After suffering historic defeats in the last election, N.C. Democrats are looking to shift political momentum in their favor by focusing on education policy.
Micah Beasley, spokesman for the N.C. Democratic Party, said Democrats can make significant gains in the midterm elections in 2014.
“Depending upon the size of the gains, Democrats will likely be within striking distance in 2016 to take one or both chambers of General Assembly back,” Beasley said in an email.
Democrats should stress changes made by state Republicans in the last two years, including phasing out teacher’s tenure, decreasing teacher’s bonuses and halting increases to teachers’ salaries, said Gary Pearce, a Democratic state political consultant.
N.C. Senate Minority Whip Josh Stein (D-Wake) agreed that education will be the main issue of 2014.
“I think people are very distressed at what they have done to public education and the incredible lack of respect they have for teachers,” he said.
Stein has said that he wants to run for attorney general in 2016, should current Attorney General Roy Cooper run to unseat Gov. Pat McCrory.
He said the party will look to recruit candidates in winnable districts for the midterm elections.
“The best candidates are those that represent constituencies of that district,” Stein said. “They have an understanding of the voters and what the concerns and passion of the direction they want to take the state and bring new direction to North Carolina.”
But Steven Greene, political science professor at N.C. State University, said Democrats will struggle to win newly redrawn districts that favor Republicans.
“It’s hard to get the best people to run in difficult districts,” he said.
Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) said redistricting is not reflective of the state’s demographics.
“That’s what you do with gerrymandering,” he said. “The science is so precise you can have bizarre outcomes that don’t make sense.”
McKissick said the state’s voter ID law, which also limits the number of early voting days, will present Democrats with a challenge in 2016.
“The critical strategy is that voters are aware of the changes made in the last year or two,” he said.
While Democrats focus on education policy, state and national Republicans will bring health care policy into the discussion, said John Dinan, professor of political science at Wake Forest University.
The implementation of the Affordable Care Act has been controversial, as the online health care marketplace has been plagued by glitches.
Dinan said that will play a large role in U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s reelection campaign.
“To the extent that she is able to steer the conversation away from the health care law and keep the focus on her constituent service and work on issues such as veterans’ care, she will be more competitive,” said Dinan in an email.
Sadie Weiner, a Hagan campaign spokeswoman, said the campaign would be about the choice between Hagan’s policies versus the policies of the N.C. General Assembly, including cuts to education, the raising of sales taxes and voter laws.
“This election is about a contrast between Kay’s bipartisan record of results for North Carolina’s students, seniors and service members and her opponents’ records of fringe policies,” said Weiner in an email.
And Greene said health care might not even play a major role by the next election.
“If Democrats are smart about it, they will talk about all the success stories about people who get health care,” Greene said. “I think at the state level, the big story will be the Republican legislature and the Republican Party running on it, especially on education.”
State Democratic leaders said the party is ready for a political comeback.
“There’s a lot of energy on the ground right now that is very opposed to the way things are being done in Raleigh,” Beasley said. “That’s not going away anytime soon as is likely to increase as we near November.”
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