Don’t Sleep on Erica Smith: the ‘Renaissance Woman’ Who Could Flip North Carolina Blue
Erica Smith can do anything.
Back in college, Erica’s sorority sisters called her the “Renaissance Woman” for her ability to excel in whatever she tried. Since then, she has more than lived up to the name by reinventing herself multiple times throughout her varied career.
Among other things, Erica Smith has designed high-speed trains and high-tech space stations as an engineer with Boeing, reviewed new inventions as an Examiner for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, instructed high school math and science as a teacher with North Carolina public schools, served as a local Christian minister, won Legislator-of-the-Year as a three-term State Senator, and raised four boys — and now she’s running for U.S. Senate.
If she wins the state primary election, she’ll face off against incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tilis in what will surely be one of the most-watched races of 2020. It’s a battleground state for both the Presidency (Trump won in 2016 by only 3.7%) and the Senate (Tilis won in 2014 by only 1.5%).
It’s a battle Smith is eager to wage.
In fact, she credits Tilis with inspiring her to run for office in the first place. Back in 2013, Tilis (as Speaker of the N.C. House) was ushering in a new wave of ultra-conservative policies. Erica Smith (by then a teacher for over a decade) saw Tilis’ attacks on public education and decided it was time to push back. So she made another career change, and got elected to the State Senate. Now she hopes to take Tilis’ job as U.S. Senator and give the office back to the people of North Carolina — not the corporations and special interests that Tilis seems to represent.
A recent poll suggests she could flip the N.C. Senate seat Blue. The Emerson poll from June has her beating Tilis 46% to 39% — outside the poll’s 3.1% margin of error. While other Democratic primary candidates also beat Tilis in hypothetical match-ups, none do so by as wide a margin as does Smith.
Despite this, the national Democratic Party has already endorsed one of Smith’s primary opponents: former one-term State Sen. Cal Cunningham. It’s likely the party did so because they believe Cunningham can raise the biggest haul of cash to put up against Tilis’ enormous corporate PAC funders.
But despite his fundraising prowess, it’s not clear that Cunningham can inspire the huge voter turnout needed to win the seat. In a recent special election for U.S. House representing North Carolina’s 9th District, the Democratic candidate Dan McCready failed to turn-out enough rural voters in Democratic-leaning areas. While McCready’s overall tight finish in a Trump district (Trump won it by 12 points in 2016) is a good sign for any N.C. Democrat running in 2020, the low rural turn-out is not. To win the Senate seat, Democrats will need to hold on to urban and suburban gains while also adding more rural voters to the mix.
Is it possible that Erica Smith could be the better Democratic candidate for connecting with rural parts of North Carolina?
After all, Smith currently represents some of the most rural counties in the state. She already has relationships with rural voters and can point to how she has advocated for them on issues like education access and coastal hurricane relief. And if elected, Smith would become the first African American Senator to ever represent the state. That may give African American voters, who make up over 20% of the rural population, another inspiring reason to overcome the barriers to voting on election day. And that may bring the Democratic candidate one step closer towards reassembling the “Obama coalition” that won the state — and a Democratic Senate seat — back in 2008.
If she can pull it off, turning North Carolina Blue would be Smith’s most spectacular reinvention yet.
But first, she needs the Democratic primary donors and voters to give her a chance to fight.