner. On the other: a smaller, darker overflow room for latecomers to the Valentine’s Day rally.

Fresh off winning the New Hampshire primary, Sanders spent part of the week campaigning around North Carolina, a key Super Tuesday state. A reported 3,100 people showed up in Durham. 

Fifteen minutes before it started, Greg West hovered near the barrier. “I’m waiting for my wife, we got separated,” said West, who showed up to the event two hours early.

But no one, besides the brave few slipping past security, was getting in. It looked like his wife would have to miss this one.

“Nobody else can come into this ballroom at the time,” announced the assistant fire marshal, who said the temporary wall held back some 300 people — a diverse, young crowd united in their desire to make it into the main hall and their frustration with the capacity limit. 

As West explained why he planned to vote for Sanders — a track record of consistency, a strong vision of change — his phone screen lit up and a poppy, marimba-snare ringtone started playing. His wife was calling. She had made it back to the main room, where dozens of cameras were trained on a wide stage set for Sanders. He went to join her. 

Dozens of others ended up in the overflow room, where audio of the speeches played over loudspeakers. By 11:30 a.m., local progressive politicians like Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson, Durham County Commissioner candidate Nida Allam and State Senate candidate Pierce Freelon, warmed up the mic. Each echoed Sanders’s calls for radical change and reminding people to support down ballot candidates. The packed crowd in the main ballroom hung to their words, tossing up “Bernie” signs, clapping on queue and quieting down to listen. 

Those scattered in the overflow room chatted among themselves, biding time as they waited to hear Sanders’s voice. For a few minutes, former Ohio state senator and Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner stopped by the small corner stage with locally beloved “Bull Durham” star Susan Sarandon, briefly firing up the crowd by telling them they had the power to change America.  

Sanders visits the overflow room at his Durham rally. 9th Street Journal photo by Jake Sheridan

Diana Lynn, a self-identified member of the “Yang Gang” — fans of technology entrepreneur and former candidate Andrew Yang — said she was looking for “a new ship to jump on” after he recently dropped out of the race. Lynn hadn’t been able to arrive on time because of work, she said, and wore her green Harris Teeter uniform shirt inside out. Still, she was happy to have a chance to hear Sanders. 

“People want a revolution,” Lynn said. “They’re beyond fed up. That’s how we got Trump.”

Fernando Bretos, who said he will vote for Sanders, also ended up in the overflow room after coming from work. 

“It’s kind of nice that there is an overflow room, but of course I want to be in there with them,” said Bretos, a marine biologist concerned about climate change. “I kind of regret not going with Bernie the first time. I’m just going with passion and ingenuity. He speaks to me.”

Then, Sanders really did speak to Bretos. To shock and excitement, the Democratic hopeful surprised supporters and took the overflow room stage. 

“The good news is we have a standing room crowd over there,” Sanders said, pointing to the wall separating them from the ballroom. “The bad news is you could not get in.”

He touted his victory in New Hampshire and promised wins to come. He listed a string of policies to cheers and the names of enemies — “the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the whole damn one percent” — to boo’s. He summarized his platform into “two basic things”: beating Donald Trump, and transforming the government and economy “so it represents all of us.” 

After six minutes, Sanders left to go give a longer version of his stump speech to the main room. Most of the overflow crowd left, too. 

On the way out, Lynn said she appreciated Sanders’s appearance, but was still undecided between him and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

As he headed back to work, Bretos said Sanders’s quick stop gave him goosebumps. 

“It felt like a community. Like I’m not alone,” Bretos said. “Since I’ve gone to Bernie world, a lot of friends and Democrats have kind of been jabbing me, questioning me, so it’s nice to feel like I’m part of a community, to feel like I belong.” 

At top: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders visits with supporters before his rally in Durham on Feb. 14. 9th Street Journal photo by Jake Sheridan.