Earlier this week, National Review published an article detailing a recorded discussion of North Carolina Democrat Jeff Jackson, who was speaking to a class at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte in September. Jackson, a state senator, was considering a run for U.S. Senate against Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) earlier this year but ultimately decided against the move.
During the discussion, Jackson explained that while he was trying to make a decision, he flew to Washington, D.C. to meet with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). If he did run, Jackson said, he planned to hold “100 town halls in 100 days” and speak with as many North Carolinians as possible about their priorities. According to Jackson, when he pitched this to Schumer the minority leader curtly responded, “Wrong answer.” Jackson went on to explain that instead of meeting with voters, Schumer wanted him “to spend the next 16 months in a windowless basement raising money” and have Democratic groups “spend 80 percent of it on negative ads about Tillis.”
Based on his comments, Schumer’s strategy for Democratic candidates in 2020 seems to be clear: Meeting with voters requires candidates to stake out positions on issues, which could be used against them. Strategically, it’s better to avoid specifics and instead focus on fundraising so that outside groups can do the dirty work.
Jackson said he was turned off by Schumer’s approach, which led him to elect not to run. Former state legislator Cal Cunningham (D-NC), one of several Democrats running in the N.C. Senate primary, apparently had no such reservations. While the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) hasn’t officially endorsed his campaign, signs indicate that he is benefiting from establishment Democratic support. In August, RealClearPolitics’ Susan Crabtree noted that Cunningham’s second quarter fundraising report showed he had “received $152,000 from New York donors — nearly 35% of his itemized contributions for that period.” 53 of the 55 donors had also donated to Schumer. According to Crabtree, the donations have “[fueled] talk that a promise of financial help from national Democrats may have helped sway [Cunningham] to switch gears and jump into the Senate race after spending the first part of the year running for lieutenant governor.”
Cunningham also appears to be operating his campaign by Schumer’s playbook, too. Both Jackson and Erica Smith (D-NC), a state senator who is also running in the Democratic primary, have criticized Cunningham for avoiding public appearances. Smith took it a step further and attacked Cunningham for failing to take a position on the major issues facing the country. In an August twitter response to a voter who said she was having difficulties finding Cunningham’s positions, Smith replied, “We can’t find his policy positions either.”
The DSCC has already made several early endorsements in contested primaries across the country, and many of their candidates appear to be employing the same strategy.
Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, who is running against two other Democrats for the nomination to challenge Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), was endorsed by the DSCC shortly after she entered the race in June. Her website provides links to donate to her campaign and highlights some general accomplishments she had in the state legislature, but does not include an issues tab. In Iowa, DSCC-backed Theresa Greenfield is also involved in a contested primary, and also does not have an issues page on her campaign website. The same can be said for former Gov. John Hickenlooper in Colorado and Jaime Harrison in South Carolina.
Although some of these candidates may have laid out their positions on certain issues while on the campaign trail, not having them listed on their website – where most voters are likely go first – suggests they either haven’t thought them through or are taking Schumer’s lead. By buying into Schumer’s game plan, these 2020 Senate candidates are ultimately doing a disservice to the voters of their state. According to Schumer, though, is better if candidates are neither seen nor heard.