Yesterday, prominent North Carolina Republican political consultant Paul Shumaker released a memorandum to “Interested Parties” with the subject line “The 2022 Red Wave.” It’s the latest missive from the GOP strategist pushing the narrative that Republicans are on the brink of another wave election.
Shumaker is trying to influence political coverage of state as well as offer strategic advice to Republican candidates. Back in September, he warned about the saliency of the Dobbs decision on driving Democratic turnout and urged Republicans to be careful when talking about abortion. Yesterday, his message was essentially James Carville’s mantra in Bill Clinton’s 1992 race: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Shumaker urges Republicans to stay focused on the economy and points out that it’s the top issue among most voters in a poll he conducted. He notes 52% of respondents to the poll said that the economy is their driving factor and only 38% said it was abortion. Among undecided voters, 60% say it’s the economy while only 24% of them said abortion. He concludes that a Red Wave is still very real as long as Republicans make the final weeks of the campaign about the economy.
Shumaker leaves out mention of age. If the 38% of the respondents who find abortion the most important issue are disproportionately younger, then the issue could give Democrats the boost they need. As Ron Brownstein writes in The Atlantic this morning, the 2018 Democratic wave was driven by voters under 45 years who gave their vote disproportionately to Democrats. For these voters, especially women, abortion could be a driving issue. High turnout could offset any losses to undecided voters who choose based on the economy.
In other and somewhat related news, Axios highlights the spending discrepancy by outside groups in the US Senate race. Republican-allied organizations have spent almost $35 million supporting Ted Budd and Democratic groups have spent less than $8 million on Beasley. Beasley has out-raised Budd and spent earlier than him, but she needs more help from outside sources.
Democrats are spending heavily to pick up an open seat in Pennsylvania and protect incumbents in Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada. They are also spending heavily in Wisconsin trying to take out incumbent Ron Johnson. While Johnson is either a nut job or a cynic, or both, he’s still an incumbent. That money could be spent better in the open seat race in North Carolina.
In reality, Democrats almost certainly have enough to fund the races in both North Carolina and Wisconsin. According to Open Secrets, a staggering $9.3 billion will be spent in federal races this year, compared to $7.1 billion in 2018 and $3.8 billion in 2014. Despite the huge increase in spending, nobody is expanding the playing field.
The political establishment has a huge distribution problem. The vast majority of the money will go into ads chasing a dwindling percentage of aging voters who are still watching network television. The amount of waste in the independent expenditure world is staggering with consultants the big winners and struggling, possibly competitive campaigns the big losers.
In the case of North Carolina, Beasley has done almost everything right. She’s put together a solid organization. She’s outraised her opponent by large sums. Her profile as a distinguished African American woman appeals to two of the groups Democrats need to turn out, women and African Americans. She’s kept the race even, despite being outspent by more than four to one by outside groups.
And yet she’s not being rewarded for her hard work or political savvy. The interest groups are sending the wrong message to future candidates in a state that will continue to be competitive for years to come. If she loses by a handful of votes, we’ll never know what difference a commitment now could make. We also won’t know the impact on critical races down the ballot, including Supreme Court races that may determine the makeup of the Congressional delegation for the remainder of the decade. Ignoring North Carolina is both short-sighted and strategically inept.
Shumaker may be right that red wave is on the horizon. If he is, Democrats are partly to blame. Instead of figuring out how to appeal to a younger, less engaged audience, they are still spending the bulk of their money chasing older voters on television. They should be taking a billion or so dollars putting it into organizing efforts that stay in operation year round. We certainly need to win the small set of swing voters, but we need to drive up turnout among younger voters who are no longer glued to the boob tube.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant. Republished from PoliticsNC.com. Originally published Sept. 23.