Welcome back to Carolina Democracy! Today, we’re joined by David Lamando for another behind the scenes look at campaigning and our 2020 state senate race. I also highlight some of the races to watch for the primary elections on Tuesday across North Carolina!
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David Lamando: I'm a year out from working on this campaign. I can barely remember the paragraph you just said. The attack was word salad. It was a confusing attack that was bad and didn't work.
JD Wooten: Hey everyone, JD Wooten here. Welcome back to Carolina Democracy. Today I’m joined by David Lamando who served as my campaign manager from the summer of 2020 through the 2020 election. But before we get to that interview, let’s talk about what to watch for in the primaries across North Carolina this week.
We’ve been talking about the primaries for months now, and they’re finally here. Well, almost. The 2022 primaries are tomorrow, May 17th and polls are open from 6:30am to 7:30pm. If you haven’t voted already, please go vote. If you’re still holding onto a mail-in ballot, I would encourage you to consider going to vote in person if you are able to at this point just to be sure your ballot is counted, but whatever you do, please make sure it’s postmarked by Tuesday the 17th. So long as it’s postmarked by the 17th and arrives at the election office by Friday, it will be counted. However, even if you mail it on time and for some reason it doesn’t arrive by Friday, it will not be counted. So again, consider going in person if you are able to at this point.
Races I’ll be watching across the state of course include the U.S. Senate and several of the House races as well as a few state senate and house races, plus my local elections in the Triad. For the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, I think it was clear sometime last year the race was really down to Ted Budd and Pat McCrory, and for at least a couple of months, it has seemed like Pat McCrory will be the last to recognize his political career in North Carolina isn’t about to get a reboot. I suspect the surprise will not be whether Budd wins, but by how much he wins.
Thankfully the Democratic side shouldn’t be that exciting with Cheri Beasley having been the presumptive nominee for months now since Jeff Jackson bowed out of the race, allowing the former Chief Justice to begin focusing on the general election while the GOP candidates continue duking it out and trading some pretty nasty blows. GOP campaign tactics have long disgusted me, but I won’t lie, I do at least get a little amusement out of primary season when I see all their negative energy focused on each other and not on those of us fighting for democracy and decency.
On the U.S. House side, the Democratic primary which seems to be getting the most attention is in the race for the 4th Congressional District to replace retiring Congressman David Price. The front runners appear to be State Sen. Valerie Foushee, who has been a guest on the podcast, and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam. I think its fair to say that they represent different parts of the North Carolina Democratic coalition, with Allam falling into the younger, more progressive camp and Foushee having been in North Carolina Democratic politics for decades at all levels and being what I might call the more traditional Democrat.
The big controversy surrounding that race now is the influx of money from outside the district, and all I’ll say on that is love it or hate it, that’s just the reality of political campaigns right now and an unfortunate byproduct of gerrymandering. When only a small handful of races are competitive, and even fewer of those races matter for maintaining for flipping power in a legislative body, that’s where the money will go in the general. And when a general election is a foregone conclusion, then the money flows heavily into the primary that will determine the ultimate winner. The best way to avoid this, in my opinion, is not just campaign finance reform, which we desperately need, but also through the elimination of gerrymandering. If more districts were competitive, that money wouldn’t funnel into such a small number of races and outside interest groups would have far less influence in these races.
In my interview with David, we talk a bit about how something similar happened to our 2020 race. In 2018, state senate District 24 wasn’t even seen as necessary for breaking the supermajority, fundraising was tough, and we struggled to raise just $200,000. Fast forward just one cycle, and we raised $2.3 million from over 35,000 donors because District 24 had become the bellwether race for the state senate. Again, David and I touch on this a bit in the interview, but the belief going into election day based on extensive polling across the state was that if District 24 flipped, control of the state senate would flip. According to the polling, we thought Democrats were going to retain the 21 seats they won in 2018 and pick up 2 newly drawn Democratic leaning seats after the 2019 gerrymandering case. That meant Democrats needed two more seats and the Lt. Governor or 3 senate seats. There were five senate seats seen as within reach, including District 24 and District 31 with Terri LeGrand in the Triad. Three others were out east and we had great candidates in all – Tess Judge, Donna Lake, and Allen Wellons. For the five of us seen as potentially able to flip the state senate, donors from outside our respective districts were more than happy to pitch in because the rest of North Carolina was a foregone conclusion thanks to gerrymandering. Spoiler alert – none of us won, and in fact Democrats lost one of the 21 seats won in 2018, leaving Democrats with only 22 seats. But the polls, at least in relative terms, were not wrong about District 24. We were the closest race of the cycle that didn’t flip a seat. The only race closer was in Wilmington where Democrats actually lost a seat.
Right now, we’re seeing that process repeat itself in primaries where the general election will be a foregone conclusion, like Congressional District 4. And I suspect we’ll see it again in the summer and fall for District 13 which is really the only toss up district in the state and one of the few districts that’s even competitive in the country. District 4 may be setting records for primary fundraising, but regardless of who the nominees are, I suspect the 13th will set or get close to a record for general election fundraising in a North Carolina congressional seat later this year. This is not a healthy system for democracy, but it’s the system we have. To all the pundits attacking candidates for playing the game they’re forced to play while lamenting the system, grow up. Anyone who cares about democracy wants to see the system changed, but its obvious that won’t happen by losing elections, and you don’t win elections by fighting with both hands tied behind your back while blindfolded and gagged. I’m not saying we need to adopt a McConnell level of cynicism, but a healthy dose of realism wouldn’t hurt either. And feel free to attack the system because it needs to change, just stop attacking the candidates.
Ok, rant over, at least for today. Back to primary races to watch. In the 13th Congressional District, the races for both the GOP and Democratic nominations appear to be hot contests. Fundraising has been decent so far, but nothing compared to what I suspect we’ll see as we approach the general election. The former president has weighed in to endorse Bo Hines, another young ideologue who appears to be nothing more than perhaps a less controversy prone version of Madison Cawthorn. On the Democratic side, Wiley Nickel, a previous guest on the podcast and Sam Searcy, a former state senator, appear to be out front, but that’s more guesswork than anything concrete as I haven’t seen polling. That said, Nickel has been collecting endorsements at an astonishing rate, including a recent endorsement from retiring North Carolina Congressman GK Butterfield. I’m excited to see where that race goes, especially as things heat up later this year.
In the state senate and state house, there are a handful of primaries around the state, but few in districts that will also be targets in November as we work to sustain Governor Cooper’s veto. Two of those are Kimberly Hardy in House District 43 and Eddie Aday in House District 59, both of whom have been guests and both of whom are in district that are definitely winnable in November. Another I’m keeping my eye on is House District 47, where political newcomer Aminah Ghaffar appears to be running quite the impressive race and really putting in the work to win that primary. Given the following she has built in such a short period, and her compelling story, if she prevails this week, I think she will make a formidable general election candidate come November in a district that’s entirely winnable with hard work in the right political climate. If I’m not mistaken, there’s another state house primary in a winnable seat – District 103 – down in Mecklenburg, which is about a D+2 district that I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on as well.
I’m also watching the primary races here in Guilford County especially close. Greensboro mayoral and city council races are technically non-partisan, so all candidate for each position are listed together and the top vote getters move on to the general election which will be in July of this year. So for example, there are 4 people running for mayor, and everyone gets to vote for one in the primary. However, the top 2 move on the July general election. We also have primary contests for the County Commissioners, Sheriff, DA, and clerk of court. Several of these races will be decided by the primary, so if you’re in Guilford, pay attention! If you need help selecting candidates, a good resource is to check out Guilford for All, and their website is guilford4all.org. I’ll drop that link in the show notes.
Remember, with all the negativity out there right now, the single most important thing we can do is to stay engaged, get others engaged, and support candidates for the state house and senate in critical districts that will protect Governor Cooper’s veto and possibly even lead us back to a majority. We also have to make sure we’re electing state judges who will uphold democratic rights and norms. Again, our friends at Carolina Forward have made our job a little easier by identifying those key districts and candidates for the State Supreme Court, State Senate, and State House who are best positioned to do just that with their judicial and legislative slates. Links in the show notes for both of those slates where you can learn more about all of those great candidates and support their campaigns.
Now, turning to my interview with David, I want to highlight that David and I actually had to records parts of this interview twice due to technical difficulties. The fact that he didn’t even hesitate when I told him we should re-record some of it further confirmed to me the extraordinary lengths those who usually work behind the scenes will go to help out in our fight for democracy. My campaigns would not have been possible, and I mean that quite literally, without the help of people like David and my other campaign staff you’ve already heard from, including Kyle Newman, Kelvin Stallings, and Virginia Reed. If you haven’t heard my interviews with those other rockstars yet, go back and check them out. I’ll drop links directly to those episodes in the show notes to help you. These are the people that make campaigns possible.
And without further ado, here’s my interview with David Lamando.
JD Wooten: All right with me today is Dave Lamando who ran my 2020 campaign from roughly the summer of 2020 all the way up through election date. Welcome David.
David Lamando: Hello, JD. Thank you for having me.
JD Wooten: Absolutely. I appreciate you joining me. Before we dive into the substance of our 2020 race, let's talk about how you joined our campaign. How'd you find us and how do we find you? Do you remember?
David Lamando: As of then I'd been campaigning for many years and I'd found the most of my jobs, including yours, just by pounding the pavement, in-person, and online sending out resumes. It sounds really simple, but that's how I found the North Carolina democratic party online. And I sent them my resume and they forwarded it to you. They thought that we might get along. We talked for an hour or two and two, and here we are.
JD Wooten: Yeah. The first person that helped me out, some was Virginia Reed. She was splitting her time. And that was fine when we were in first and locked down and early on. But you ended up coming to us through the caucus program and we realized we could hire people through the state caucus. Maybe we could do little things like, oh, I don't know offer healthcare insurance and such. Anyway, what was your first involvement in politics?
David Lamando: I got involved in politics in college. I interned in my local State Senate office during college and right after graduation, I volunteered on his campaign and ended up working there as a field organizer. We won, but I decided to join another campaign and another campaign. And I ended up doing campaigns for many years. My first campaign boss told me that I did not need to live in Washington DC to make a difference. I really took that to heart. I had fun moving around the country for years, working on different campaigns.
JD Wooten: Wow. So in that span of almost a decade, bouncing around the country, working for all these races, if I recall correctly, you did everything from city council races up to congressional races. Is that right?
David Lamando: Yeah. So I've mainly done legislative races like yours, but there've also been some mayoral races, city council, congressional. I do like the retail politics of doing local campus. Like yours, working at posts with the candidate to work on strategy and also getting to be a part of the field program and fundraising, and really doing it all on a campaign.
JD Wooten: So what was your most meaningful race. And no pressure, you don't have to say ours.
David Lamando: Yours is up there. Yours would be very up there, but I would say would the congressional race I did in 2018, when I worked for a different candidate named JD, JD Scholten, who ran an Iowa's Fourth District for Congress against Steve King.
JD Wooten: Oh, yeah, the infamous Steve king. So I'm not the first JD whose race you've run. In 2018, you were working for JD Scholten, the Democratic Nominee against the infamous Steve King, who was so racist that even the GOP kicked him off of committees. Is that right?
David Lamando: Yes, it was in Northwest Iowa. When our last president said that he could fire a gun on the street in New York City and not lose votes, he said that in Northwest Iowa, in the district where I worked. It was a tough district where the odds were stacked against us, and we did not win in 2018, but we laid to ground work so that he did lose his 2020 primary. So that proves that Democrats need to invest in every district, no matter how tough the odds are at the beginning.
JD Wooten: So what's your big takeaway from working that really difficult, predominantly rural district in Iowa?
David Lamando: I was working for a first time, no name candidate in a rural area. So call time was very important. I was a finance director and my job there was to implement a strenuous call time program. We were running for Congress and at the beginning of the race and early 2018, the Democratic Party in Washington wouldn't even answer our phone calls because we had no money and we had a primary ahead of us. I joined that campaign thankfully early on and was able to implement the call time program. And that was my first real big test in running a call time program. And what an experience that was.
JD Wooten: So let's explain call time to people because that was new to me when I became a candidate and it was my best friend and my favorite hobby as a candidate.
David Lamando: Call time is when a call time manager, or call the time director, creates a list of people that you need to call and ask for money. In your race, we used mainly statewide donors because it was a statewide race. And we didn't only call folks in your district, who we called donors across the entire state of North Carolina. We were calling folks who've given to candidates in the past asking them to invest in our race because your race was important. And that really worked on your campaign because you were seen as the bellwether raised in North Carolina. At the time our district was seen as winnable. And if we had the money, winnable. The amount of legislative seats needed to flip the North Carolina Senate depended on you winning. So we called donors all across the state, asking them to buy into your campaign in order to flip the North Carolina Senate. We had to work quickly to build that support and raise that money because I started in early summer. You really had to get on the phone as soon as possible in order to be on TV in the fall.
JD Wooten: So we'll get to that in a minute, but before turning all the fun and festivities of the fall, one thing I would like to touch on and I've asked others about this as well, Democrats are not great at helping our staff and managers between the cycles. And there are sometimes long periods of unemployment. What's your experience been between the cycles?
David Lamando: For most professional campaigners year long employment is tough to find unless you work for a major campaign consulting firm in a metropolitan area like Washington DC or New York City, where you're constantly interfacing with campaigns nationwide. Otherwise, if you live in most of America, like I do in rural New Jersey, there are not year long campaigns in my community every single year. So I had to move around in order to find work. There were years where I did four campaigns in a year. And there were years where I was lucky to join a campaign in December and January had worked until November.
JD Wooten: So have you seen improvements along the way for the way Democrats treat their staff or has it just been a total mixed bag?
David Lamando: When I got into campaigning in 2013, I made $2,000 a month as a field organizer and now field organizers often make around $4,000 a month, twice that. Pay for campaign staff over the past decade has improved, but the periods of unemployment between cycles paired with low pay, strenuous hours, maybe healthcare leads to high, turnover in the campaign staff world. I stayed in campaigns for about eight years, and that is way longer than most coworkers I had over the years who worked on a campaign or two, went to grad school when they were 24. Unlike me, I stayed on the campaign throughout my entire twenties. And eventually I did move to a different field this past year, but I stuck with campaigns as long as I could in hopes of finding a candidate like you, who, if they one could bring hope to an area that needed it. I lived to find winnable races, a race like yours.
JD Wooten: Well, thank you. Hey, we gave it our all. So as you may remember, and some of this, we only know because of hindsight, the North Carolina Democratic party strategy going into 2020, there's yet another court ordered redraw the maps in 2019. Our district didn't end up changing, but several others did. We picked up six districts in the 2018 midterm, giving us the ability to sustain Governor Cooper's veto because we now had 21 out of the 50 State Senate seats, breaking the super majority. Then the goal became, can we break 25 so that we could actually have the outright majority? And so with that redraw in 2019, there were two districts that were almost definitely going to flip, but that would have only gotten us to 23, assuming we held onto the other districts. That meant we still needed at least two more plus Lieutenant Governor or three plus. We had these five other districts that everyone thought, at least a couple of these, if not several of these could be close. So that's kind of the background. Then we get into the polling season in July. Of course we all know that with hindsight that the 2020 polls were off, but we didn't know that at the time. We also did several tracking polls, too. And I think the trends are likely correct, even if the absolute numbers are wrong. So with that said.
David Lamando: Our polls were encouraging at the beginning of the race we were seen as a district that might win. It would be nice if we won and towards the end of the race, we were told that you had to win in order to flip the Senate.
JD Wooten: Yeah. That's spot on. So let's talk about what the poll results looks like, but then importantly, the tracking too. Our July benchmark poll, the giant bells and whistles poll came back and told us that we were up three points. I was shocked. I had just lost this district that had not changed by almost eight points a year and a half prior. And now the incumbent was retiring. It was suddenly an open seat. The winds seemed to be in our favor. I had better name recognition. And now the poll said I was up three points. I was flabbergasted.
David Lamando: The first poll was, it seemed too good to be true. It was amazing.
JD Wooten: And it turns out in hindsight it was too good to be true, but boy, did we want to believe it at the time! Now what was interesting. Our first tracking poll came out in September. And by that point we had actually increased our lead by three points to being up by six, meaning we were outside the margin of error on our poll, and that was really shocking. And then by October, our last tracking poll, we were down to a four point lead, but that's still basically at the margin of error on that poll. So things were looking pretty good. Another thing that was really interesting is that when you look at favoribility versus unfavorability, my net favor ability was up six in July, meaning 6% more people had a favorable impression of me than had an unfavorable impression. That dipped to negative three by September. Can't imagine how that could have happened. Then by October, it was back up to positive four. I think it's really interesting to see that at the same time, my opponent only started at positive two, despite the fact that she had been a local official for awhile. And by September, she had dropped a negative nine. Then by October, she came up to negative two. So she finished with a net negative favoribility. Again, the trends are the most telling part here. What we saw was that we both took a dip in September, and I think there's a good chance that a lot of people were just tired of politics by September and had a negative impression of everybody. What do you think about that?
David Lamando: I agree. And we kept fighting regardless of what the polls said. I admit I was feeling encouraged. I was feeling as positive as somebody running for an open seat can be. However, we kept fighting where he night and day not taking anything for granted and those polls were great. And I do think that relative to the poll results throughout the other districts across the state, the polls were overall right in their sentiment, but they weren't accurate and they couldn't predict the voter turnout that would happen in November
JD Wooten: Yeah. And we'll talk about some of the attacks that came, but it's interesting too, to see that the attacks really started after our first poll. And once the attacks really kicked in, both me and my opponent lost a lot of ground in terms of our net favor ability. And then we regained a little bit, although I gained some more back by the end. And you know, I think part of that might've just been the way her campaign was running her attacks. Like I said, we'll talk about some of that in a bit, but I just want to plant the seed. People do pay attention at least a little bit. Maybe not to the exact substance of the attacks, but they do certainly kind of notice.
David Lamando: Negative ads work. People dislike them, but they work. However, we were able to quickly adapt to our opponents campaign attacks and craft messaging that combated that. We got you up on TV on the radio. I believe you were the first candidate on TV in the state. We were speaking directly against what our opponent was saying, and it did help win back some of the favorability.
JD Wooten: You know what let's turn to it. There were three primary attacks, and ironically, they somewhat track the poll results. The first attack, it's been covered ad nauseum. I do want to mention it though, because of the lessons learned and how it seemed to impact our polling trends. And so here's the real short background. As a veteran, I used my VA loan qualification to buy my home. As a condition of that loan, I had to live in that house. My opponent claimed I had never lived there or even intended to live there, which if that was true would have been a federal felony, but here's the kicker. I did live there. It was my home. Not only did I have all my utility bills, insurance statements, and so forth to prove it, but just in case I even had my Amazon delivery receipts. I mean, this wasn't even a close call. We were able to come back quickly and disprove this, get a fact check out there, basically just called her a liar. We did a pretty good job of turning the campaign and to pushing back on everything she said and reframing it all as you just can't trust this person. Regardless of what people believe, the tracking numbers seem to suggest that when she was lying so egregiously, it hurt her a lot more than it hurt me. At least that was my takeaway.
David Lamando: And that was in part because you had run two years ago. So the people in District 24 knew about you. They knew your name. Our opponent held local office and part of the district, but that wasn't enough for her to have established herself before she put out those negative attacks. So when our opponents started those negative attacks, we were able to quickly respond. And we did use the word liar in our messaging. People believed us because we were telling the truth.
JD Wooten: Yeah, that helps. And it turns out when you get caught flat footed lying like that, make whatever you want of national politics and the national dialogue, locally, it still matters. People still care. They don't want their local candidates lying to them. When you get caught in that situation, having lied to everybody, it's going to have a negative impact on your overall impression you leave with your voters.
David Lamando: And in a political state like North Carolina, the average citizen follows the news. They know what's what.
JD Wooten: Right. Now at the end of the day, was that enough to get us over the hurdle of gerrymandering? No, of course not, but no one, not even Roy Cooper broke 50% on the Democratic side in this district. So, go figure gerrymandering works. The second line of attack was a little closer to normal politics. I won't spend much time on it. The short version is my firm represented a drug manufacturer that had a valid patent and we believed that another company was infringing that patent. So we brought suit. Based on that, my opponent claim that I was personally responsible for the worldwide price of a life-saving cancer drug and implying that I was killing people with cancer because they couldn't afford the medication. I assure you, I don't have that level of control or power over the drug market. What'd you think of that one, David?
David Lamando: I'm a year out from working on this campaign. I can barely remember the paragraph you just said. The attack was word salad. It didn't work. Our opponent went full throated with this attack for about two weeks until they pulled it and realized that it was not penetrating. They could have attacked you about any type of case that your law firm had been involved in while you were there. It was a confusing attack that was bad and didn't work.
JD Wooten: Honestly, I think that the client in the firm were more upset about it than we were, because it was a dumb attack and didn't land and wasn't working. It's also probably why it didn't last long on the airwaves. Now the third attack, this was red meat for the base. It was racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, war on drugs, right out of the Willie Horton playbook. So yes, in that one short three month period, we got Swift Boated and Willie Horton'd. I don't want to get into somebody else's private life too much because this third attack did involve another person. But basically somebody who rented from me got in trouble out in another part of the state involving some marijuana. It happened after he'd started renting from me. So even when I checked him out before he rented, of course it didn't show up. It hadn't happened yet. I promise you he didn't come home and tell me as his landlord that he had gotten in trouble elsewhere in the state.
David Lamando: Your opponent wondered why the tenant was still renting from you. And I believe your response was something like that you didn't want to kick somebody out during a pandemic.
JD Wooten: I chose not to evict him because that would run a foul of everything I believe in. Plus, you know, we were in the middle of a pandemic. By the time I found out all the details, he was on probation, doing everything he was supposed to be doing as far as I could tell, and trying to get his life back in order. When that ad hit I was livid, and this really threatened his recovery, plus it had nothing to do with me or our race.
David Lamando: Our opponent was desperate. We used the word liar in our advertising, and we also used the word desperate. Our opponent did not have any big talking points in their campaign. And instead decided to make the race all about you, running negative ads against you, which did help raise your name recognition across the district. All of the mail, all the TV advertising from both sides was all about JD Wooten, JD Wooten. The only name people were hearing throughout the districts and throughout the campaign on both sides was JD Wooten.
JD Wooten: Very true. And ultimately I think that actually helped us a lot more than we appreciated at the time. Still we wanted to push back on her nonsense.
David Lamando: At the beginning of the campaign, you were so excited to be talking about the issues in North Carolina. And I'm so sorry that you didn't get to talk about any policy issues in the campaign afterall.
JD Wooten: It was a real shame for the District and for North Carolina. Now with that framework of those attacks, thinking back to that tracking, I think that what ended up happening here was sure people saw mudsling at first, between July and September, both [ ] and I took a big dip unfavorability but my dip was less. And my lead grew in relative terms. I think that's reflective of people seeing through the lies. At the end of the day, I think a lot of people held their nose and voted for Republicans, whatever their reason may be, including [ ]. But I think people saw through it. That is reassuring and gives me hope for the future.
David Lamando: Given the voter makeup of that district, we knew that because a party is scoring that might happen. Our job was to win over those in the middle, but we knew that if everybody voted or voter turn out was high, that that party scoring was gerrymandered to be in favor of our opponent. And turn out last year in North Carolina was very high.
JD Wooten: Yeah, it was over 75% statewide, over 78% in District 24. Based on some post-election analysis, we figured out that we had about a 76% turnout of the Democratic base, but the Republican Party had about an 86% turnout in their base. Between the higher voter turnout and the District just being drawn to their favor to begin with, quite frankly, it's amazing we only lost by five percent. It should have been a lot higher if they had run a stronger candidate with any integrity. I'm still shocked and grateful that we got as close as we did. We outperformed both the Presidential and U.S. Senate candidates in absolute terms and in percentage. We were several percentage points higher than the us Senate Democratic candidate, who some may remember was not viewed favorably at that point. You had to turn the ballot over to get to our race, and we still got 716 more votes than Joe Biden, which is huge when you consider that even a winning down-ballot candidate, almost always sees a significantly lower vote total than the top of the ticket.
David Lamando: That was a nice surprise.
JD Wooten: Definitely. Now let's talk fundraising. Things really took off for us in the third quarter, right around the time you joined. What was your magic there?
David Lamando: Well, you had a compelling story as a veteran and rocket scientist and lawyer. I just had to get you talking to voters as much as possible, and that was all we needed to do.
JD Wooten: And you did it well. You were the first manager to really get me super disciplined about call time. And that's not to say I didn't do call time with other managers, or that they didn't make a valiant effort, but for some reason we clicked. For the benefit of anyone running or thinking about running. Let me just say it now. Sure, we all want money out of politics, but until that happens, you either need to be fully self-funded or you need to do call time. It's just that simple.
David Lamando: On a traditional campaign in a non-pandemic year, a candidate is split between door to door, field, phone calls, and fundraising. But here in 2020, we were only able to do phone calls. So we had no excuses. We had to raise money. When I joined your campaign, we had an email inbox full of questionnaires from nationwide groups who wanted to endorse you, whether as a scientist at the lawyer, as a veteran. I had to get all those questionnaires completed. And get you on the phones to raise money so that nationwide groups would respond to us. In order to get those huge endorsements, statewide and nationwide though, we had to raise money to appear legitimate, so we did.
JD Wooten: Right. Success breeds success in the fundraising world. And especially in the campaign fundraising world. People like to give money to successful candidates, and they measure success in dollars in the bank. It begins to build on itself quickly. I remember thinking in my first campaign, there's always more time. That was a terrible way to think because fundraising really built on itself. And the sooner you can get a solid foundation in your fundraising and your cash on hand, the sooner people will believe you have a viable race, which means more people will support you, which means more people will think it's viable. And it just spirals like that.
David Lamando: Donors want to give to a candidate who's going to win. And thankfully for you, you had an encouraging poll and then a tracking poll that you were able to talk about with potential donors to talk about your favorability. And that poll really helped our fundraising as well.
JD Wooten: For whatever it's worth, that poll really helped us because we were one of those five competitive districts that the state Democratic Party was looking at. And we started off thinking we were number five on that list. We may or may not get any attention. We may or may not get any support. When we actually started polling, suddenly we jumped up to the top of that list. By the time we got to October, national media outlets were calling us the bellwether race.
David Lamando: You're right. We were told towards the end of the campaign and that in order to flip North Carolina Senate, you had to win.
JD Wooten: Yeah, no pressure.
David Lamando: Definitely not.
JD Wooten: Well, we didn't and Phil Berger is still the state Senate Pro Tem, but anyway, we did what we could. That question I asked you on how you got me so disciplined. I think there were two takeaways for me as to why it worked. One was just the circumstances of the pandemic. I wanted to be able to connect with people. That was a huge part of why I was running. To me, that was valuable. It motivated me. If I couldn't be at events or go door to door to really talk about what was on people's minds, where could I get that connection? It ended up being called time. Before I knew it. Those meaningful connections that I saw in running were my call time connections. That really helped. I also think that your approach worked really well for me. You put three ring binders in front of me and each page was a donor. It wasn't some endless spreadsheet of names and phone numbers, but instead I had a single page on each person with a little mini bio. It was a huge three-ring binder and it turns out there were multiple of them that we work through. But all I had to do was look down at the one page that I was on. And I had all kinds of background information about each person. It was just one person at a time.
David Lamando: When I learned how to do fundraising, shout out to Margaret, everybody used binders. Now there are apps for that and now there are websites, but I prefer to do call time with binders.
JD Wooten: I think every candidate has got to find what works for them, but don't think that the newest app or the latest technology is going to save you. It's not going to make up the difference. Just putting three ring binders of call, time sheets in front of the candidate can work, and can work really well if your candidate actually calls to ask for support.
David Lamando: I'm pro binder, it keeps candidates focused and on track. It's all about having the right lists. If you're calling the right lists, it doesn't matter how you're calling them.
JD Wooten: Whatever gets the candidate to make the phone calls.
David Lamando: That's right.
JD Wooten: So post election, well, we lost, it was a major disappointment. Our final vote put us at 47.57% of the votes. So a loss of 4.86%. Given where our polling had been, that was very surprising. However, looking across the state, the next closest person was almost a point and a half behind us. And then the others were at, or around 10% or more. As I said, in District 24, not a single Democrat broke 50%, not even Roy Cooper. Again, gerrymandering works. All that said, I do think we had a good showing and I don't think we left anything on the table.
David Lamando: We did as well as we could have done with what we had in the timeframe that we had.
JD Wooten: Right. I think it's also important to note that we finally had an even playing field on the money side. On the Democratic side, spending in our race was over $4.1 million. On the Republican side, they spent about $4.3 million. So it really was pretty close. And because so much of the Republican money was not through their candidate, but rather through outside groups, we got substantially more bang for the buck because candidates get a much lower rate for television. We were finally able to take money off the table as a major differentiator between the races. I think that's just another data point to confirm that gerrymandering works.
David Lamando: The kind of money that we brought to the district was unheard of for Democratic candidate and Alamance County and Guilford County.
JD Wooten: Yeah, we raised and spent $2.3 million from our campaign. It was wild. So what were your biggest takeaways from 2020?
David Lamando: My biggest takeaway was that running as a Democrat in a year without door to door canvassing is really rough. We need that door to door contact, we as Democrats. And losing canvassing on foot really hurts the Democratic Party. We are really good at making our case to voters, if we're able to reach them and using the phone is not the same. We as Democrats need to knock on doors.
JD Wooten: With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently, if anything?
David Lamando: I do believe that our campaign did the most of what we had. We got the endorsements we needed to get, you raised some money we needed to raise. We ran on TV, radio, we got in mailboxes. And the reason that we lost was really gerrymandering.
JD Wooten: I think the reason we lost is two-fold: gerrymandering and turnout. They did a better job of turning their people out and the maps were drawn in their favor to start with.
David Lamando: Usually I love seeing high voter turnout, but not in this case.
JD Wooten: Yeah. I mean the 2020 election had everything they needed to turn their base out, including a candidate at the top of the ticket who their base loved and who visited the state nearly a dozen times in the final two months of the race. I also think it was just impossible to get out from under the national dialogue. It was what it was.
David Lamando: Yes. President 45 was loved by Republican voters. And you ran against his race on the ballot.
JD Wooten: Yeah, we got close, but not quite. So anything else you want to add, David?
David Lamando: No, that really covered it.
JD Wooten: Well, thanks so much for joining me. It's been a pleasure.
JD Wooten: Thanks again to David for joining me today. As always, if you or someone you know should be on the show, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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