Welcome to Carolina Democracy. Today we talk about the latest updates for gerrymandering and elections in North Carolina and briefly discuss why the war in Ukraine matters so much for democracy, then I’m joined for another fun walk down memory lane with Virginia Reed who served as my campaign manager for the first half of 2020.
JD Wooten: Welcome to Carolina Democracy. I’m JD Wooten, and today I’m joined for another fun walk down memory lane with Virginia Reed who served as my campaign manager for the first half of 2020. But before we get to that interview, let’s talk about the latest updates for gerrymandering and elections in North Carolina and why the war in Ukraine matters so much for democracy.
Let’s start with gerrymandering and elections here at home. North Carolina has new state legislative and congressional maps, and filing has begun for the 2022 elections. That also means the primary election should stay on schedule for May 17th. As I mentioned last week, the General Assembly drew new maps in response to the state Supreme Court’s order and submitted those maps in mid-February. As Carolina Forward noted, those maps were an improvement, but still not great. The proposed maps would have likely resulted in a roughly 63 / 57 Republican / Democratic split in the state house, a 28 / 22 Republican / Democratic split in the state senate, and the congressional delegation would have been 8 Republicans, 4 Democrats, and 2 toss ups. Last week I also told you that at least based on a quick review, it appeared that despite the maps not being great, they likely stayed just inside the limits that the Supreme Court had set.
Well, I was right about the maps for the state house and senate but it turns out I was wrong about the congressional maps. As best I can tell, it looks like the trial court relied on a broader set of historic election data than the initial analysis I saw, giving them a fuller picture of whether these maps truly followed the guidelines the Supreme Court laid out. As it turns out, the congressional map did not. So, in giving the maps a more fulsome review and with the aid of experts, the trial court was able to determine that the General Assembly’s state house and senate maps were constitutional and adopted those, but rejected the General Assembly’s unconstitutional congressional map.
And despite the GOP’s complaining about unelected partisan hacks subverting the will of the General Assembly, I think it’s worth noting that the special masters appointed to do the analysis include two former Republican supreme court justices and a former Democratic trial court judge. Let that sink in about who was reviewing these maps and just how extreme the current Republicans in the General Assembly must be to say that of former supreme court justices of their own party.
Anyways, those three well-respect former members of the judiciary, with the assistance of the General Assembly’s own expert, gave deference to the General Assembly and modified the General Assembly’s own map to bring it into compliance. The trial court very well could have tossed aside the General Assembly’s unconstitutional map altogether and started from scratch or adopted one of the many maps proposed by the plaintiffs. But they didn’t. They gave deference to the General Assembly and modified an otherwise unconstitutional map to make it constitutional.
Interestingly enough, that means we now have a pretty darn even split in the projected seats between Democrats and Republicans. It looks like this new map could potentially result in an 8 / 6 split for either party, or anything in between, depending on the election. That’s certainly a world of difference from 10-4 Republican majority the prior map was projected to have. It’s worth noting that the Supreme Court and the trial court rejected a proportionality requirement, which would require that the number of representatives elected from each party under a given map be proportional to the number of voters from that party. However, it seems to have more or less worked out that way when drawing a constitutional map…go figure.
To be clear, the state legislative maps still aren’t great. They’re still gerrymandered, the statistical analysis confirms it. But these maps stay within the guardrails the Supreme Court has set for partisan gerrymandering, so this is still a win for democracy. Our work towards ending gerrymandering altogether is not over, but this chapter seems to be resolved at least for today. We’ll talk more about what comes next in the fight against gerrymandering another time, but now we need to focus on supporting as many pro-democracy candidates running for office as we can. Candidate filing opened on Thursday and continues through March 4th. The primaries will be on May 17th, and of course the general election will be in November. Let’s get out there and do the hard work of fighting for democracy!
Now on a much more somber note—Ukraine. Things are changing so quickly that it would be a disservice to record something that may be inaccurate by the time you’re listening, plus there’s already an ocean of analysis and punditry out there. That said, I do want to briefly highlight why the Russia-Ukraine war matters to all of us.
If you support democracy, Russia’s unprovoked war with a neighboring democracy is alarming. Since the end of World War II, the world has largely been divided into those nations pushing for democracy and those nations ruled by authoritarian regimes. When the Soviet Union collapsed decades ago, it looked like democracy might take hold, but alas it floundered. Vladimir Putin came to power, and today Russia is clearly run by an authoritarian dictator. And last week, Putin ordered his army into a peaceful sovereign state to wage an unprovoked war against a democratic nation. As I said last week, an attack on democracy anywhere is an attack on democracy everywhere.
The devastation in Ukraine is tremendous and growing by the day. Unfortunately, this is also much bigger than just what we’re witnessing in Ukraine itself. It has enormous long-term ramifications. It touches all of us. We cannot, must not let this go unanswered. And we’re not. Democratic nations around the world are rallying to hold Russia accountable. We will feel the effects too, but if we do nothing while a sovereign democracy is overrun by an autocrat, we are telling dictators and would-be dictators around the globe that they have free reign to do whatever they like. Putin’s actions threaten the stability that western democracies have enjoyed since the end of World War II, and we simply cannot allow that.
Ok, enough from me on gerrymandering and on Ukraine. Let’s turn to my interview with Virginia Reed. But first, a little background to set the stage. When Virginia joined my race in January 2020, she was actually pulling double duty working as the campaign manager for fellow state senate candidate Donna Lake as well. As you may remember, Kyle Newman and Kelvin Stallings ran my 2018 race. If you haven’t already, check out our very first episode featuring both of them as we talk about the 2018 election cycle. After 2018, I really didn’t think I would run for the state senate again, although I was exploring other possibilities. However, when Joe Biden got in the race with his announcement framing his campaign as a battle for the soul of the nation, I was inspired.
I spent a few weeks reflecting on it and speaking with family, friends, and supporters, and eventually decided by May 2019 to try again for the state senate in District 24. After 2018, Democrats held 21 of 50 seats in the senate, so we needed at least 5 more seats in the state senate for a majority. Based on 2018 results, there was no realistic way to count to 26 with including District 24, and a 2nd time candidate would have the best shot at winning in 2020. So in late May 2019, I launched my 2020 campaign.
Kyle helped me kick off that campaign and stayed on until the fall, but by then he was ready to pursue some other exciting opportunities. I started interviewing possible managers, but it was a tough time to find someone with the experience necessary to run our race with so many Democrats running for office at that point. As you may recall, we had something like a bajillion presidential candidates vying for the Democratic nomination by then.
Around that time, the Senate Democratic Caucus kicked off a new program to hire campaign managers directly and assign them to the targeted races. This allowed for a more efficient use of resources, plus it allowed us to offer important benefits like healthcare insurance. Given our focus primarily on fundraising in early 2020, it also made sense to conserve resources and share managers between certain races. That’s where Virginia came in. She had already started working for Donna and then joined us too. She stayed on for several months and got us through the initial phase of the pandemic, all of which we talked about in the interview. Eventually it was time to bring on someone else to run my race full time, and allow her to run Donna’s race full time, and that’s when I hired David Lamando.
Kyle, Kelvin, Virginia, and David all graciously agreed to do interviews before I even launched this podcast, and due to technical difficulties, David even went so far as to do the interview twice. The dedication of people like Kyle, Kelvin, Virginia, and David to making competitive races possible from behind the scenes, and then continuing to help years later to tell the story and keep up the fight, is truly inspiring. I could tell you all about those campaigns from my perspective as a candidate, and maybe one day I will, but I think it’s incredibly important to share the story from the campaign staff perspective. They were the ones running things after all. Oh, and that teaser you heard at the beginning was actually after I hit record but before we started the interview, so you won’t hear it again, but it was too good to not share. I told Virginia it might not get cut, and I’m a man of my word. Don’t hate me Virginia!
Ok, enough talk already, it’s time for the interview, I hope you enjoy!
JD Wooten: With us today, Virginia Reed. She was my 2020 Campaign Manager for the first half of the year and was there for the start of the pandemic. Welcome Virginia.
Virginia Reed: Hi JD, happy to be here. Flattered you asked me to come on.
JD Wooten: Well, thank you. So I thought for a little bit of background, in the 2020 cycle, the State Senate Democratic Caucus had this bright idea that we would actually have campaign managers hired through the caucus and then assigned to races. And then by doing that, we could pool resources and do a couple of other novel things like offer health care to our employees. So tell us about, how did you come into that roll?
Virginia Reed: Sure. So I met at the time, one of the directors of the Senate Caucus on the previous, the 2019 Raleigh City Council election cycle. So after that ended, he asked me if I was interested in coming onto the Senate Caucus. And I think it was the first year of the program, but essentially, we were brought on as what are called cycle hires, so jobs that end, except for in extraordinary circumstances, December of an election year. And so a few of us were added as campaign managers. We were added as NCDP staff to kind of achieve two main purposes, saving candidates, some money by splitting the cost of our salaries, and like you said, giving us access to health insurance, which most of us, when we freelance on campaigns don’t get, and the NCDP plan was pretty good, honestly.
JD Wooten: I think you were already working on Donna Lake’s race in State Senate District 7, and so I was basically between managers, and we were at that early stage of the year when we first met, it was really just a question of, okay, do you think one, could we get along well enough to work together, and two, do you think you would be able to manage two races? And so we didn’t know we were going to dive right into a pandemic right after that, but I would like to know more background. How did you come into politics in general? What was your first experience?
Virginia Reed: So if we’re getting really technical with it, my first involvement in politics was in middle school when I ran for student body president in eighth grade. Then I kept doing student government all the way through high school. So if you didn’t know I was a nerd, now you officially do. But in all seriousness, I didn’t decide that I wanted to go into politics and campaigns until my junior year at Appalachian State University. A couple of friends were running for student body president and vice president and asked for my help on their campaign, you know, just talking to the student body, that kind of thing. I just loved the energy of the experience, the strategizing, the planning, the scheduling. Again, my Type-A nerd is really shining through here, but from there I got involved with the Watauga County Democratic Party started networking with anyone I could meet and it snowballed pretty quickly to where we are now.
JD Wooten: You kind of told us how you got in, initially. I think one of the things that Democrats seem to struggle with is really the consistency or the continuity from one cycle to the next, you know, a lot of times campaign managers kind of being on their own when they’re out running campaigns, but even worse than that, between the campaigns, you know, what are you doing?
Virginia Reed: Post campaigns are always tough, you know, both emotionally and financially. You basically go from feeling like the busiest person on the planet to having nothing to do. And obviously depending on whether you won or lost, you’re going to go into the holidays with very different energies. My longest gap of unemployment was after the 2016 election, I had very little post-grad experience, and really just felt like I was throwing cover letters at the wall until something stuck. I found that, you know, every year in this line of work, my window of unemployment gets shorter and shorter as my network grows and I become a little bit more employable. And I think a big part of why young people don’t stay on campaigns for more than a handful of cycles is that it’s normally not financially sustainable if you don’t have a safety net.
JD Wooten: You know, my next question was going to be, have you seen any improvement over the years? It sounds like for your personal situation, maybe you’ve seen some improvement over the years. Do you think the party has done, or activist organizations have done a better job over the years, or is it really sort of an experience thing? As you get more experience, it’s a little easier?
Virginia Reed: I think on an individual basis, getting the experience and expanding your network is definitely helpful and there’s always an election happening somewhere. You might have to again, have the stability and the flexibility to maybe be willing to relocate to get a job if you really need the income, which again is probably more feasible for younger people who don’t have homes, or spouses, or kids, or pets, or anything to deal with, people who still are young enough to sleep on a couch for a couple of months, which I found once I hit like twenty-five years old, I was like, I’m not sleeping on the couch anymore. I need like an actual bed, but so that’s more of an individual basis. As far as, you know, the party and other organizations go, we can always be doing better. We should always be organizing, building a bench of candidates, staffers, and organizers. We should always be fundraising, all of those things. And I’ve also noticed, and I can’t speak for the Republican side completely, but a lot of my friends in democratic and progressive politics are one person doing two or more jobs. And I think especially in a 50-50 state like North Carolina, we should focus not just on candidate recruitment and fundraising, but also on volunteer training statewide, a lot of candidates in these competitive, targeted districts that are 50-50 or are D-1 or 2 would be on much stronger footing if their campaigns didn’t have to take on the responsibility of training their volunteers in the basics of voter contact and organizing that takes up dozens of hours, and of course it’s helpful, but if you’re having to start from square one, it takes up so much of your campaign’s time. And time is the most finite resource on a campaign. No amount of money will buy you an extension to election day. So I think there are some full time non-cycle jobs that could be created there. There’s more to a deep bench than just candidates and donors.
JD Wooten: So out of curiosity, do you think that’s a better function for a political party, or a nonprofit, or something in between?
Virginia Reed: I think it could be either. I think the benefit to a political party doing it means that you can also focus on teaching more people messaging and communications, instead of just the basic mechanics of like how to safely do voter contact. I think that could be helpful to democratic candidates, to get people more comfortable talking about party talking points. So I think each one would have a different benefit to it, but I think the more people doing it the better because you’ve experienced the same thing, I’m sure, that recruiting volunteers is tough. Sometimes that getting them comfortable with voter contact is hard and then training them on how to do it, getting them to come back. Think about the time your campaigns could have saved if when you launched your campaign, there were already 25, 30 volunteers who were experienced, ready to start working, and he didn’t have to train them. They could just show up one day and get going because they’d already done it before. But what does the campaign, but a series of learning experiences for the next cycle, right?
JD Wooten: So, yeah, with all that said, going into the 2020 election cycle, what was your impression of the political landscape in North Carolina generally and also specifically for the State Senate and the map?
Virginia Reed: So honestly, I don’t really look too much at polling, like the actual, like numbers and the data. I never really have. I think, there’s always the margin of error, but I think the margin of error is getting a lot bigger than it used to be back when it was easier to reach people, and I think people also have more of a tendency to maybe lie depending on who they’re talking to. So when I’m working on a campaign, I try to keep myself, and my candidate, and everyone involved in the mindset that winning is possible, but it’s not a lock, you know, start every day on the campaign like you’re a hundred votes down and just keep grinding. Going into 2020, I was pretty sure that Trump would be reelected no matter who the Democrats nominated, but I thought that in North Carolina, we could hold onto Cooper and maybe hold our ground that we gained in 2018 and the legislature.
JD Wooten: And going into 2020 races, we had two districts that were all but a foregone conclusion, they were just drawn so favorably for Democrats. One was in Franklin and Wake County and Sarah Crawford ended up winning that race. And the other was down in Mecklenburg County where DeAndrea Salvador won that race. But then we had five districts where, based on history, we weren’t sure, but we thought maybe we had a chance. When you joined our race, what was your general impression? I mean, you got to see two races, you knew the inside scoop. How’d you think we faired, District 24?
Virginia Reed: Well, remember what I said about one person being asked to do more than one job, you know, obviously was glad to help out and be a team player, but, pre-COVID stay at home orders, I was on the road a lot and trying to juggle a couple of, you know, really different candidates and really different campaigns. I honestly thought I’m kind of looking at the makeup of the districts that your campaign probably had a better chance than Donna’s just based on demographics. But I knew that both can campaigns would be really tough and really expensive battles.
JD Wooten: So I want to hear more about this, talk to me about juggling two races.
Virginia Reed: Campaign multi-tasking is already tough because especially with down-ballot campaigns, it’s usually one person running the whole show. I mean, you are your candidate’s chief fundraiser, their scheduler, their field planner, their therapist sometimes. I mean, it takes a lot out of you and your candidate for sure. But most of what we were doing was fundraising, so I basically lived in spreadsheets essentially.
JD Wooten: I am curious, do you think the fact that we were both veterans had any impact on being able to kind of juggle two people at the same time like that?
Virginia Reed: It definitely helped, I know, so Donna and her husband are both military and they were very very schedule oriented. Like they wanted to know what the whole week ahead would look like and really wanted to stick to it. Donna also took a leave of absence from her job at ECU in December of 2019. So the campaign became her full-time job which of course was different because you continued to work, so there was obviously your work was understanding that you were also running for office, but you had your obligations still. So I couldn’t schedule all of your time, the way that I could schedule all of Donna’s. So I think, you know two you know, veteran candidates. Yeah, the schedule-based thing, the very goal oriented, is something that a lot of candidates eventually learn by the end, but the two of you definitely seem like went into it already with that mindset of I’m going to make a list and try to, you know, cross all the things off of it.
JD Wooten: You know, I’ve always thought about what did my military experience bring to my candidacy and what I could potentially offer North Carolina, but I think in our situation, it almost ended up being the inverse consideration of what can the lessons learned from military experience offer campaign management? That’s important too, but goal setting, checking the boxes, making sure you’re taking care of your people. I’ve heard rumor, some candidates can lose sight of some of those things.
Virginia Reed: Sometimes, I mean, it’s easy to get a little bit tunnel vision. I mean, if you’re really in your campaign and you’re really giving your all to it and you can get a little bit tunnel vision, but then again, that’s kind of what your manager and your advisors, your kitchen cabinet, are there to do to kind of like bring you back to just like center you a little bit. And again, you know, there’ve been plenty of times that I’ve unwittingly played therapist to some of my candidates on their worst days.
JD Wooten: Yeah. Well, I appreciate all of your compassion and understanding at every turn.
Virginia Reed: Well, I try to be a good listener and a good head nodder.
JD Wooten: Actually, that does remind me, we were sitting in call time one day. I think we were doing call time and there was suddenly this break and you just kind of looked at me. You suddenly, this is how I remember it, maybe you remember it differently, sort of looked at me and kind of hesitated, and you were like, so why are you a Democrat? How did I answer?
Virginia Reed: I thought your answer was good. I remember you, one of the first things you acknowledged was your privilege and your desire to use the leg-up you’ve been given in life to help and elevate those who maybe don’t have the same inherent advantage. Obviously, you know, didn’t mean to put the interrogation lamp on you with that question, but, you know, I, I tend to ask it of all of my candidates, or all the people that I meet and work for. You know, public servants aren’t perfect. We know that, and we shouldn’t ask them to be, but in my few years in politics and campaigns, I’ve met a fair amount of people who seem to be in office because they like seeing their name in the news or on a nameplate, but before I’m going to commit to get someone elected and all of the sweat and tears and stress that go with that commitment, I want to make sure that they’re running for more than just their ego and their aspirations and that we share the same values.
JD Wooten: Wow, what’s it been? Over a year and a half since you asked me that, you know, so much has changed now it’s like, well why wouldn’t, I be a Democrat? I believe in democracy, and the liberal world order, only one party does anymore. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs.
Virginia Reed: Yeah, my glib answer is always, I’m a Democrat because I have a conscience and a uterus, so...
JD Wooten: Well, I can only half claim that. So everything about our 2020 race changed dramatically with the onset of COVID. We knew we needed to raise money, but also we were suddenly looking at worldwide pandemic and an almost immediate economic recession. And at that point we weren’t even dealing with racial unrest and social unrest that we also then saw a couple of months later. So how did all of that impact your thinking as a manager?
Virginia Reed: Yeah. Well, like you said, first we had to figure out how we were going to raise money when so much of the news was about businesses closing temporarily or permanently, and people getting furloughed, as if asking for money, isn’t hard enough in normal conditions. There was obviously a brief pause while we all figured out how to campaign in an unfamiliar world and tried to guess how much of the election cycle the pandemic would dominate. At the time it was the like flatten the curve thing, maybe it’ll be over in a month. You know, jokes on us, here we still are. And you know, of course we all spend a lot of time looking up synonyms for the word unprecedented.
JD Wooten: Oh I’d forgotten about flattened the curve.
Virginia Reed: know. Yeah. It’s actually a tremendous bummer to think about that phase of the pandemic. At the time when we started talking about it, everyone was just focused on fundraising cause that was a phase of the campaign we were in, but I was also trying to think of down the line when we hit the fall, what would a field program look like? A huge component of a campaign isn’t just, you know, the digital and TV buys. It’s unique, direct voter contact. I really wondered what that would look like, how we’d be able to do it safely.
JD Wooten: Yeah, and as I recall, we had a big fundraiser planned for the last week of March. I think that bad boy got postponed indefinitely. And then there was this phase of, well, maybe we can do virtual fundraising events.
Virginia Reed: Virtual fundraisers had varying levels of success depending on the candidate, what they’re running for, you know, their name ID was. I saw some that were really good, and some that were just kind of misses.
JD Wooten: I’m curious, how long did you and Donna keep trying to do virtual events?
Virginia Reed: I think we tried maybe two or three, but we didn’t really get any money from them. And honestly her district, a lot of people out there didn’t have reliable internet, so it wasn’t a super practical thing for us to do. And already with our events and stuff, we weren’t raising a ton of money. When we were trying to build a list for an in-person event, we weren’t raising a ton of money from it anyways, so virtual was just a lot harder.
JD Wooten: As best I can recall, early on, we tried to do one that kind of centered around, oh, let’s have JD’s virtual birthday bash fundraiser, and we tried to have...
Virginia Reed: Was that the one with Jeff Jackson or was that a different one?
JD Wooten: Yeah, I think Jeff did that one and later the biggest one we had, we ended up having dueling or competing keynotes with Attorney General Josh Stein and Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. It was very humbling for me that they would both take time out of their schedule to jump on an event. And I will say that’s one of the perks to doing the virtual events that we’ve found is that bigger keynotes the statewide candidates that could help drum up support and excitement about an event, it was a lot easier for them to attend more of those because they didn’t have to worry about the commute time. You know, what attacks did y’all face out in District 7?
Virginia Reed: Well, we face the usual too liberal attacks. They did that thing that conservative consultants do with female candidates, and you pick a really unflattering picture and distorted a little bit, and you take some social media posts out of context, but I think it took them some time to figure out their angle. But with Donna being a former Air Force Colonel and a nurse, figuring out how to attack her, kind of had to be in the right way. And I also think they were more worried about other districts than ours, so they didn’t really start paying attention to us until a little bit later in the game.
But so September or October, they managed to
JD Wooten: I can tell you where their energy was before they came to you.
Virginia Reed: Which again should be more flattering to you because they saw he was more of a threat than they saw us, but usually that’s how I sneak my candidates in under the wire is they don’t take us seriously until it’s too late. But no, with Donna very late in the game, like September, October, they managed to dredge up of all things, a voter fraud allegation. Basically, since Donna used to live in New York and throughout her military career voted from many different places around the world absentee, sometime along the way, paperwork was filed incorrectly and it looked like she voted twice in the 2008 election. So of course she didn’t, but we had to spend a few days with the caucus and the NCDP lawyers to figure out how to debunk or combat the claims. Which of course was difficult slash impossible because it was a 12-year-old allegation, which was well outside of the archives of both states Boards of Elections and East Carolina University, where Donna had been working at the time. So we were finally able to prove enough that she couldn’t have voted twice in the same election due to travel and work obligations, but still Republicans got a couple of news stories about it, and were able to pull quotes and headlines for their TV and digital ads, which is all they really wanted in the first place. And then they got to hit us for being on the record as against voter ID requirements. So yada, yada, it was a headache. I have no idea how much of the electorate it actually swayed, but it still eats at me cause it was just such like a crappy thing to do, but it was so smart on their part because it wasn’t really a winning issue for them, but once it was out there, we couldn’t do anything to take it back. So, yeah, that was, I think, our only real attack. I think that was the only angle they could really use against her, so they hammered it pretty hard for the last probably six or eight weeks of the campaign.
JD Wooten: Yeah I get the general sense that any time they have the opportunity to make an attack on character or integrity of a veteran, they’re going to because they know what that means. They know the challenge it presents them to overcome it. Rather than try and rise to show that they have a similar character and integrity, just bring the other side down to your level. And if you can’t make it seem like it in any way.
Virginia Reed: Yeah.
JD Wooten: Thankfully my big veteran credibility integrity attack was a little bit more outrageous to start with cause it...
Virginia Reed: Pretty outrageous, yeah.
JD Wooten: Yeah the bottom line was that there was a claim that I had used a VA loan to buy a house that I had never lived. And if true, that would have been a federal felony. The problem was I did live in the house. I had all the receipts to prove it, so to speak, and not just the receipts to prove it, I mean, I had my Amazon delivery confirmation, so this was not, this was not a close thing, but it didn’t matter. That wasn’t the point.
Virginia Reed: Yeah.
JD Wooten: I look forward to interviewing David who was on our campaign and running campaign by that time and get his reaction to it as those things were launching and probably talking about it more, more than, but yeah, it was, it was definitely an interesting opportunity of just, well, we can’t verify this claim is true, but it’ll take them long enough to disprove it that it’ll at least give us some new cycles and some articles and some headlines. It’ll throw mud at them long enough to make him look dirty and that’s all we need to do.
Virginia Reed: And I think that’s like the frustrating difference between how Republicans govern and campaign versus how Democrats do. Republicans will throw an accusation out there and vine format in like a six second sound bite, and then Democrats try to respond in a long form think Thinkpiece. Voters don’t have the attention span for the long form Thinkpiece. You need to get them with the vine. I feel like that’s what they do is they back us into these corners of now we’re stuck being the ones explaining. And as soon as you’re starting to explain, you’ve lost. So they’ll just straight up lie about something, realize that it can get them some news stories and they can, again, you know, use those pulled headlines and quotes and call it a day. And we’re stuck back peddling it’s they do it and it keeps working and it’s frustrating every time.
JD Wooten: Every time we’d see a new attack, I remember that there would always be email to the whole team and people would start replying with how do we respond? And sometimes you get like, this five-point plan or this 15-point plan, and John would just hit reply all, and it’d be a one-liner: "liars, damn liars."
It was like, oh yeah, thanks, John. Pull it back. Not that we ever actually went with quite that simple, but it was a good, good reminder. Sometimes you just got to call a spade, a spade.
Virginia Reed: Right? Not everything is worth pouring more gasoline on, they’re going to lie about stuff, some things are worth rebutting, some things you just have to let go.
JD Wooten: Yeah, absolutely. Okay so with that, post-mortem: what were your takeaways from 2020? Lessons learned? Things you do differently?
Virginia Reed: So 2020 was my first cycle running a non-urban or suburban campaign. I had never worked a rural before in any capacity. And I knew it was, but you don’t really know until you’re in it, but it’s such a different beast. I was wearing from the start of spending money on the ground. Obviously we had a field budget, but there was a lot of pressure from the local kitchen cabinet to pay organizers, and I wanted people to just volunteer. I went into Wayne and Lenore Counties with my Wake County mindset, and I got burned for it. Once we hit the last few weeks of the campaign, nearly all of our money, staggering amounts of it, was going to huge TV and digital buys. I wish I had pushed back on that a bit more, and from earlier invested more money in boots on the ground. Obviously in a perfect world, people would just volunteer multiple hours a week for you out of the goodness of their hearts, but it’s a gig economy and it especially was in 2020, people were losing their jobs. I kind of wish I went back and that I had listened a bit more to the people who knew that community better and knew. If I could go back and change my mindset, I don’t think making that change would have swung a nine-point loss, but it might’ve narrowed the gap a bit, and might’ve earned us some more goodwill out there. So that’s probably something I would’ve done differently.
JD Wooten: I don’t know what your final numbers in District 7 were, but assuming it was anything like the statewide numbers or District 24 numbers turnout was already so damn high. I don’t think any of us left much on the table.
Virginia Reed: No, I think given the circumstances of the attacks we face at the end and the electorate and the demographics we had, I think we did the best we could. But a year out from that election, I think a well-run campaign is about more than just winning or losing on election day. Now I talked earlier about the importance of building a bench and I mean it. Yeah, we lost in 2020, but whoever runs for Donna’s seat next time we’ll have the benefit of a deeper bench of experienced volunteers. And if we stay invested in involved, a more energized electorate the next time around. In Donna’s district from day one, the Democratic voters felt forgotten by the party and distrustful of any party involvement because of it. So I mentioned how crucial it is to organize statewide year round, and it really is. It’s not enough to just put money everywhere. You need relationships and goodwill to give your candidates a fighting chance. And of course, I’m also curious to see what happened in the alternate universe, where there was no pandemic and where a Cal Cunningham could get his act together. Because I think the latter definitely hurt Democrats up and down the ballot, we’ll just never know quite how much.
JD Wooten: I think that that is an incredibly important point. We were on the back of the ballot. You had to turn the ballot over to get to the State Senate race. So much of how a down-ballot race performs is driven by what’s happening above. And at the end of the day, I’m not faulting the Biden Campaign because at the end of the day, Joe Biden is President of the United States. So I’m not questioning, his campaign strategy, but it’s very clear, North Carolina was not a big part of their investment and not a big part of where they were putting their efforts. I think that we all suffered from that. They had to make the decisions that would get Joe Biden to the White House, and I respect and admire that it worked. But I also think that here in North Carolina, I’ve gotten the sense that the state party and maybe some other statewide races were kind of waiting and waiting and waiting, thinking that there was going to be more coming from a national push, and it just never was.
Virginia Reed: There’s always the tough call for national campaigns I’m sure about where to put your time and your money, again the two most finite resources on a campaign, but again, with the broader scope of looking at the south, I mean, especially if you look at Georgia, people talk a lot about wanting to replicate that here, but Georgia demographically is growing in a much different way than North Carolina is, so it can’t just be like a copy and paste strategy. What worked in Georgia wouldn’t work here. So I think there are obviously lessons to learn, and one of the big ones is empowering voters everywhere makes a really big difference. Republicans go out of their way to make that as hard as possible. The strategy that will help the most candidates up and down the ballot is registering voters, letting them know about their rights, and that’s something that a national group or national campaign doesn’t have to lead. County, statewide, city groups can champion efforts like that.
JD Wooten: I completely agree. What’s next for Virginia Reed?
Virginia Reed: You know, I’m not sure. I’m considering getting into the 2022 cycle. I’ve already had some candidates ask, but I think it would really take the right offer from the right candidate to get me back into it full time. Longer term, what I’d like to do is work for, maybe a national or statewide organization. One with resources and a staff structure that helps a lot of candidates get elected or does like issue advocacy, something like the DLCC or Emily’s List, but more than managing campaigns, I find the parts of what I do I enjoy the most are helping new managers, new campaign staffers, get their sea legs. For all the times that a tier two or three candidate needs a manager, but can’t afford someone with much experience, or all of the experienced and trained staffers have been scooped up by bigger or more targeted races. When those candidates have a newbie helping them out, I would love to be a resource to those people as they get started. And I’m not sure if there’s a career to be made of that, but I think I’d be pretty good at it.
I think you would be great at it, and best of luck with that, because I think North Carolina would tremendously benefit from that if you manage to get into that. With that, why don’t we wrap. Virginia, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a real pleasure.
Yeah, it’s been great to talk to you. I’m excited to see where this podcast goes and see if we can get you to run for something else someday.
JD Wooten: Well, more on that later, so, thanks.
JD Wooten: Thanks again to Virginia for joining me today. As always, if you or someone else you know should be on the show, send me an email at email@example.com. Don’t forget to subscribe where ever you get your podcasts to never miss an episode, and share this episode with a friend. Together, we can achieve a better North Carolina for everyone!