North Carolina Democrats are organizing quickly around their goal of retaking the Republican-controlled legislature thanks to the person who'd benefit the most — Gov. Roy Cooper.
Cooper and the state Democratic Party announced an initiative Tuesday to win majorities in the House and Senate by the close of the 2020 elections, right before the next full round of redistricting.
The governor already has raised more than $1 million for the "Break the Majority " effort, according to party chairman Wayne Goodwin, who said in an interview that the goal is to raise millions more.
It's not surprising for a sitting North Carolina governor to raise money for party activities or candidates, but Goodwin said Cooper is going a step further by using his "political capital to embolden and strength the operations and financial resources of the party."
Goodwin said the party has hired the largest research and communications team he can recall. Workers will help with candidate recruitment, fundraising and creating a unified message Democrats believe will result in more seats.
"We need to restore common sense and balance in our General Assembly and elect lawmakers who will fight for the working and middle class, for public education, and for a forward-looking and inclusive state," Cooper said in a release Tuesday.
The next scheduled election is in November 2018, but the Democrats' first test could come sooner because of federal court rulings throwing out nearly 30 House and Senate districts as illegal racial gerrymanders.
Federal judges haven't yet decided whether a special election should be held before next spring under new maps that will be drawn by Republican legislative leaders.
Democrats only need three additional House seats or six Senate seats to end the GOP's veto-proof majority and give Cooper more leverage over Republican leaders, who have put its conservative mark on taxes, education and social issues. Tuesday's announcement marks "the first of many steps to have enough Democrats to sustain vetoes by Gov. Cooper," Goodwin said.
Democrats will need every dollar to improve their lot in the General Assembly for Cooper, who narrowly defeated GOP Gov. Pat McCrory last November. Two major GOP fundraisers — House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger — spent nearly $4 million combined leading up to last fall's elections, with most of it ultimately benefiting General Assembly candidates in competitive races.
State Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said the GOP has built up a decent political infrastructure that's helped Republicans secure electoral victories for statewide posts that for decades were won by Democrats. But he said midterm elections for the party that holds the White House is always tough.
"We fully recognize we will have challenges in front of us," he said in an interview. "There are no permanent victories in this business."
Gerrymandering is a key element of the Democratic message, which says unconstitutional maps are to blame for Republican "laws that take us backward," according to the Break the Majority website.
Speaking to Democratic activists last weekend, Cooper promised the power to draw legislative and congressional maps would be shifted from the legislature to an independent, nonpartisan commission if the party wins General Assembly majorities in 2020.