Former Gov. Jim Hunt is quietly spearheading a group that hopes to raise money to help elect Democratic legislative candidates in North Carolina this year.
Hunt acknowledged the effort Saturday night at the start of the state Democratic Party’s annual Sanford Hunt Frye banquet, but declined to offer details.
“There are business and civic leaders deeply concerned about education … and jobs,” Hunt told the Observer. “They’re very concerned about what’s happened to our teachers.”
The event, which brought 450 people to the Charlotte Convention Center, is a fundraiser for the party. Speakers included Hunt, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota as well as several legislators and Council of State members.
Hunt declined to elaborate on the effort to help Democratic candidates, other than to say “We’re raising some funds.”
One Democrat said privately that the group is trying to raise millions of dollars, and that organizers have held at least two meetings in Charlotte.
Democrats could use money to help whittle away at Republican super majorities in the state House and Senate. The party has watched GOP lawmakers make sweeping changes in laws on voting, taxes, abortion and education.
Democrats appear to have realistic expectations of their chances against opposition candidates certain to be well-funded in districts drawn by a Republican legislature.
House Minority Leader Larry Hall of Durham said Democrats would like to pick up at least seven seats they lost in closely-contested races in recent elections. “That’s the first step,” he said Saturday.
Rep. Rodney Moore, a Charlotte Democrat, said he’s confident of at least incremental success.
“We’re going to turn this state purple, not blue yet,” he said.
Money is a big part of the electoral equation.
According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a watchdog group, Republican candidates and committees in North Carolina raised $48 million in 2012 to $23 million for Democrats.
Raleigh businessman Art Pope and his family alone have given more than $450,000 to state candidates and the state GOP over the past two election cycles, according to the Institute for Southern Studies. Groups supported by Pope, now deputy state budget director, put in even more.
“Frankly, I don’t think Democratic-leaning groups are as sophisticated as Art Pope and his groups because we’re in the minority,” said state Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat. “As a result, they’ve honed their game.”
Robert Dempsey, the party’s executive director, said Democrats plan to carefully target voters in an off-year election like this one.
“You really try to whittle down the folks you know are going to come out,” he said. “If you know what’s going on in Raleigh, you’re likely to vote and you’re likely to vote Democrat.”
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