In battleground North Carolina, a political contest of historic proportions is taking shape – one that will help determine the names of both the next president and the next Senate majority leader. At stake is nothing less than the state’s chance to materially aid Democrats nationwide in flipping both the Senate and the White House.
On one hand, this is a contest between two Democrats for the chance to unseat imperiled Republican first-term Senator Thom Tillis. But on its other hand it’s the battle to drive massive turnout in November, by fielding the most inspiring Democratic candidate possible.
The frontrunner in this race, according to three respected polls taken from June through November, is three-term state Senator Erica Smith: an engineer, clergywoman, educator, woman of color, and mother of four. Her race is already historic: she is the first African-American woman ever to run for the Senate in highly diverse North Carolina (where Black voters comprise 47% of all Democrats, who in turn comprise the leading share of the state’s voters). Her victory would make her the state’s first Black senator, and only America’s third Black female senator (following in the giant footprints of Carol Moseley Braun and Kamala Harris).
Smith’s life experience seems almost custom-made to bridge many of the demographic and social divides that have for too long fractured North Carolina’s electorate.
Her understanding of both urban and rural voters’ concerns is deeply rooted. Born to a large family of African-American farmers (her grandmother worked the family farm with a horse-drawn plow while raising 16 children; Erica grew up on the same farm after her father retired from the Air Force), she is nonetheless anything but provincial. After graduating from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and earning a degree in mechanical engineering from the nation’s largest and most respected HBCU, NC Agricultural & Technical State University, Smith’s first career was with Boeing, working on critical national defense aerospace engineering projects. Later, returning to her North Carolina roots, she became an educator in the state’s eastern ‘black belt,’ served on the Northampton County Board of Education, and was elected to the state Senate on her first attempt, in 2014. Since then she has been re-elected twice, on the strength of her tireless and successful efforts promoting the economic development of her largely rural district.
Smith’s accomplishments likewise position her to bridge the divide between people of faith and secularists. She holds a degree in religious studies from Howard University, and is an ordained Associate Servant at Cool Spring Missionary Baptist Church in Gaston NC. Yet at the same time she is a technologist and a staunch supporter of a woman’s right to choose and the LGBT community. As an educator she holds secondary mathematics and science endorsements in both Virginia and North Carolina. Her faith is personal, not polemical, as she strives to live the Teacher’s admonition that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
A TESTED FIGHTER
Can a Black woman win North Carolina’s senate seat? While that’s a fair question, a still better one is this: can any Democrat win the seat if Democratic and moderate independent voters aren’t inspired to show up at the polls next November? Smith’s inspiring progressive message and noteworthy life history can make it happen, her grassroots supporters believe.
Importantly, Smith is a tested fighter who has proven her mettle. After redistricting turned her once safely Democratic district into a toss-up, in 2018 Smith faced an aggressive Republican challenger and beat him by a convincing 8-point margin. That victory came despite an ugly offensive by her opponent, who attempted to smear her by alluding to her ex-husband’s arrest and conviction on rape charges years earlier. The scheme failed because Smith’s constituents knew her, and were grateful for her tireless efforts on their behalf.
A GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGN
Senator Smith’s campaign funding is entirely grassroots-driven, both by choice and by circumstance. While both she and her Democratic primary opponent, Cal Cunningham, have foresworn accepting donations from corporate PACs, Cunningham has accepted large sums from Democratic ‘leadership’ PACs (Democratic senators’ personal PACs) that are themselves largely funded by corporate and executive contributions. Smith, by contrast, has no leadership PAC donors. Cunningham is tapped into these corporate-dollars-once-removed thanks to Chuck Schumer’s and the DSCC’s highly irregular ‘silent’ endorsement of his campaign, prodding Democratic lawmakers to share their donor lists and dollars with him instead of Smith.
But while Cunningham may have some powerful party insiders at his back, Smith has the voters behind her, as she forges and engages a strong coalition of progressives, people of color and whites, urban and rural voters, and young voters, reminiscent of Stacy Abrams’ own campaign. North Carolina progressives are coalescing around Smith as the candidate who can drive massive Democratic and independent turnout in November, thanks to her inspiring progressive message and credentials.
IT’S YOUR CALL
Smith can win this one, for both North Carolina and America – but that is entirely in the people’s hands. The success of her grassroots-powered campaign absolutely hinges on small-dollar donors, such as Daily Kos readers, across the country. I urge you to visit her web site (EricaForUS.com) to better familiarize yourself with her story and her platform, and then to donate till it hurts. As all DKos readers know, sometimes Democratic Party insiders need a nudge to do the right thing (as opposed to what they might perceive to be the ‘safe’ thing). Helping Erica to post big numbers in her December FEC report will do just that.
Please join me in strongly supporting North Carolina state Senator Erica D. Smith for the Democratic nomination to unseat Republican Thom Tillis to become the Tar Heel state’s first African-American U.S. senator. Donate, then follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Update: Erica was interviewed today on Kossacks’ own BradBlog’s BradCast out of California. Follow that story here: www.dailykos.com/...