For NC democrats, reversing political fortunes will require reversing fundraising trend

By Scott Mooneyham | Nov 14, 2012

RALEIGH -- To borrow and amend a phrase from that famous Democrat James Carville, "It's the money, stupid."

OK, it's not just the money. It's the ideas and the policy and the district lines, too.

The money, though, is as key as anything to understanding why Democrats in North Carolina today are contemplating an election which saw them lose the governorship and saw Republican expand majorities in the legislature.

In the case of the state House, that majority grew from 68-52 to 77-43.

Most people would characterize that as Election Day stomping.

Not surprisingly, Republican leaders said the results were validation of their policy ideas; Democrats blamed new legislative district lines drawn by Republicans, lines that they contend are unconstitutional and are still fighting in court.

Another explanation is the campaign dollars.

Money follows power, particularly the money of business and trade groups whose interests continually come before the legislature.

It has clearly followed Republicans and their recent control of the state legislature.

Campaign finance reports from the end of October show that the state Republican Party, during the 2012 election cycle, raised $7.2 million, compared to $3.9 million raised by the state Democratic Party.

Most of that money comes from the campaigns of legislative leaders, which in turn feeds the campaigns of legislative candidates in swing districts.

That nearly two-to-one difference isn't so dissimilar from when Republicans were on the short end and longtime Senate leaders Marc Basnight and Tony Rand pushed and pulled the levers of the Democrats' campaign fundraising machine.

But even before Republicans took control of the legislature in 2011, they had closed the fundraising gap. During the 2010 election cycle, Democrats only outraised them by a few hundred thousand dollars.

The current state of campaign finance leaves a lot to be desired.

Be that as it may, for North Carolina Democrats to reverse their reverse their political fortunes will require that they reverse the trend in fundraising.

It's not easy to see how that happens.

Obviously, campaign money doesn't only follow power. It also follows ideas and policy.

One of the reasons that Republican leaders in the legislature were able to close the fundraising gap in 2010 is because more business interests -- including some longtime supporters of the pro-business, moderate wing of the Democratic Party -- liked the GOP's ideas better.

I suppose Democratic leaders might wait for some of those business groups to see the fallacy of their ways and come back home. They can hope that legislative Republicans overplay their hand, that GOP-backed policy becomes so obviously wrongheaded that the heads of those business and trade groups awake from a dream wondering what they have done.

They might be waiting a long time.

A more advisable course would involve Democratic leaders looking for fresher policy prescriptions and campaign strategies that allow them to expand their fundraising base beyond teachers groups and trial lawyers.

After all, the lawyers don't seem to have done much for them in this election.