NC Democrats rebel against their Establishment leaders | Eastern North Carolina Now

Writing for WRAL TV, Paul Specht reports:
North Carolina Democrats sent a message to the state party’s establishment: the party needs better leaders.
Members of the North Carolina Democratic Party on Saturday ousted their sitting chair, first vice chair, and second vice chair, voting instead to elect new candidates to the top four leadership positions.
The overhaul comes three months after the party failed to win a single statewide race in the midterm elections. And two months after Meredith Cuomo, who had served as the party’s executive director since 2019, announced her resignation.
The party’s executive committee elected campaign organizer Anderson Clayton, 25, to replace incumbent chair Bobbie Richardson, who sought a second term after being elected in 2021. The victory for Clayton, who chairs the Person County Democratic Party, is considered a major upset.
Richardson, 73, campaigned for reelection with the support of the party’s top elected officials, including Gov. Roy Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein and U.S. Rep. Wiley Nickel, among others. Nonetheless, Richardson became the first sitting party chair in at least a decade to lose a reelection bid.
Former state Sen. Floyd McKissick, one of the party’s longtime proponents of civil rights, was also swept out Saturday. McKissick, 70, lost his seat as first vice chair to Jonah Garson, 36, who chairs the Orange County Democratic Party. Meanwhile, Kimberly Hardy, 51, defeated incumbent second vice chair incumbent Matt Hughes, 32. Elijah King, 21, won the third vice chair position, which was open.
The election served as a referendum on North Carolina’s Democratic establishment, and its current leaders could have done a better job in the midterm elections. Clayton’s win is a show of strength for party members who may be young and live outside of the party’s urban hubs.
Clayton was one of three challengers who claimed the state organization wasn’t doing enough to turn out its base and help candidates in rural areas. As president of the party’s Association of County Chairs, Clayton cast herself as a voice for Democrats on the ground.
“I want to be the person that can speak for the folks in this party that have felt left behind, that have felt silenced,” Clayton told the committee prior to its vote. The committee allowed each candidate five minutes to make their case for the job.
“We cannot rely that urbanization is going to save the Democratic Party of North Carolina,” she said. “We have to win in the state that we live in today. We do that by winning back some of the voters we've lost — winning more counties like Nash and Scotland and Anson — and turning out more of our own voters.”
Analyses of the midterm election results show that turnout among regular Democratic targets — young voters, Black voters, and voters in metropolitan areas — fell short of participation levels in 2018.
Democrats last year won the congressional seats they were expected to win, as well as a closely watched toss-up race in the greater Triangle. But Democrat Cheri Beasley lost the U.S. Senate race to Republican Ted Budd in a year when Democratic senatorial candidates performed better than anticipated in other states.
Democrats also lost every North Carolina Supreme Court race. And they lost seats in the state legislature, where the GOP is now only one vote away from being able to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.
Cooper addressed those losses in a promotional video endorsing Richardson that played during the Democrats’ meeting on Saturday, chalking them up to being outspent by Republicans by at least $50 million in the U.S. Senate race.
“We were pretty much forced to go it alone,” Cooper said. “Make no mistake, the election in 2022 was a fight and I saw it first hand because I was deeply involved. And Bobbie Richardson was in the trenches every single day making calls, making a case to our national partners, and advocating for investments in our state.”
Supporters described Richardson as a steady hand and cautioned against shaking up the party ahead of the next general election. After she lost, Cooper and Stein used Twitter to congratulate Clayton on her win.
Congratulations to Anderson Clayton and the other officers elected today. All the elected Democratic officials look forward to working together to make NC Blue in 2024.
“All the elected Democratic officials look forward to working together to make NC Blue in 2024,” Cooper’s campaign said on Twitter.
LeVon Barnes, a party official from Mebane, and Eric Terashima, who chairs the Brunswick County Democratic Party, also ran for the seat. Each said prior to the vote that state party leaders could do a better job of coordinating with local campaigns and party leaders.
After receiving little support in the party’s first round of voting, both dropped out of the race and endorsed Richardson. Terashima told WRAL he endorsed Richardson after someone contacted him on behalf of Cooper and asked him to do so.
It wasn’t enough, though. Clayton defeated Richardson in a 272-223 vote. Immediately after the election results were announced, Richardson held up a gavel, congratulated Clayton and promised to help her in the transition.
“We fought a strong fight and you won,” Richardson said. “And I wish you all the luck in the world to run this organization.”

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