Translating Democratic Enthusiasm Into Victories Will Be Difficult In WNC Congressional Elections

Apr 24, 2017

The first Democrat has jumped into the race to seek the party’s nomination to take on Republican Congressman Mark Meadows next year.  While Democrats see enthusiasm growing thanks to strong election showings in Kansas and Georgia, they didn’t win either Congressional  race.  And winning Western North Carolina’s 11th district seat will be an extremely difficult task.

A couple hundred people braved a cold steady rain for a rally in front of the Haywood County courthouse in Waynesville.  The ‘Medicare For All’ event featured speakers who want to see a single payer healthcare system, and at the very least don’t want the Affordable Care Act repealed.  Almost two hours in the final speaker, Matt Coffay, stepped to the microphone.  “I’m announcing to you all today that I’m stepping down as the director of Our Revolution Asheville to run for Congress in the 11th Congressional district of North Carolina against Mark Meadows and that we intend to win in 2018”, Coffay told the crowd.

The incumbent Meadows is currently in his third term, and won last year’s election with 64% of the vote, topping his Democratic challenger by almost 30%.  Meadows national profile is also growing thanks to his chairmanship of the Freedom Caucus.  The powerful group of the most conservative members of the House helped torpedo the GOP healthcare bill but still seeks a repeal of the ACA.  In general, the caucus has been a giant thorn in the side of their fellow Republicans.  Even with all that, defeating Meadows looks extremely difficult at best for Democrats.  But Matt Coffay looks at what happened in a Kansas special election earlier this month.  In one of the most heavily Republican Congressional districts in the country, a Democratic candidate lost by less than 7 percentage points – a swing in victory margin from the general election just five months earlier of 23%.  An even better performance will be needed in Western North Carolina in 2018 if Coffay expects to win, and getting into the race a year ahead of time is part of the strategy the 30-year-old believes can lead to victory.  “I think what it comes down to is talking to people.  Not TV ads.  Not direct mail.  Not millions and millions of dollars.  It takes a lot of people who care, who believe in what they’re doing, talking to friends, talking to neighbors, talking to family members about what matters to them.  And changing the conversation.”

The other drawback for Democrats in this race – the makeup of the 11th district.  It was heavily redrawn in 2011 by North Carolina legislative Republicans.  The Democratic strongholds of Asheville and Buncombe County which helped elect Democrat Heath Shuler to three terms in Congress were bisected, with half now in the 11th and the other half in the 10th district.  Republicans now hold both seats, and getting a lot of GOP voters to switch sides is the only hope Democrats have.  And Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper doesn’t think that will happen in Meadows case.  “Meadows has made himself so prominent nationally that I find it hard to believe the party would go against him.”

Before he gets a chance at Meadows, Matt Coffay must win the Democratic primary first.  And that is almost exactly a year away.