Raleigh, N.C. — Last week's defeat of U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan has shaken up North Carolina Democrats. Some critics are blaming the state party for not doing enough to help her, while others say the party did better here than in other Southern states.
The North Carolina Democratic Party has had several rough years, with personnel problems, power struggles and financial difficulties since Republicans seized control of the General Assembly in the 2010 elections.
Former state Democratic Party director Scott Falmlen said the party apparatus needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.
"The official infrastructure of the party has hit rock bottom," Falmlen said. "There's going to have to be a lot of soul searching amongst Democrats at every level."
Money has been a big problem. Both parties lost a key source of revenue last year, when lawmakers got rid of the check-off for political parties on state income tax returns. That cut off millions of dollars in operating funds.
Being in power, Republicans can replace that money more easily than Democrats can.
"It's harder to raise money because transactional donors don't necessarily need to transact with you," state Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller said.
Voller says the state party did everything it could to support its candidates. Democrats did have more success in North Carolina than in any other Southern state, he noted, from county boards to state House seats to five statewide judicial races.
"It all starts with electing local people, so I look at the ballot from the bottom up. I don’t look from the top down," he said. "I think we’re going to have start doing that. Build with your county commission, build with your board of education and go upward."
Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said that, despite its troubles, the state Democratic Party still managed to raise money this year and field some strong candidates.
"They did the kind of things that parties do; they still lost during a wave election," McLennan said. "So, can you blame it all on what's going on in the state Democratic Party? No. Are there some fixes that could happen before 2016? Obviously."
Finding solid candidates for the 2016 elections should be the top priority for the party, he said.
"If you look at some of the major races for 2016, we know who’s running for governor for the Democratic Party, but (against U.S.) Sen. Burr? There’s nobody," McLennan said.
Attorney General Roy Cooper is widely seen as the top Democrat to oppose Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in two years.
"They’ve got some candidate recruitment to do. They’ve got to rebuild relationships within the base of the Democratic Party. The turnout in the election, it wasn’t what they wanted it to be. So, I think, again, it’s not all about the leadership of the Democratic Party,” McLennan said.
Voller, who said he hasn't decided yet on whether he'll run for re-election next year as party chairman, agreed that Democrats have to work harder on turning out voters in non-presidential years.
"I think Democrats have to keep getting in the notion that elections are a yearly exercise," he said.