Democrats are in trouble in the suburbs is a common refrain, which appears to be doubly accurate in North Carolina. Despite endless predictions of North Carolina turning blue, a new study from Duke University reinforces the uphill battle Democrats face in the state. The study offers the fancy “countrypolitan” term for what – in many instances – are suburban or semi-suburban regions of the state.

The study offers the Democrats some much-needed electoral advice. They can win in North Carolina if they stop getting pounced in the suburbs. Still, that’s hard to do given the dramatic leftward lurch of the Democratic Party leaving more and more non-urban voters behind.

One problem for Democrats in North Carolina is they too often track lockstep with the liberal direction of national Democrats. Even Gov. Roy Cooper, while successful at reelection, never deviates from the unpopular policies of President Biden. Over in another Southern state, Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards is pro-life and much more moderate on gun control. Louisiana’s governor at least charts a path for more sustained success for Democrats in the suburban South. Cooper offers nothing different than national Democrats.

Because of its historical progressive streak, North Carolina has long been a prize for Democrats at the national level, but Georgia flipped to Biden in 2020. Biden won Georgia by flipping the outlying urban areas of Atlanta, which is not being replicated in North Carolina. Trump won 63% of the vote in the areas deemed ‘countrypolitan.’

Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation, has written about Democrats leaving many voters behind in the state. “Over the past decade, the Democratic Party has lost 310,245 voters statewide,” wrote Jackson in 2019. The main thrust in Jackson’s piece is that North Carolina voters are slowly moving away from Democrats, and their collapse of support is particularly prominent in many suburban regions.

Even Democrat stalwart and noted political consultant James Carville is trying to call Democrats back to their roots when they were once known for supporting the working class and middle America.  “First of all, like I said, only 11 percent of the Democratic Party is progressive. It’s the smallest part of the party. But the problem is they make 70% of the noise,” declared Carville in an interview last month with Vox. Carville defended U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, calling him “closer to the mainstream than a lot of these people think, and pretending like he isn’t, won’t help the cause.”

Carville’s right, and as former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal once quipped, “All politics is local.” The truth is North Carolina Democrats would be a lot more successful with candidates more in the mold of Manchin than Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden. Undoubtedly, they would win more elections.

Biden’s popularity in North Carolina remains abysmal, and it’s clear his policies do little for the state. Statewide politicians who continue to replicate those policies are at a distinct disadvantage in North Carolina, and even more so than other suburban swing states.

Republicans appear to have a clear advantage heading into the midterms, but politics is so often cyclical. Yet, Democrats will continue to struggle in the suburbs if they continue with policies that exacerbate inflation, are anti-school choice, soft on crime, and rooted in identity politics. Likewise, obsession over the past and Donald Trump is not enough to win. One thing is certain: If Democrats don’t moderate, North Carolina will remain elusive for them going forward.

Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor a Second Amendment research fellow at the John Locke Foundation.