Editor’s note: This article has been updated.
State Sen. Jeff Jackson has dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination in North Carolina’s 2022 U.S. Senate race. Announcing his decision via social media, Jackson has endorsed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley.
Carolina Journal learned from multiple sources, both Democrat and Republican, on Wednesday that Jackson would leave the race before Christmas.
Jackson had been considered one of two Democratic front-runners seeking the nomination to replace the retiring Richard Burr in the U.S. Senate. Jackson’s state Senate district covers part of Mecklenburg County.
Jackson had recently been telling supporters and Democrat elected officials of his plans. Earlier this year he visited all 100 counties in North Carolina. Recently he toured colleges in his bid to become the Democratic nominee.
Sources indicate that once former state Sen. Erica Smith dropped out of the U.S. Senate race to run for a newly drawn congressional seat in eastern North Carolina, Jackson and his advisers came to the conclusion that a white male candidate could not defeat an African American female, in the Democratic primary.
Beasley, the first black woman to serve as chief justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court, has been the front-runner on the Democratic side since she announced her U.S. Senate run. She has led Jackson constantly in public polling and fundraising.
Jackson is a military veteran with a similar background to Democrats’ 2020 U.S. Senate nominee, Cal Cunningham, an inconvenience Jackson had to deal with on the campaign trail.
Carolina Journal reported in October that third-quarter fundraising showed Jackson with $900,000 in fundraising for his campaign, but with $1.5 million in cumulative fundraising. Beasley had almost caught up to Jackson in fundraising, despite her opponent enjoying a one-quarter head start.
“North Carolinians are throwing their support behind Cheri because they know that she’s the candidate who can win and will deliver real progress for our state,” Beasley campaign manager Travis Brimm said in a news release.
“The former state chief justice has outpaced her opponent by a wide margin two quarters in a row and has advantages beyond fundraising,” the left-leaning PoliticsNC said. “Much of the Democratic establishment has backed Beasley, she has a much stronger resume than Jackson, and she brings a diversity to the ticket that he does not. While Jackson is making a strong effort, he clearly has an uphill climb to pull off an upset.”
In April Democratic campaign consultant Brad Crone told CJ: “There is no doubt that Justice Beasley will be the front-runner for the Democrats.”
Jackson is said to have his eye on the 2024 state attorney general’s race. That seat is expected to open with two-term Democrat Josh Stein expected to run for governor.
The Jackson decision is welcome news for Democrats who already appeared to be coalescing around Beasley. She now can focus on fundraising for the general election, while Republicans contend with a contested and likely expensive primary.
“Until this point, it’s been a coin toss which party’s Senate primary is more competitive and interesting,” said Chris Cooper, professor of political science at Western Carolina University, before Jackson’s announcement. “If Jackson does drop out, we know which way the coin is weighted.”
“Obviously, there’s much still to learn about his rationale, but it’s safe to say that the Democratic Party establishment will happily accept this early Christmas present,” Cooper added.