Raleigh, N.C. — Republicans changed the political landscape in North Carolina when they took control of the state legislature in 2010. Now, Gov. Roy Cooper and the state Democratic Party are plotting to chip away at that GOP stranglehold.
Cooper and Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin on Tuesday announced their "Break the Majority" effort that combines recruiting Democratic candidates for state House and state Senate seats in the 2018 elections and raising money to pump into their campaigns.
The governor has already raised $1 million toward the effort and plans to raise millions more over the next year.
"Until I get some leverage in the General Assembly, I can’t get the things done in education, in economic development. I can’t do as much to stop this social conservative legislation that makes us embarrassed as a state and doesn’t truly reflect who we are as North Carolinians," Cooper told national political publication Politico.
With veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate, Republican lawmakers have been able to govern without input from Cooper since he took office in January, overriding his vetoes on the state budget, overhauls of the state Court of Appeals and the State Board of Elections and legislation allowing landfills to spray waste liquids into the air.
Goodwin said Cooper's involvement so early in the election cycle separates Break the Majority from past Democratic organizing efforts.
"This is the first time the Democrats, since 2010, have had a campaign apparatus that will be able to compete with the (Senate) president pro tem and the speaker of the House," Democratic consultant Brad Crone agreed.
Republican consultant Patrick Sebastian said Break the Majority is simply "a fancy label" for a Democratic effort that will fail because the party no longer has House Bill 2 as a rallying point.
The controversial state law limiting LGBT rights was a key part of the calculus that helped Cooper knock off Republican Gov. Pat McCrory last fall. He pushed lawmakers to repeal the law in March.
"Without that issue, what is he really going to talk about? I mean, is he going to say taxes are too low?" Sebastian asked. "Cooper's being aggressive. I think he should be, but he's really realizing he's irrelevant in this current system that we have."
"It's hard for the Democrats to make an economic message," Crone said, given North Carolina's growing economy.
Still, he said, Democratic candidates can run on "a priority message" that Republican lawmakers aren't spending enough in certain areas and are making questionable decisions.
New legislative voting maps that lawmakers will draw in the coming months – federal courts tossed maps the GOP drew six years ago as illegal gerrymanders – and the public perception of Republican President Donald Trump also will play roles in the 2018 campaign, Crone said.
"Republicans will pay the price for the Trump factor," he said.
"It could be trouble for us," Sebastian agreed.
With no statewide races next year, however, the real test for Democrats will be motivating voters to go the polls.
Goodwin said he's encouraged by the fact that 6,000 new volunteers showed up at recent Democratic precinct meetings.
"People are excited. They're angry. They've got all kinds of emotions coursing through their veins, and they want to make things happen," he said.