DG MARTIN COLUMN: Wall Street Journal report shocks N.C. Democrats

Even though I live in North Carolina, sometimes people who live far away teach me things I need to know.

D.G. Martin

For instance, in the June 15 edition of The Wall Street Journal an article by Valerie Bauerlein caught my eye. It’s long headline “Why Democrats Keep Losing the Battle for Small-Town America: Voters in rural North Carolina reflect the mounting challenges facing President Biden in swing states, voicing discontent with the economy, illegal immigration and inflation,” promised a perspective I would not get from talking to my mostly woke friends in Chapel Hill.
Instead, the Journal took me to Ashe County’s West Jefferson in the mountains and Wilson County in eastern North Carolina, both homes to my favorite eateries such as Shatley Springs (closed temporarily) in Ashe County and Parkers Barbecue in Wilson.
The Journal reported the struggles of Democrats in both places.
Wilson is proud home of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park which I wrote about recently. And the New River begins its journey northward in Ashe County on its way, eventually, to the Mississippi River.
These are places I love.
But there is little good news for Democrats in either place.
Nancy Beth Weaver is a Democrat running for the Ashe County Board of Commissioners. She is a “farmer and weaver who for years demonstrated wool-making at the local farmers market — how to shear sheep and spin fibers on a loom.
“Weaver, 58, has seen what illegal drugs have done in her community. First came methamphetamine, then opioid pills and now fentanyl. She has a son who is recovering from drug addiction, and she helps other mothers of addicted children.”
Can she win? Probably not, she says.
“She said she feels like she no longer speaks the same language as lifelong friends and acquaintances. She is running to see if she can convince people that Democrats are better at helping people with affordable housing, healthcare, and jobs.”
Bauerlein reports, “The Democratic Party is no longer competitive in the state’s predominantly white and poor mountainous west. Trump increased his vote totals by a fifth in many western counties in 2020 compared with 2016, and GOP wins are increasingly lopsided.”
About Wilson, Bauerlein also brought no good news for Democrats who have counted on Black voter support in rural areas of North Carolina.
She writes, “More Black Americans in rural North Carolina farming communities might stay home on Election Day or vote for Trump, according to the state’s New Rural Project, an initiative led by Democratic officials. Most of the predominantly Black rural counties in the state’s east have trended toward the GOP in recent years.”
Bauerlein explained, “Since 2016, the number of registered Democrats has fallen 19 percent in rural Wilson County, while unaffiliated voters have grown 33 percent. Republican registration is largely unchanged, and local GOP leaders say their focus will be turning out their voters in November’s presidential election.
From a local party with no money or organization ten years ago, Bauerlein reports that now “the Wilson County GOP has its own office-park headquarters, $36,000 in the bank and a voter-turnout operation that helped Republicans carry the county in the 2022 midterm elections, including for Senate and state House.”
Bauerlein reports, “The Democratic Party is losing rural voters, an especially serious problem for President Biden’s re-election campaign in North Carolina, the most rural of the battleground states this year. Biden narrowly lost the state in 2020.”
No good news for Democrats?
The Journal ignores some good news for Democrats such as young vigorous statewide party leadership and strong statewide candidates such as Josh Stein for governor and Jeff Jackson for attorney general.
But the Journal report lays out the daunting challenges North Carolina Democrats face in the elections this fall.

Note: Valerie Bauerlein lives in Raleigh. She graduated from Duke and has covered the South for more than 20 years. Her book, “The Devil at His Elbow: Alex Murdaugh and the Fall of a Southern Dynasty” is scheduled for publication on Aug. 20.

D.G. Martin, a retired lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s “North Carolina Bookwatch.”