Could They Win? Emboldened NC Democrats Set Sights on Weakened Republican Leaders

RALEIGH – To say a breaking story of an SBI investigation to the Republican House Speaker for possible corruption mere weeks before the election was welcome news for Democrats would be an understatement. The news embodies the recent shift in weather for Republican legislative leaders, now not only resigned to losing the super-majority but arguably focused on not losing the majority itself. In the house at least.

While Speaker Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger are not likely to lose their races, fundraising bonanzas, court wins, encouraging polls and now Republican leadership scandals are giving Democrats the confidence to take on the two heads of Republican power on Jones Street. While the Democrats have nothing of substance, policy wise, that the North Carolina people really want, missteps, sloppiness, and shadiness on behalf of the Republican leadership amount to a lot of campaign fodder for the Left.

Moore and Berger’s opponents, especially. Berger’s opponent is already calling names and slinging mud. Curiously, though, Moore’s opponent is taking the high road, despite the current SBI investigation into the Speaker’s past business and state dealings.

To challenge the most powerful man in state politics, Jen Mangrum moved from Greensboro into a Reidsville rental home residents referred to as the “Taco Bell house.”

The house, which Mangrum says was left intact after its owners died, wasn’t ideal. But she needed a place to live in the district where she wanted to run, which had recently been redrawn to exclude her old residence. “Every detail was southwestern,” she said of the rental home. “Your fork even had a cactus on the end.”

Compared to Berger, the state Senate leader, Mangrum had virtually no name recognition. But, after meeting with residents of the north Greensboro area, she became confident she could win.

“I wouldn’t have run if I didn’t think so,” she said in an interview with The News & Observer. “My biggest obstacle is convincing people he’s vulnerable.”

Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore have a Republican supermajority to protect. If momentum builds for North Carolina Democrats, the Republican leaders might even have to worry about keeping control of the state House and Senate. They haven’t had to campaign hard for their own re-election in years, but Berger and Moore aren’t exempt from the N.C. Democratic Party effort to challenge nearly every Republican incumbent in the state.

Berger faces Mangrum, an education professor at UNC-Greensboro and former Republican, in a Senate district northwest of Greensboro. Moore faces David Brinkley, a financial adviser, in their rural House district west of Gastonia. Neither has run for office before and both face uphill battles.

Donald Trump received 66 percent of the vote in Berger’s district and 67 percent in Moore’s district in the 2016 presidential election. In July, Berger and Moore each reported having $1 million more campaign cash on-hand than their respective opponents. And experts consider their districts to be Republican strongholds.

“If one of the leaders loses, it would be a sign of a much larger wave than anybody would expect,” said Michael Bitzer, political science professor at Catawba College in Salisbury. “Those rural areas tend to be conservative to begin with. The gerrymandering helped to further insulate and ensure Republicans in those areas.”

However, a summer poll of 382 likely voters by Change Research found Mangrum trailing Berger by just 6 points among voters who had made up their minds. “While Mangrum has ground to make up to introduce herself and contrast her campaign with Berger, with the right resources this is on track to be a very winnable race for the Democrat in November,” says the memo, which was provided by the N.C. Democratic Party.

Even if they don’t win, Brinkley and Mangrum may distract the GOP leaders and offer Democrats a glimpse into the type of campaign that works best in conservative areas. Even while campaigning on similar platforms — that the GOP-led legislature should’ve expanded Medicaid and spent more on education — they’re taking completely different tactics.

Mangrum regularly attacks not only Berger’s policies but his character, referring to Berger as “a bully and dictator” and photoshopping a cartoon with Berger’s face on it.

Brinkley for years lived on the same Kings Mountain street as Moore and considers himself a friend of Moore’s family. Brinkley refers to his campaign as “team purple” — to emphasize his desire for bipartisanship — and his websites rarely mention Moore by name. He’s neighbors with Moore’s kids.

“I don’t think it’s professional to drag their daddy through the dirt,” Brinkley said in a phone interview with The N&O. “I’m here to talk about issues.””

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