State senator Erica Smith (D., N.C.) is trying to become the third black woman in history to serve in the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) doesn't think a black candidate can win in North Carolina.
That's what Smith, a former Boeing engineer, told a group of North Carolina voters at a recent campaign event while discussing the national Democratic Party's endorsement of her white male primary opponent, Cal Cunningham.
"Sen. Schumer, for whatever reason, did not want an African American running for Senate in North Carolina," said Smith, who has previously attacked the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) for breaking its pledge to remain neutral in the Democratic primary.
The national party's endorsement of Cunningham in October, Smith said at the time, was "unacceptable" and "confirm[ed] [the DSCC's] attempt to sway this U.S. Senate election away from the voices and voters of North Carolina."
According to Smith, DSCC executives told her "unequivocally, that they were not, had not, did not intend to endorse in the primary," before officially backing Cunningham's campaign.
In the weeks before Cunningham, a former state senator, announced his candidacy, his campaign received $152,000 from donors based in New York, all but two of whom have also donated to Schumer. The New York donations accounted for more than a third of Cunningham's itemized contributions for the second quarter of 2019, according to federal election records.
With Schumer's help, Cunningham has raised more than $3 million since entering the Democratic primary in June, including $1.6 million in the final three months of 2019. Cunningham's fundraising haul included a $2,800 maximum contribution from liberal billionaire George Soros. Smith has not yet reported her fourth-quarter fundraising total.
"It's not always Republicans who are putting big money [into campaigns]," Smith said at the recent campaign event. "Somebody's going to be beholden to Chuck Schumer and New York millionaires and billionaires."
The DSCC previously endorsed Cunningham during his failed bid in the 2010 Democratic Senate primary. North Carolina secretary of state Elaine Marshall, who defeated Cunningham in a run-off that year before losing to incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), lashed out in similar fashion at the party establishment's meddling in the race.
"North Carolina Democrats do not appreciate Washington trying to handpick or anoint their candidate," Marshall said during the campaign.
Whichever candidate wins the primary on March 3 will face off against incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.), assuming he can fend off several challengers in the GOP primary. A poll taken weeks prior to Cunningham's campaign announcement showed Smith leading Tillis by seven points, 46 percent to 39 percent. Even so, Democratic strategists at the time were raising concerns about Smith's viability in a general election and attempting to recruit Cunningham to enter the primary.
One of the Democrats courted by party brass, state senator Jeff Jackson, a white man, was caught on tape recounting the strategic advice he received during a meeting with Schumer. Speaking to a politics class at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Jackson recalled telling Schumer that, if he decided to run, he would hold "100 town halls in 100 days" in each of the state's 100 counties.
According to Jackson, the Senate leader's response was: "Wrong answer—we want you to spend the next 16 months in a windowless basement raising money, and then we’re going to spend 80 percent of it on negative ads about Tillis."