North Carolina Democrats got an early Christmas gift when Carolina Journal and other media reported that state Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, would be canceling his U.S. Senate campaign.

Jeff Jackson
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His move clears the field for North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley to become the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. Jackson endorsed Beasley in his announcement exiting the race.

“Everyone needs to know when to step aside,”  Jackson said in a written statement. “She’ll be a great U.S. senator for North Carolina. Unlike the Republicans in this race, we won’t be participating in a costly and divisive primary. If we’re going to flip this seat in November, we need to unite — and we need to unite behind Cheri.”

As a former executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, I can promise you, they are celebrating at the Godwin House, the historic Hillsborough Street home of the State Democratic Party (NCDP).”

Party elders would always like to avoid costly and divisive primaries. As with the NCDP, the N.C. Republican Party as an organization must remain neutral in party primaries. However, we were rarely neutral on if there should be a primary in the first place. We routinely spoke with potential candidates. If someone was considering challenging one of our well-respected incumbents, who was not mired in scandal and was in good standing in the party, we would often ask that Republican to reconsider. We often suggested another political office for which to run.

We did not always do this. It often did not work. The party has no legal authority to keep someone from running for office. But everything being equal, if we could avoid the expense of a party primary, especially if it was more of a “nuisance” primary rather than a serious political effort we would have preferred to do so.

However, politics is almost never played with “everything being equal.”

It is actually more complicated. While the NCGOP may have tried to avoid SOME primaries, we recognized the NEED for others. We would have never tried to clear the field for anyone in a major statewide race for governor, U.S. Senate or Council of State, that was “open” with no incumbent. First, it never would have worked.  Second, you need the judgment of 750,000 GOP primary voters to determine who was the best candidate.

In October 2020, writing about the early lessons of the Cal Cunningham sex and military scandal I stated:

“Competitive party primaries can be critical to protecting both political parties and voters at large,” I wrote. “It is understandable why in a highly competitive U.S. Senate race party officials in Washington, D.C. wanted to avoid a costly and divisive Democratic primary for the Senate seat.”

As noted in the Free Beacon:

“Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., started backing Cal Cunningham before the former one-term state senator even announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination.” The Senate minority leader helped Cunningham raise more than $150,000 from New York-based donors before entering the race, a clear indication Cunningham would be the Democratic establishment’s preferred candidate.”

This enraged black North Carolina Democrats like state Sen.Erica Smith.

The endorsement by the DSCC [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] removes the false veil of neutrality and confirms their attempt to sway this U.S. Senate election away from the voices and voters of North Carolina.

National Democrats did the same thing in 2010 when they supported Cunningham over N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall in the U.S. Senate race.

North Carolina Democrats do not appreciate Washington trying to handpick or anoint their candidate,” Marshall said.

She lost in the general election to the GOP’s Richard Burr when, after beating the DSCC backed Cal Cunningham, the DSCC abandoned the U.S. Senate race, denying Marshall critical funds to be a competitive candidate. When the DSCC could not get their preferred candidate in Cunningham, they took their ball and went home.

If in 2020 state Senators Jackson and Smith had been on the same footing, a strong Democratic primary would have found some of Cunningham issues. A robust primary may have led to a better candidate while exposing Cunningham’s indiscretions.

However, when out-of-state Washington politicians decided who the candidate is going to be before letting the process work, they did their party and voters no favors.

Fast forward to 2021.

“In almost any Democratic primary in North Carolina in almost any cycle in the past, somebody like Jackson would have been all but a lock to win,” As noted by Politico, “A white father to three young children, an Army veteran who spent a year in Afghanistan and a former prosecutor in a conservative county who’s now a state senator from Charlotte, he is, even his critics grant, a gifted communicator — good on the stump, good on the internet, and good face-to-face, fist-bumping his way through rope lines and meet-and-greets, making apparent inroads in places where progressive Democrats usually are persona non grata.

“But this cycle is not like all those other cycles — and maybe nowhere is that clearer than in this ultra-important state in this ultra-important race. Because the candidate who’s emerging as the frontrunner is not the 39-year-old Jackson. For now, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is not taking sides, but by any of the most traditional metrics — polling, fundraising, endorsements — the pacesetter seems to be Beasley, who is looking more and more like a part of a wave of black candidates who are rapidly altering the dynamics of Senate campaigns across the country, especially in the South, challenging long-held maxims about what kinds of candidates are best positioned to appeal to the mixture of voters in a region with electoral demographics that are changing just as fast and where black candidates have historically had to run as outsiders or long shots.”

Politico theorized that black candidates are benefiting from heightened attention to the effects of systemic racism in the aftermath of protests that followed George Floyd’s 2020 killing in Minneapolis.

“We saw a lot of black candidates do really well, during that time, with donations surging candidates like Charles Booker surging,” said Nabilah Islam, a strategist and former DNC fundraiser. “I feel like there is definitely white guilt there.

“I think there’s been a fundamental shift in thinking who can win elections, and now it’s understood, it’s not the boring old white guy again,” said Islam.

Left-leaning PoliticsNC has also praised Beasley for bringing much-needed diversity to the Democratic primary.

Democrat Raphael Warnock’s victory in one of two Georgia Senate seats up in 2020 is really the only place that political science has come into place, backing the theory that black democratic candidates are better positioned to win than white democratic candidates.

Remember Democrats won two U.S. Senate races in Georgia, decided by runoff after the November 2020 elections in which President Trump was defeated.

Warnock, a black Democrat, defeated his white GOP opponent Kelly Loeffler 51% to 49%, while white Democrat Jon Ossoff defeated white GOP incumbent Senator David Perdue 50.6% to 49.4%.

Of course, these elections were unique. Trump had lost the election and was telling Republicans in Georgia the election was stolen from him. Hardly a way to motivate GOP voters to get to the polls by telling them their votes were not going to count anyway.

Moreover, a difference 0.4% is also hardly a large enough margin to conclude that black democrat candidates will outperform white Democrat candidates in 2022 U.S. Senate races.  Remember, Cal Cunningham was well on his way to defeating Sen. Thom Tillis until his fidelity and authenticity problems emerged late in the race.

“A divisive political primary that receives heavy media scrutiny reduces the party nominee’s chances in the general election,” a 2016 Stanford University study concluded. “But, if the primary has not generated much attention, then the primary winner is less affected – and sometimes even helped – in the general election.”

Cheri Beasley in campaign ad
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Beasley is basically an untested candidate. Yes, she has won statewide judicial contests, but those races are only about biography and name identification. Judicial candidates are prevented from any meaningful discussion of critical issues. They don’t have meaningful debates with their opponents.

Beasley might have been well served by a hard-fought primary. It would have made her a better candidate in the fall.

Then there are practical issues that arise.

While Beasley can save campaign funds for the general election, independent expenditure organizations aligned with GOP interest don’t have to wait until the Republican primary is settled to start pounding on Beasley with negative ads.  As of today, they know exactly who the target is.

Finally, the battle for the independent voters is key here, and the lack of a party primary is not helpful.

In 2016, by the time the North Carolina primary was conducted, it was a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee for President. It was decided.

However, Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz were still battling it out. Unaffiliated voters who can vote in whichever primary they want (but not both) overwhelmingly decided to vote in the GOP primary. In 2016 56% of unaffiliated primary voters choose the GOP ballot, while 41% took the Democratic ballot. Trump won unaffiliated voters in the 2016 general election. Research at the time indicated that 75% of unaffiliated voters, who had voted in the GOP primary voted for Trump in the fall, even if he was not their choice in the primary. Once unaffiliated voters pick your party primary, most of the time they stick with you in the fall.

The exact opposite was true in 2008, when John McCain was already considered the GOP nominee for president.  However, President Obama and Clinton were in a dogfight in North Carolina and unaffiliated voters flocked to the Democratic primary. Obama won unaffiliated voters in North Carolina in the fall of 2008, becoming the first Democrat that North Carolina voters chose for the White House in 32 years.

N.C. Democrats had their wish come true in avoiding a knock-down-drag-out U.S. Senate primary in 2022. However, in politics, be careful what you wish for.

The Woodshed, by investigative political analyst Dallas Woodhouse, is a unique blend of news and opinion based on his expertise and years of experience in North Carolina’s political trenches. For more follow him on Twitter at @DallasWoodhouse