Yesterday's meeting of the N.C. Democratic Party State Executive Committee was an encouraging event for several reasons.
The size of the turnout was unusual. There are roughly 700 members of the SEC. More than 600 voting members were in attendance, plus a couple of hundred other activists, volunteers, and observers.
The mood of the crowd was up. Not pleased, but energized. Angry with the situation, but not flailing about with the anger. Ready to put it to work.
The mix of attendees was broad: by age, race, geography.
The candidate field for party offices was unusually active and deep. There were no uncontested races, and none without more than one strong candidate. Of the five offices chosen (chair, 1st through 3rd vice chairs, secretary), each went to a seriously contested vote.
However, there did not appear to be the kind of particularly bitter contests that would inhibit the ability of most members to work together coming out of the meeting. The results in the highest profile races wrapped up with the all-candidates-on-the-stage photo moments and ovations. There will remain skeptics, but few of the participants seemed unwilling to give the winners a chance to succeed. In one contest (first vice chair) with three strong candidates, there was no first-ballot majority, but the two trailing candidates withdrew and endorsed the leader on the first ballot after it seemed clear that she would almost certainly draw enough votes on the second round to prevail. Those were serious contestants, who simply decided to put functioning party cooperation ahead of drawing out a fight while going for a long-shot win.
And there may be the most important point. The crowd was listening. Most of the contests did not start the day with a foregone conclusion. In my experience of politics, that is a highly unusual situation.
Caveat and disclosure: Not all of the candidates I voted for won. I came into the meeting having done enough background research that I had a choice in each contest decided, based on how I saw the candidates' respective proven work records over time. In some cases, that was a difficult pick between more than one attractive candidate.
Far more often than not, enough voters at any given political meeting or convention similarly come into the event knowing who they're going to support, and not being subject to on-the-spot persuasion. Yesterday, it seemed to me that an unusually high percentage of participants were making up their minds on the spot. I have a limited tolerance for sitting still indefinitely, and I spent much of the six-hour-plus meeting walking around or leaning against a wall observing. From those vantages I could see the crowd literally focused on the candidates, actively listening.
In each election, I thought that the winner was the candidate who gave the strongest speaking performance from the podium. A large swing vote was paying attention to the abilities of the candidates to operate under pressure at a high level of performance. They seemed implicitly to be asking: Who can deliver our message most persuasively?
The approval of winning candidates was enthusiastic, but plainly conditional on performance. That may be the best news of all. The somnolent self-satisifaction of Democratic party leaders in our state appears to be broken. And, instead of despair and retreat, the new attitude is determination to recover and change.
If the new N.C. Democratic Party officers put the same energy and skill into leading the charge this year that they put into winning their seats, some effective hell is going to be raised.