North Carolina Group Looks to Deploy Stacey Abrams’s Georgia Strategy
(Bloomberg) -- North Carolina organizers are trying to replicate Stacey Abrams’s Georgia voter-turnout strategy in a bet that they can also deliver key Democratic wins in a similarly changing Southern U.S. state.
The effort, called the New North Carolina Project, is modeled after Abrams’s New Georgia Project. It aims to register minority voters. The two organizations aren’t affiliated, but the North Carolina initiative has received strategic insight, the group’s founder, Aimy Steele, said in an interview.
North Carolina has undergone population growth and demographic shifts similar to that of Georgia, with an influx of new residents from Democratic cities in the North.
Democrats are betting that those changes will enhance their electoral prospects as Republicans try to maintain their grip. The 2022 congressional mid-term elections include a North Carolina Senate race that will be closely watched by both parties. The Republican incumbent, Richard Burr, is retiring.
“We cannot afford to not have a field operation or an organizing operation year-round, because people just don’t respond naturally to the ‘Hurry up and go vote’ message,” Steele said. “That’s over.”
Abrams’s groundwork is credited with helping Joe Biden become the first Democrat to win Georgia since 1992, in addition to electing two Democratic senators in races against Republican incumbents early this year.
Steele, a former school principal who lost races for the North Carolina House in 2020 and 2018, said that if Democrats focused their efforts on increasing registration and turnout among voters of color, rather than on trying to persuade White moderate voters, they would have a better shot at winning elections.
At the same time, several Republican-led states have enacted or drafted legislation to make it tougher to vote, following former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread voting fraud before and after his defeat last November. Fraud allegations have often centered on cities with large minority populations.
She said that her group’s research shows that if turnout among Black and Latino voters increased at the same rate as it did among White voters in 2020 from 2016, Democrats would have gained an additional 90,000 votes statewide, enough for Biden to have won the state. He lost North Carolina to Trump by more than 74,000 votes.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is a Democrat who won re-election in 2020. Republicans hold both of the state’s senate seats.
“The great thing about North Carolina is that it really is a 50-50 state,” said Morgan Jackson, a Democratic strategist in Raleigh. “Elections are won or lost on the margins so there’s great capacity for organizations like this to make a real difference.”
Though it still has a significant rural population, Jackson said North Carolina now has more people living in urban areas than rural. He likened it to Virginia, which has shifted from a Republican stronghold to a state that has increasingly elected Democrats to statewide office, though the Republican gubernatorial candidate in this fall’s election has shown strength in polls.
“Northern Virginia has become so blue and so large, they outvote the rest of the state,” Jackson said. “The same thing happened in the Phoenix area of Arizona and the Atlanta area of Georgia. Democrats had such a huge voter turnout, they were able to compensate for the Republican-held rural areas. North Carolina is very similar but there are two metro areas: Raleigh and Charlotte.”
Midterm Election Preparations
In March, Steele raised nearly $2 million to start the group. There are plans to hire 20 local organizers for the midterm elections, she said.
Engaging potential voters only when an election is weeks or months away isn’t as effective a strategy as reaching out to them well in advance, according to Steele.
“That’s very transactional and it sounds desperate, and because it sounds that way, communities of color do not always respond to that level of pressure,” she said.
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