If you are a Democrat and you don’t show absolute loyalty to Gov. Roy Cooper, he will seek to destroy you politically.
Cooper recruited, endorsed, and will help bankroll a primary against Democrat state Sen. Kirk deViere of Cumberland County because deViere voted a few times with Republicans in the General Assembly.
Cooper endorsed Val Applewhite, a former Fayetteville City Council member, in a primary race against deViere. DeViere and Applewhite served together on the council. Both ran for mayor in 2013, and both lost.
“Right now, our state needs members of the state Senate focused on one thing — delivering for all North Carolinians,” Cooper said in a statement released by the Applewhite campaign.
“I need legislators who will help me expand Medicaid, pay teachers more, and give everyone an opportunity, which is why I’m proud to endorse Val Applewhite. I know Val and trust her to do what is best for North Carolina.”
Cooper later retweeted Applewhite’s announcement of the endorsement.
“With Val in the state Senate, Cumberland County will have a tireless advocate who isn’t afraid to stand up to Right Wing Republicans as we work to build a state where everyone has an equal chance to prosper,” Cooper said.
Cooper is now openly sending a message. If you are a fellow Democrat you better never cross the aisle, work in a bipartisan fashion, and deliver important projects in the state budget for your voters. If you do, Cooper and his political team will recruit candidates against you, fund those campaigns, and destroy your political career and reputation.
Cooper is joining former Republican President Donald Trump in demanding absolute loyalty, or else.
In a video posted on Facebook, Applewhite said Cooper’s endorsement shows that “he doesn’t have trust or confidence” in deViere. “To have Gov. Cooper step into a primary, a Democratic primary, shows that he has lost confidence in our current state Sen. Kirk deViere. It is unprecedented and very rare that you see a governor step into any primary, Republican or Democrat,” Applewhite said.
DeViere has voted with the Republican majority a few times, most notably on the state budget.
“Communities deserve to choose their own representatives,” deViere said in a statement shared on social media. “I’m confident that the voters of Cumberland understand what’s at stake and will choose the voice that best represents their interests. … My vote has and will always be with the people of our community. This primary challenge is a direct result of putting my community over partisan politics and not being a rubber stamp. Together we can send a message that working families have had enough of the power politics and that this seat belongs to you, the people of Cumberland County.”
“In the future, should any Republican Governor come after a Republican Senator, they should expect hellfire and brimstone from me, and every caucus member I can muster. WE DEMAND respect of the institution. We vote in that chamber for our constituents, not the office of Gov.”
Perry further defended his Democrat colleague, saying a tax cut for veterans would not have made it into the budget if it were not for deViere.
It is worth noting that for more than five years Cooper has failed to expand Medicaid. His efforts to pressure GOP legislators on the issue failed as a legislative matter as well as a political matter. Cooper helped fund attacks on GOP lawmakers over failures to expand Medicaid, and Democrats still suffered a net loss in seats in 2020.
However, it was deViere that urged GOP lawmakers to expand Medicaid for new mothers, which they did.
In a November 2021 News and Observer article recounting the budget negotiations that led to a final budget agreement that Cooper signed, deViere said of his talks with the governor, “My conversations with him were always around that, ‘Governor, North Carolina needs a budget, and we need to get to a negotiated budget, first and foremost. This has to be a compromise.’ I was very clear that I believe we needed to get to a budget, and if we didn’t, that was failure in my mind.”
DeViere acknowledged there was pressure in the conversations from Cooper. “I have a job to do as a legislator, and he has a job to do as governor,” he said.
However, Cooper had begun to lose Democrats in the General Assembly on the budget issue. Cooper wanted more concessions from Republicans, but more and more Democrats were ready and willing to cut a deal. Only after it became clear that Democrats would in fact override the governor’s budget veto did Cooper announce a reluctant willingness to sign a GOP budget for the first time.
Cooper’s political attack on a fellow Democrat shows he is still bitter about losing the great budget fight of 2021.
Democrat Ed Donaldson, a former judge who fell out of favor with Democrats, is also running in the Senate District 19 primary that features deViere and Applewhite.
Politics and policy aside, it is worth noting that Donaldson, like deViere, is a white man. Applewhite is an African American woman. In a party consumed by racial and identity politics, running an African-American woman against deViere and a second white man could make Applewhite the overwhelming favorite in the primary, a probability likely not lost on Cooper.
The revised version of the 19th District is more Democratic and more African American.
The John Locke Foundation rates the current Senate 19 district as a D+3. The new version in effect for the 2022 election is rated as a D+6. According to Locke elections data expert Andy Jackson, “The district is six points more Democratic than the state. The state is about 51% Republican, so we would expect a D+6 district to go about 55-45 Democratic, everything else being equal.”
African Americans will make up 41.4% of the revised district, up from 37.8%.
In 2022 the GOP state Senate campaign team hopes to win 30-32 seats. Winning Senate 19 would put Republicans in the 35- to 36-seat range, highly unlikely, even in a wave GOP year.
The risk appears low for Cooper and Democrats not named deViere. Democrats are highly likely to win this district in November, no matter who they nominate. Applewhite will likely win the primary with the governor’s support and money, and with a district now more black than before.
However, low risk is not no risk. DeViere could squeak it out and become the key 30th vote for veto overrides. He would owe Cooper, Senate Minority leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, and the Democratic Party nothing.
The Senate 19 Democratic primary winner goes on to compete in the November general election against the winner of the Republican primary between former state Sen. Wesley Meredith and Dennis Britt.