Monday, May 01, 2017

One District At A Time? How About Mark Meadows' District In North Carolina? Meet Matt Coffay


Matt Coffay, a farmer who founded the Asheville chapter of Our Revolution, is running for Congress... and he's about as good a candidate as the Democratic Party is going to find-- not just in North Carolina, but anywhere in the country. His district, though, is a tough one. The Republicans in the North Carolina legislature carefully cut most of Asheville out of the 11th congressional district to create what they thought would be a "safe" Republican seat. It was won in 2012 by right-wing extremist Mark Meadows, one of the founding members of the Freedom Caucus, which he now chairs. Last November the district was the strongest in the state for Trump, who out-performed Romney there and beat Hillary 63.2% to 34.0%. We asked Matt how he thinks he can win in such difficult political terrain. His response is below in the form of a guest post. If you like what you read-- and what you hear in the video above-- please consider contributing to his campaign here and learning more about his campaign here.

How We Win in NC-11
by Matt Coffay

I’m not a politician. I grew up in a working class family, and have always had to work hard to make ends meet from month to month. For the past few years, I was a full-time farmer, putting in 80 hour weeks to earn a living; now, I work for a nonprofit, trying to help make it easier for young people to get started farming.

The fact that I’m not a politician has put me on the receiving end of a lot of skepticism. Particularly when it comes to the usual suspects in a Congressional race-- the local political journalists, the strategists and consultants, district party members, policy autodidacts-- I’ve been told by a lot of people, “you can’t win in the 11th. Not the way the lines are drawn.”

In 2016, Pompeo won Kansas’ 4th Congressional district by 31% of the vote. Earlier this month, Thompson, a progressive, closed that gap in his race against Estes to less than 7%. That’s a difference of 24 points.

Meanwhile, in NC-11, Mark Meadows won by a spread of 28% last year. But NC-11 isn’t an R+28 district: it’s rated at R+13. There hasn’t been a meaningful campaign run against Meadows since the one in 2012 by Hayden Rogers, and even that campaign had some serious issues surrounding Rogers’ timeline when declaring his candidacy.

Rogers lost by 14%. That’s what this district should look like, all other things being equal.

But, as we’ve just seen in Kansas, all other things aren’t equal. A progressive can close the gap by 24 points in just a few months. With a year and a half to go until next November’s election, that’s exactly what we plan to do here in western North Carolina.

Of course, moving the needle that far in the opposite direction doesn’t just happen on its own: we need to raise a lot of money-- which we fully intend to do-- and we need to create the biggest grassroots campaign that North Carolina has ever seen. Field work and voter contact are going to be at the center of this campaign; meanwhile, Meadows absolutely won’t engage in either.

But aside from just getting out the vote in an unprecedented way, there’s something else that we have to do if we really want to flip this district. We have to actually stand for something. We need to show the people of western North Carolina that we have vision, and that we’re not just here for politics as usual. We have to show them that this isn’t a question of D or R-- it’s a question of populism versus corporatism.

People are tired of partisan bickering; and, in this part of the country, they’re tired of corporate Democrats pretending to care about the needs of rural, working class people. I can tell you firsthand that the Democratic party has left this part of the country behind, as it has many other rural areas. Take a look at the 1992 electoral map of Bill Clinton’s victory, broken down by county, and compare it to the 2016 map of Hillary’s loss. The shift from blue to red is frightening. You can explain away the loss of state legislature and Congressional seats with gerrymandering; but, you can’t account for that kind of a shift in votes for president without acknowledging some serious shifts in America’s political landscape.

Trump won because he ran as a populist. He won rural votes because he told people things that Republicans don’t usually say. He told them NAFTA was the worst trade deal in history, and that he had a plan to bring back rural jobs. He told them he was going to give them the best health care they’ve ever seen, and that he’d never impose cuts to Social Security.

Of course, he had no actual plan, and he’s since backpedaled on those promises. Instead of bringing jobs to Southern Appalachia, he’s cut funding to the Appalachian Regional Commission. And far from giving people the best health care, he’s attempted to push a bill through the House that would dramatically roll back health coverage for millions of Americans.

But his message resonated with people here. And so did another populist message: the one coming from Bernie Sanders.

While Clinton beat Sanders in North Carolina 54-40%, the Vermont Senator won the 11th district by more than 10 points. People voted in the primary who have never voted in a primary in their lives.

Sanders did so well in NC-11 because he ran on issues like wealth and income inequality, job creation, raising the minimum wage, and access to health care. Clinton did poorly in both the primary and the general because she failed to engage people on those issues the way that Sanders and Trump did. A recent VICE article by Alex Thompson shows that there are Republican voters in NC-11 who, when asked about it, want single-payer health care; and, according to a Gallup poll, nearly half of Republican voters nationwide want Medicare for All. The same, tired rhetoric coming from centrist Democrats is not going to get anyone to the polls, or engage any of the more than 200,000 unaffiliated voters in this district.

I’ve had plenty of people tell me that you can’t run on a progressive platform in a rural area. While it may be true that the word “progressive” isn’t something that rural, traditionally conservative voters are fond of, it’s clear at this point that a populist message can connect with people in places like NC-11.

That’s why we’re going to stand up and say that we need to do something about the rampant wealth inequality in this country. We need a $15 minimum wage. We need Medicare for All. We need infrastructure investment in Western North Carolina, and we need the jobs that that investment will bring.

And that’s how we’re going to win.

-Matt Coffay
On Twitter- @matt_coffay

Mark Meadows and Matt Coffay-- NC-11 gets a real choice

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