Carolina Democracy

Where It All Began

January 17, 2022 JD Wooten Episode 1
Carolina Democracy
Where It All Began
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to our very first episode of Carolina Democracy. In this episode, I share my vision for this podcast, we briefly cover the recent gerrymandering case making its way through the North Carolina courts, then I’m joined by Kyle Newman and Kelvin Stallings who ran my 2018 race for the State Senate.


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Where It All Began

JD Wooten: Hey everyone, JD Wooten here. Welcome to our very first episode of Carolina Democracy. Today, in addition to sharing my vision for this podcast, we’ll briefly cover the recent gerrymandering case making its way through the North Carolina courts, then I’m joined by Kyle Newman and Kelvin Stallings who ran my 2018 race for the State Senate.

As you may remember, I ran for the North Carolina Senate in 2018 and 2020. We had a great run, but unfortunately, even the best of races couldn’t overcome gerrymandering. That said my fight for democracy is long from over. After the 2020 race, the real question for me was never if I would stay engaged in this fight, but rather how I would stay engaged in this fight.

As I reflected on my experiences campaigning, one of the many things I learned is how difficult it can be for down-ballot candidates, local officials, and organizers to get their message out. Campaigning also helped me appreciate just how much I really love talking to people who are passionate about democracy in North Carolina.

So, I’ve decided to bring those things together with Carolina Democracy, a podcast dedicated to promoting democracy right here in North Carolina. We’ll release new episodes weekly with a quick rundown of political updates from around North Carolina and featuring interviews with candidates, community organizers, campaign staffers, and anyone else dedicated to fighting for democracy. If you or someone else you know should be on the show, send me an email at I’ll drop that email in the show notes, too. 

So, what does it mean to be fighting for democracy? To me that means "classic liberal democracy," a democratic government that supports individual rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms for all people while supporting a free market economy.

At least until the last few years, I genuinely thought this was a given for most all Americans. Lately, I’m not so sure. Anti-democratic trends are on the rise across the U.S. Some people seem hell bent on making it harder to vote, and making it harder for your vote to count. Here in North Carolina, the most obvious attacks on democracy seem to have taken the form of extreme partisan gerrymandering and voter restrictions.

Democracy advocates have been mostly successful in fighting unreasonable voting restrictions, like racist voter ID laws in court, but gerrymandering hasn’t fared as well. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme court threw up its hands and basically said, it’s not our problem and we can’t fix it. They essentially said the remedy for gerrymandering, at least under the U.S. Constitution is for Americans to elect people opposed to gerrymandering. While I certainly agree that’s a great answer for the long run, it does nothing to remedy the immediate threat to democracy. 

Later in 2019, a trial court here in North Carolina actually took up the issue of gerrymandering, and found that gerrymandering violates the North Carolina Constitution. As a result, at least for the 2020 cycle, the state ended up with somewhat better maps.

However, in 2021, the North Carolina General Assembly passed new legislative maps following the census. Once again, the GOP controlled General Assembly managed to create some brazenly gerrymandered maps. They even claimed at the time that it was all done in public, that they didn’t rely on partisan or racial data, and then it was the most transparent process ever followed. Well, as it turns out that was a lie. During sworn testimony earlier this month, they admitted they created what they called "concept maps" in private using any and all data available to them. They then went out into the public computer terminal at the General Assembly and pretended to draw maps from scratch, just copying what they had done in private. And lest they get it wrong, they regularly went back to the concept maps in private to double-check their work. Aides even brought copies of the concept maps back into the public drawing rooms on phones for reference. Not only did they have the answer key to the final exam hidden in the bathroom, and not only did they take a lot of bathroom breaks, a friend even brought the answer key out to them during the exam. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am disappointed. 

Several lawsuits claiming the new maps are unconstitutional were filed almost immediately, and thankfully the North Carolina Supreme Court got involved. The Supreme Court delayed the 2022 primary elections and ordered the trial court to deliver a ruling no later than January 11, 2020.

The trial court held what seemed to be a fairly thorough trial with damning and explosive testimony from experts and the GOP legislators who came up with and use the concept map ploy. One of the experts even testified, and the court agreed with him, that the maps were more partisan than 99.9999% of hypothetical possible maps that could have been drawn.

Unfortunately, the trial court then found that partisan gerrymandering did not violate the state constitution and upheld the maps. While they did give a cursory acknowledgement to the 2019 court ruling which had found exactly the opposite, they dismissed that opinion as having no binding effect on them and didn’t discuss it again.

Even the two Republican judges on the panel acknowledged that gerrymandering is incompatible with democratic principles, and they lamented the ridicule that partisan gerrymandering has brought to North Carolina for decades. Regardless, that court, like so many others before it, threw up its hands and said, we are powerless to do anything. The first of the appeals to that ruling was filed later the very same day, so no need to dive too far into the details of that 260-page order as the Supreme court will almost certainly render its own opinion within a few months. 

I personally think that if lawyers and judges could get over their basic fear of math, it would actually be quite simple to enact guardrails on the process of mapping drawing by limiting the outer bounds of gerrymandering based on statistical deviation from the average. As gerrymandering experts regularly do in these proceedings already, a computer could generate billions of hypothetical maps and determine the average partisan leaning of those billions of maps. Then we could say that maps that were more than 20% away from the average or more than a standard deviation away from the average are too extreme. It wouldn’t be perfect, sure, but sticking to something like this would be a vast improvement over the current process, and it would be consistent with longstanding judicial precedent of setting the outer limits of acceptable conduct, rather than trying to define the correct conduct. This kind of guardrail is also non-partisan because it applies in both directions. If power changes hands tomorrow, the guardrails still apply and prevent the other side from gerrymandering, finally putting an end to a centuries old tug of war that hurts democracy. Alas, for now, we must wait for the North Carolina Supreme Court to weigh-in to know more. We’ll be following closely and you can count on me mentioning anything noteworthy.

Now, let’s turn to my first interview. In 2010, Republicans took the majorities in both the North Carolina Senate and House. They drew one of the most extremely gerrymandered maps the country has ever seen in 2011, and in 2012, they gained enough seats in the House and Senate to hold supermajorities, meaning they could override the governor’s veto. Basically, they won a wave election in 2010 and drew themselves into almost permanent and total power in the state.

In 2017, a federal court finally struck down those legislative maps as being racially gerrymandered, something that is unambiguously unconstitutional. The court ordered new maps to be drawn. The North Carolina Democratic Party rallied to recruit candidates to run an all 170 legislative districts, 50 in the State Senate and 120 in the House. On the Friday evening before the filing period opened in February 2018, I got a call asking me if I would consider running in the newly drawn State Senate District 24. This new district comprised Alamance County and the eastern third or so of Guilford County. I took the weekend to think about it, and ultimately, the cause of having a candidate in every district seemed a worthy enough reason to fight for my county and my state, even if it meant running in a district that strongly favored the Republican incumbent.

Filing to run for office was the easy part. Then the hard work of actually kicking off a campaign from scratch began. I started by hiring Kyle Newman as my Campaign Manager. He had previously worked on Senator Kay Hagen’s 2014 campaign, and then Roy Cooper’s 2016 campaign for governor. After a few months, Kyle brought on a longtime friend, Kelvin Stallings, to help run the race and really focus on our ground game and field organizing. Kelvin came to us after he led field efforts and a 2018 upset victory in the Democratic Primary Montana.

So, for this first episode, I thought what better place to start than interviewing the two gentlemen who made my 2018 campaign for the State Senate possible.

[music transition]

JD Wooten: With me today are Kyle Newman and Kelvin Stallings. They both came across my path in 2018 as I was running for State Senate. Guys, welcome, thanks for being with me. 

Kyle Newman: Happy to be here. 

Kelvin Stallings: Most definitely. Thank you for having me. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, absolutely. All right, let’s start with Kyle, 2018 campaign manager, political consultant between my two races, helped me kick off the 2020 race. Kyle, why don’t you give us just a quick rundown. 

Kyle Newman: Hello everybody. JD alluded to, I worked as JD’s Campaign Manager in 2018. I’m a native North Carolinian. I’m from Pinehurst, North Carolina originally. Fell in love with democratic politics in college. My first campaign job was working for then Senator Kay Hagan with her reelection campaign in 2014, and I went to NC State University, got my bachelor’s in political science. Met JD and in 2018. We were put in touch through the North Carolina Democratic Party, and the rest is history. But now I actually have moved down, about a year ago, I live in Atlanta, Georgia now. I have hung up my political hat. I have retired from politics, at least for the time being. And while I still do some consulting on the side, I actually am very, very pleased to be working with a wonderful nonprofit down here in Atlanta, Georgia. 

JD Wooten: And Kyle, I bet when you were heading down to Georgia, you didn’t think that you were about to be going to a blue state? 

Kyle Newman: Not at all. When I first got down here, actually, I was still working the political stuff and immediately two weeks after I got into the state of Georgia, I was working on the runoff to elect Senator Ossoff and Warnock. It was nice to have a victory. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, yeah. Well, feel free to bring some of that magic back our way, anytime you want. Next up we’ve got Kelvin. Kelvin, you were my 2018 Deputy Campaign Manager and came by way of recommendation from, from Kyle because of work y’all had done before, and I always thought of you as chief of all things field and organizing. Tell us a little about yourself and what you’re up to these days.

Kelvin Stallings: Yeah, Kelvin Stallings, native of Goldsboro, North Carolina. Started my political career, basically in 2012 with the campaign the Montravias King. After that, I went and worked for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Came across Kyle after that work. We’ve been rocking and rolling ever since. Currently I work as an aide in the North Carolina House of Representatives. 

JD Wooten: So before we kick into the whole 2018 cycle, I do want to touch real quick on the fact that as two longtime democratic political operatives, y’all seen the "between the cycles" too, and Democrats don’t always do a great job of keeping our talent around. Have y’all seen any improvement over the years that you’ve been working in the field? 

Kyle Newman: So, I mean, at least for me, I just have to say as somebody that tried, tried, tried again in North Carolina politics, it was an incredible source of frustration, and you can’t sit back and just sit on your laurels for two years and expect things to just magically change for you through media buys in the next cycle. The frustrating thing that we’ve observed in democratic politics in North Carolina for a long time is they let their foot off the gas pedal. They don’t do the hard work and I’m, the reason I jumped on this one really quickly, is because I moved down to Georgia, and I got to see firsthand the impact that that long-term, actual community organizing makes. Call it the Stacey Abrams approach. She lost her election, but what did she do? She didn’t sit back and say, well, I’m going to have some ritzy fundraisers, put it all into television campaigns. She did the work. She started Fair Fight, and she said, what we’re going to do is we’re going to register every single solitary soul in the state of Georgia to vote, and we’re going to make it a part of the culture. And so here we are the state of Georgia has the highest voter registration rate in the county, and that is one of the hardest things to do because we are also the second, only to Texas, we’re the second hardest state to vote in. So, I think that that really speaks to the power of that organizing. And unfortunately, that’s what’s going to have to happen in North Carolina, if you want it to get back to being that blue state from 2008. 

JD Wooten: How about you Kelvin? 

Kelvin Stallings: So I think if you talk to any organizer, any field campaign staffer, that has come in in the last 10 years, they will tell you on average after election day, that you’re probably looking at four to six months of unemployment. Now I will give the party and our affiliate organizations credit on the amount of training and resources that they have been pouring in in the last years. I do think that’s getting better. A lot of people will go that four or six months and will transition out and will lose the skills that they had because of the gaps that they will see during election cycles. So I do think the pipeline definitely needs to improve. I think the party is working towards improving that with some of the programs that they have launched, but I do think that in the past five to ten years has been a huge problem in terms of retaining talent. 

JD Wooten: I know we’ve got some pretty talented former candidates coming together. I think the New North Carolina Project, the New Rural Project, a couple of those kind of organizations looking to mirror what was done down in Georgia. We’ll see what happens as they kick off. All right, 2018. Honest impressions, when you first joined our State Senate race, you know, be honest, did you think we had any chance in hell of winning?

Kyle Newman: So for me, I absolutely did think that we had a chance of winning, otherwise I would not have joined the race. So set the stage again, because it’s important to do that because politics moves so quickly that often you forget exactly what the political landscape looked like. And I looked at at Senate District 24 in North Carolina, and I said, you know, these are exactly the type of people that are going to be key to swinging this. These are the mythical white moderates that everybody says that you have a chance of winning over by meeting them where they are, by speaking to them on issues that you know are pocketbook issues. And I looked at it and said, this guy here, he’s a patent attorney, he’s got a background of military service from the Air Force Academy, no less, you know, this guy’s a rock star. Of course, we’re going to get him to the North Carolina General Assembly. So yes, I mean, I absolutely did think that it was possible to win. JD and I meshed really well right away. We came up with a plan of action. You know, of all of that being said, you could have this conversation a million different times of everybody saying, I felt really confident going into the 2018 midterms, that there was going to be the blue wave as they called it, that there was going to be this massive democratic uproar and uprising, and it was going to be a referendum on the presidency. And we got hit with that curve ball. We got hit with the Kavanaugh confirmation.

JD Wooten: Well, yeah, the Kavanaugh confirmation really disrupted things there at the end, as you may remember, the caravans were beating down the door and were going kill us all, so that was a little tough.

Kyle Newman: Those caravans only come every two or four years, right? 

JD Wooten: Exactly, it’s amazing how they disappear right after election day. I think you’re right. I love that, the point you made, you know, District 24 in 2018 was Alamance County and the eastern third, maybe 40%, of Guilford County, and that was, you know, it reflected the state as a whole, it was a purple district, and it was right on the 40 corridor with a lot of rural areas further out from 40, and a lot of urban areas along 40, so it was, it was a good mix. How about you Kelvin, what’d you think when you joined us?

Kelvin Stallings: I mean, we were just coming off of, I mean me personally, I was just coming off of a upset primary victory in Montana, which is a solidly red state haha, outspent six to one. So, you know, I was feeling very, very confident in what my strategy capabilities were coming into this race and helping you out. Like Kyle said, I wouldn’t have took on the race if I thought it was like an unwinnable battle that we could never, but I mean, looking at the district, like Kyle said it was set. I mean, it’s something that was completely in our grasp. And as we talked privately, yes, we, we thought that, I mean, we did, actually, we did take back the House of Representatives in 2018. A lot of those things that we thought privately actually did come to fruition, they...

JD Wooten: Oh yeah.

Kelvin Stallings: ...actually happened, but there’s certain things in various districts that you really can’t account for. I think it’s kind of similar to what we’re seeing now in terms of the beating on these social issues to drive up the Republican base and which I think Kyle was alluding to, and you were alluding to it, in reference to the caravans. And that’s kind of what we just seen in the Virginia elections as well in places like Loudon County and Virginia Beach. It’s a lot that we can talk about, but I guess that’s more in the where it went wrong category.

JD Wooten: Well, and I think that’s a great point and a great reminder that, you know, Democrats often try and run on issues and Republicans often try and run on-- if we’re being generous-- we’ll say social causes. If we’re being a little more candid, it’s fear-mongering and lies, you know, it’s just, try and get to people’s fears and tell them that all their fears are going come true if they don’t vote for Republicans. That’s, that’s powerful, man. That’s powerful. Trump carried this district by 12 points in 2016, but I saw all the points that y’all were talking about. I knew the external factors were in our favor, at least going into the cycle, but I also had this belief that District 24 was again, that, that kind of mythical moderate that held their nose and voted for Trump, but if offered something other than crazy right-winger, you know, something a little bit more in the middle that they’d take that. We did way out-perform, we closed the gap by over four points, in just that two years. We ended up being less than eight points, so that’s not for nothing. Now also we’ve got to think about the whole map, too, the State Senate map in 2018 and how the State Senate Caucus wanted to play this game. It turns out the game plan was, hey, we hold 15 seats out of 50, we need six more in order to sustain the governor’s veto, so we are going to pick the six districts that are polling the best as of about August, and that’s where we’re putting our efforts. We’re not digging down to the seventh in the list, the eighth on the list. And I’m not sure where we were in August. I know where we ended up. I don’t know where we were in the rankings in August, but we were probably somewhere 7, 8, 9, something like that, so we didn’t make the cut. And, you know, it was a tremendous difference because us versus right next door, Michael Garrett in 27, it was tremendous difference. His race had about four times as many resources as we did. And so you saw that, that change. What do you y’all remember of kind of trying to discern what the statewide strategy was? 

Kyle Newman: It was a constant source of frustration for me, you know, here you are the young idealistic campaign manager who’s saying I’ve been laying you my strategy. I’m letting you know the numbers. This is how we reach our win number, we just, we’re going to need your help. You know, this is an expensive media market. It straddles between the Raleigh Durham Metro area and Greensboro -Winston-Salem and the Triad, so it was a little bit tough. We didn’t have an established donor base. You know, we had a little bit to work with, but, but it’s not the same as, you know, incumbency advantages and that sort of thing. And so, you know, it was, it was a lot of me like, you know, we were going to need this help at, at the end of the day, we’re not going to be able to do this alone. We can go fight tooth and nail fighting this persuasion battle, but if we’re not able to do it through the airwaves, who’s going to hear us? You know, really, as a result of that, I, I think that it really forced us, for lack of a better term, but we, we had to focus largely on an on-the-ground campaign first and foremost, but, but also we had to have an incredible digital presence and we really, really built that up and had a really robust digital campaign. When you say that you’re going to be creating a blue wave, you don’t just focus on the crest of the wave. You have to build it up from the bottom up.

JD Wooten: Yeah, how’d you feel about it Kelvin?

Kelvin Stallings: I think JD said something that was very interesting about resources...

JD Wooten: Well thank you.

Kelvin Stallings: ...being placed, where, haha, resources being placed in districts that candidates were polling the best. If we look at it from that perspective, then we can kind of understand what the strategy was. Over the course of the past couple of cycles, we can see that our polling has been more off than normal. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if people are talking to these individuals that are polling and saying that, yes, I’m not in support of the current president, when he was the current president, but going in the ballot box and voting for the current president and people did support the current president’s agenda for various different reasons that we could name. But I know we have had a couple of shortcomings when it has come to polling in the past couple of years. But we’ve got to realize that across the state, they’re looking at it in a holistic aspect of maybe these, these resources going to this Greensboro market over here will produce more voters in which that will produce more votes for X amount of senate candidate, congressional candidate, so that could be contributing to a lot of where the decision-making is being done in some of these operational positions, such as the caucus director. 

JD Wooten: Yeah. And I, you know, I’ll share that, you know, the Caucus Executive Director and I had several conversations after the fact and you know he was pretty candid with me about the fact that they decided to, to take that gamble. They knew they needed six seats, and so they just put them in a rack and stack order and said, who’s got the highest polling numbers, who’s got the lowest, and where are we going to draw the cut line? We’re going to draw it between six and seven. You can question the wisdom of that strategy all day long, but it worked. You know, it was a gamble and it paid off and we were able to sustain the governor’s veto in the State Senate ever since then, and that’s been huge. We’re not seeing the same kind of legislation come out of the General Assembly that we’ve seen come out of some of the other states like Texas.

Kyle, you hit on something interesting. I’m a big fan of the digital. I hate the TV and I hate the mailers even more. What are y’all’s take on mail and digital? Kelvin, why don’t you hit that one first?

Kelvin Stallings: So I think they both play extremely important parts in reaching your voters. I’m still a boots-on-the-ground, I always will be a boots-on-the-ground, door-knocking, face-to-face, engagement-type of person. But when it comes to digital, especially digital now in the social media age, we’re kind of turning the corner and we’re getting to a place where everybody is engaging on social media, whether it’s for work, whether it’s for play, whether it’s for family, etc. When it comes to political campaigns, we’re seeing people, especially with advertisements, people are becoming very, very creative. And I think Facebook in terms of Facebook ads you can really target now, like people specifically, you can target whatever type of person specifically that you want to based off of a Facebook ad algorithm. So I think it does play an important part in terms of outreach strategy. In terms of mail, yes, mail still plays an important part. I think everybody receives mail, so I think placing these flyers, even if they see them one time, it’s still an extremely important part and people and outreach to our voters. So I do think both of them play a huge part in terms of field strategy as a whole.

Kyle Newman: Yeah, definitely. And I think that the key too is a blend of both of them, right? Like you want to make sure that you’re hitting the traditional avenues while also breaking into the cutting-edge stuff of the digital world. And I have to take a step back and say that I completely agree, and honestly, I was kind of creeped out with how well we could target things based off of Facebook’s analytics.

JD Wooten: We laid the groundwork in 2018, it gave us something to do in 2020, and I know that, you know we’re focusing on 2018, but that, I think that it’s important to know that we were playing a long game here, even if we didn’t win an 18, there was always the hope that whoever ran next in 2020 in this district would be able to build on it, whether it was me or was it someone else. I’m sure you remember, I didn’t intend to run a second time initially, and then once I did change her mind and got in the race again, we had that to build on by the time 2020 came around. 

A lot of it comes down to, what do you need to break through the noise? What were we looking at in 2018? It was a blue moon election. There was literally a U.S. Congressional Representative above us on the ballot. We were number two down. In 2020, you had to turn the ballot over to find the State Senate race. You know, we did a pretty darn good job in 2018, I thought. We ended up raising about $200,000, all told. And I don’t remember the exact numbers, I didn’t go back and look at them, but I think we put a pretty sizable portion of that into our digital buys and our mail buy. And we weren’t on TV obviously. 

Kyle Newman: For the record, that is correct. Most of it went to digital and then the Mad Dog Mailers. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Got those mailers. 

For the benefit of anybody that’s listening, whether they’re a candidate, thinking about being a candidate, interested in running, interested in running a race, I’m interested to hear your perspectives. What were some of the challenges that you saw from a first-time candidate standpoint? This district didn’t even exist before we ran in 2018, so we had a lot of standup, first-time challenges. What were some of the things that we had to hit hard and hit fast to try and be as successful as we could be in that area? 

Kelvin Stallings: In general, just learning the lay of the land. I know, like I said, I’ve always been a pound the pavement type of individual, so when you brought me on, I know that a lot of our outreach was going to be focused on knocking the doors, and that’s where we spent a lot of our time knocking the doors throughout the campaign. And making phone calls, phone calls are very important as well too. But I think the huge challenge, like you said, it wasn’t a district before, so making sure that we were covering the district and making sure that we were letting people know that you were here, what your intentions were, what your issues were, what your priorities were, and making sure that we had a visible presence in the district.

JD Wooten: Yeah. And I think that’s important too, across constituencies, across the district, talking to everybody, meeting people where they are. You know, Kelvin, you making sure that I was, I was out there every Sunday where I needed to be. That was some of the most fun I had in the whole campaign. You know, and then door knocking. I actually came across something recently reminded me, I can’t remember which one of you was out there with me that day, or maybe both of you were, and we were knocking doors and literally the sole of one of my shoes fell off. 

Kyle Newman: Yup, I was there for that. I remember. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, you gotta pound the pavement. You gotta knock every door. You gotta go to everybody where they are. So I’m going to jump to our October surprise, which is always the fun part. Yeah, I’ll just play it and then we’ll talk about it afterwards.

Ominous Narrator: Everyday Americans fight to protect our border. And JD Wooten fights to let deported aliens come right back again. JD Wooten, a liberal lawyer for illegal immigrants. Wooten opposes voter ID, even though he knows illegal immigrants voted in our elections. So who do you trust to be your Senator? A small businessman and job creator like Rick Gunn, or a liberal lawyer for legal immigrants like JD Wooten?

Kyle Newman: Yeah. 

JD Wooten: Pretty great, right? 

Kyle Newman: That ad really frustrated me, haha.

JD Wooten: So where were you when we first saw that, because my memory is that Kyle, you and I were actually at my house, maybe getting ready for call time or something like that when the ad first ran in the background, and we were like, what the?!?

Kyle Newman: Mmm. Yeah, it was something like that cause I remember looping in Kelvin onto the group chat and saying like, it’s finally happened. We knew that this was going to come at a certain point, right? But I think that what none of us really anticipated how these national issues permeate into these local races. So here I am trying to manage a campaign, I’ve got a rockstar candidate in District 24 that’s speaking about the issues affecting District 24, and I’m getting flooded in the airwaves with talk about the Southern border? I mean, what is that? This guy’s an intellectual property attorney. What does he have to do with immigration? All of these straw men, the national political dialogue that is so far out of our control. You know, we wanted to run a clean campaign. What was it John McCain said, you want your grandkids to be proud of it? And it perfectly coincided with that mailer, JD, I’m sure you remember where they literally colored your face and try to darken your complexion, it was just...

JD Wooten: Somebody’s going to find that mailer in 10 or 20 years and then accused me of having, you know, dressed up in brown face or something. Like I didn’t do that guys, that wasn’t me, that wasn’t the GOP, they did that. What I remember was that we were at my house maybe going into call time or doing some other strategy and that started playing. I remember, the way I describe it, your head almost exploded, and I about rolled out of my chair laughing. And the reason was because, you were right. This was it. This was the October surprise. Like this is what was coming. This is what we’d been bracing for for weeks or months. And I was dying laughing because you know, something that we have come to see even more after the 2020 race, right now, it’s not the things from your past that you might worry that get twisted or taken out of context. Now it’s just, okay, what’s the national dialogue. Okay, how can we plug and play the democratic opponent’s name and face into this ad? And I found out later that ad, that we just played, that was almost a cookie cutter ad run in five different state senate districts. Like you said, had nothing to do with our district, had nothing to do with issues that we were facing, it was just that social attack. So, you know, what were your thoughts on it Kelvin? 

Kelvin Stallings: I think it kind of goes back to what I had mentioned before about them drumming up the base. They have doubled down on that in 2020 and beyond of what that’s going to look like, and where they can win, and how they can reinfluence suburban voters to vote their way.

JD Wooten: Definitely. It’s been three years. I’m curious how you feel about what we did in 2018 three years on?

Kyle Newman: I wouldn’t change anything. I mean, honestly, about the way that the campaign was run, about the way that we marketed ourselves to voters. And I said that from the very beginning to you, JD, I said if we’ve run the type of campaign that focuses on the issues, that doesn’t get into the mud, that actually is for the benefit of the state of North Carolina, the state that we all love, that’s something that I’m going to be proud of, regardless of the outcome. You know, asymmetric strategies can work, and going about the political process with the idea of actually meeting people where they are and engaging on issues that matter to them, it can work, but you have to rise above that national political noise.

JD Wooten: How about you Kelvin?

Kelvin Stallings: I think as soon as I looked at my computer and I took that sip of beer and looked at the election results that night, I, I mean, I couldn’t be upset with how the results were, because I knew the energy, the time, and everything that we had put in to trying to be successful in that race in Senate District 24. But I do think that we left it all on the field. I do think we went out there, and we made the effort that we should have made in terms of trying to get you elected. 

JD Wooten: Yeah, and I think for me in hindsight, you know, I don’t feel like there’s anything that we could have done differently that would have changed the outcome of the race. You know, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on it and especially having gone through the 2020 cycle now too, you know, I don’t think half a million dollars would have closed that eight-point gap, so, I can’t even be upset that we didn’t have more resources because I think we did everything we could, and sure more resources might have closed the gap, but it probably wouldn’t have closed it enough to flip it in 2018, given everything else that was going on. And I also think that we made a couple of decisions during the race that we never talked about publicly. You know, you remember the movie Primary Colors, and he gets the little envelope with the dirty personal secrets of his opponent and he’s got to decide what to do with it. Well, we got one of those envelopes and the dirty little personal secrets on Rick Gunn, it’s in the statewide media now., you know, it wasn’t widely known at the time and it wasn’t publicly known, and we had to make a decision on what to do. I just remember thinking, okay, even if I lose, that’s not the kind of race I want to run, so that’s not what we’re going to do. We ran the race that we wanted to run, and I’m damn proud of it. To this day, three years later, I’m just still so grateful for you two guys and what you did to make that successful, and guys, I appreciate it so much, thanks for all you do, and keep up the great work. 

Kyle Newman: Absolutely. Thanks, thanks JD. 

Kelvin Stallings: Most definitely, thank you for having us.

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JD Wooten: Thanks again to Kyle Newman and Kelvin Stallings for joining me today.  I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as we enjoyed catching up with each other again.  A few notes as well – since we recorded, the New North Carolina Project and the New Rural Project have fully kicked off and are doing great things.  I’ve had the chance to attend some of the virtual events for the New North Carolina Project and I’m very excited for the work they are doing.  Hopefully we’ll have folks from those organizations on soon to share more about their work.  In the meantime, check them out at and  I’ll leave links in the show notes.  Sign up to volunteer or donate if you can.

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