Yesterday marked the first day of spring – a season known to many as a beacon for cleaning out the old and ringing in the new. In the spirit of celebrating fresh starts, the North Carolina Democratic Party’s recent transition in leadership serves as a prime example. The Party’s leadership elections, which were held last month, drew national attention because the incumbent candidate for chair –who received endorsements from all of North Carolina’s big Democratic names– fell short to a younger, grassroots organizing candidate named Anderson Clayton. At 25 years old, Clayton now serves as the youngest state Democratic Party Chair in the country and as the youngest ever to hold the position of chair in the North Carolina Democratic Party’s 195 year history.
The failed election of an incumbent chair was jarring for good reason, considering they had the full backing of North Carolina’s most well-known Democratic politicians – namely Governor Roy Cooper and 2022 U.S. Senate Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley. While it was widely understood that frustration had been growing in recent years due to low success rates of Democratic candidates across North Carolina in local, state, and national elections, many did not expect for the State Party’s Executive Committee to resolutely vote that North Carolina Democrats needed a complete changing of the guard just yet. By throwing her hat in the ring with an invigorated vision for the party going into the 2024 election cycle, Clayton convinced a majority of the Party’s Executive Committee that a new face was needed to get the party back on track to reclaim North Carolina’s fading reputation as a ‘swing state.’
The backward sliding of the Democratic Party in North Carolina has been a long time in the making. The state hasn’t picked a Democratic nominee in a U.S. Senate or Presidential race since 2008 and, in statewide elections, Democrats are only competitive in 25 out of North Carolina’s 100 counties. By losing its status as a ‘purple state,’ a term meaning the state’s electorate could realistically go red or blue in statewide races, North Carolina also faces losing its national spotlight for news coverage and donor dollars looking to support progressive candidates. As outcomes for North Carolina Democratic candidates have grown more bleak, the chances for Democrats living both inside and outside the state to believe that North Carolina is a worthy investment for their time and money have understandably shrunk.
As a young progressive who has grown up in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge mountains –an area that routinely votes strongly for the GOP– I find Clayton’s vision to reach groups who historically have been left out by the North Carolina Democratic Party both exciting and long overdue. With a large focus on the rural electorate due to Clayton’s own background of success in rural organizing, the State Democratic Party will finally turn away from its habit of characterizing rural communities as unreachable and unwilling to vote for their best interests, which are arguably represented most clearly in progressive policy platforms. This historic lack of interest has allowed for the GOP to tighten their chokehold without facing much resistance almost anywhere outside of North Carolina’s most urban centers.
As a fairly recent graduate of Appalachian State University, Clayton believes deeply in the power of North Carolina’s universities to truly lead in changing the tide for Democratic candidates across the state. With HBCU election turnout in 2022 at its lowest since 2010, it is clear that many of the most diverse and intersectional voices in the state are not being represented at the ballot box. With a young and driven leader like Clayton at the helm, there has never before been a more exciting time to be a progressive college student in North Carolina. As we go into the 2024 election cycle, I’m excited to dive headfirst into the upward momentum of the North Carolina Democratic Party. I ask that, whether you’re a native of the state or not, to join me and get involved. Together, we can ring in a new season for progressive organizing that centers communities from Murphy to Manteo.
Chloe Decker is a Trinity sophomore. Her article typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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