Black women candidates in NC poised to make history, but supporters say help is needed

·6 min read

North Carolina’s congressional delegation is expected to include more Black women next year, marking historic gains for the state.

North Carolina could have its first Black woman senator in Cheri Beasley, who easily won her Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate race. But she will face fierce competition from Republican nominee U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who has received the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.

In the House, state Sen. Valerie Foushee won the Democratic primary for the 4th Congressional District, virtually guaranteeing that she will be elected this fall in the safe blue district that includes Durham and Chapel Hill. She would increase the number of Black women in the House delegation that already includes U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Democrat from Charlotte, who is running unopposed as she seeks reelection.

The prospect of their historic representation has energized their supporters, who say they represent progress made in recent years to get more Black candidates to run — and win — local, state and federal races.

State Sen. Natalie Murdock, a Durham Democrat, said Tuesday’s wins also show that Beasley and Foushee, who have long records of public service, are “beyond qualified” competitive candidates who can win in places that aren’t only majority-Black districts.

“It is history making,” said Murdock, who is Black and active in party leadership, about the increase of Black women lawmakers and candidates.

For the “state of Jesse Helms, having a Black woman [U.S. Senate] nominee is very, very powerful,” she added, referring to the late North Carolina senator known for his inflammatory actions on race.

N.C. Sen. Natalie Murdock
N.C. Sen. Natalie Murdock

But she and others say Democratic Party support of Black candidates needs to go beyond “just lip service” and should include raising funds for their campaigns. It will also be crucial to get voters to the polls, they add.

As recently as the 2020 primary, Black women candidates did not get as much party and financial support as white candidates and men, the N&O previously reported.

“By and large, there are still a lot of gaps if you look at Black candidates, especially Black women,” Murdock said. “So there’s still a gap, but with competitive races we are picking up steam.”

Congressional candidate Valerie Foushee talks with Brenda Ford Harding outside the polling site at South Regional Durham County Library in Durham, N.C. on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Foushee won the Democratic primary to represent District 4 in Congress.
Congressional candidate Valerie Foushee talks with Brenda Ford Harding outside the polling site at South Regional Durham County Library in Durham, N.C. on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Foushee won the Democratic primary to represent District 4 in Congress.

PAC endorsements, support

Both Beasley and Foushee have been endorsed by The Collective PAC, which supports Black candidates across the country. Based in Washington, The Collective PAC also endorsed candidates in local races and is “working to create an America where Black people are equally represented at every level of government.”

“In order to change the laws, you need to change the lawmakers at every level,” said Kevin Olasanoye, the Collective’s political director, in an interview with The News & Observer.

He said the organization has seen recent gains among Black candidates — women and men — up and down the ballot.

“It really started for us in droves in the aftermath of George Floyd’s untimely killing in 2020,” he said.

After getting over the initial shock of Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer, he said, people decided they wanted to play a role in making change happen. Olasanoye said U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s win in Georgia last year was also a major awakening for Black candidates.

Olasanoye said candidates need support early on to win. The Collective has supported Beasley since she declared her intentions to run, he said. He was in Raleigh Tuesday night for Beasley’s primary win.

“The key constituencies that delivered wins for [President] Biden is Black voters, and Black women,” Olasanoye said.

Incremental gains

The advancement of Beasley and Foushee to the general election contribute to potential record-breaking numbers of Black women elected in 2022, said Glynda Carr, president and CEO of Higher Heights for America PAC.

Higher Heights works to elect progressive Black women. She said their gains over the past decade have been incremental.

Beasley and Foushee wins in November would represent a series of firsts. If Beasley is elected, she would be the first Black senator representing North Carolina and the first Black woman in the U.S. Senate since Kamala Harris was elected vice president.

If Foushee wins, she would be the first Black woman to represent the 4th district, replacing longtime Rep. David Price, who is retiring.

Their victories would show the “Black women bench is long and deep,” Carr said.

More Black candidates are in the pipeline for local, state and federal seats, Carr said.

“Do Black women still have obstacles around fundraising and institutional support? Yes,” Carr said.

What’s changed, she said, is that “Black women don’t have to run in just Black districts” to get that support. Carr said it’s encouraging that Black women’s leadership transcends race and gender.

N.C. Rep. Vernetta Alston, a Durham Democrat.
N.C. Rep. Vernetta Alston, a Durham Democrat.

State Rep. Vernetta Alston, a Durham Democrat who is Black, said she hopes Beasley and Foushee’s campaigns are a sign of change for the Democratic Party in terms of being inclusive and giving those candidates the party’s institutional and financial support they need to win.

“We will hopefully see that this isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan, and signals an important change in how we think about leadership and fundraising, and who our viable candidates are,” Alston said.

She said their wins Tuesday generated “real motivation for us to charge forward towards November and win.

“I think it’s a given from our perspective that Cheri Beasley and Valerie Foushee can win these races and seats up and down the Democratic ticket,” Alson said.

Durham, which just elected its first Black woman mayor, Elaine O’Neal, also has the only all-woman governing board in North Carolina, the county commissioners.

Runup to the general election

The 2022 elections are midterms, meaning the middle of a president’s term, which traditionally has been when the opposing party makes gains.

“This is going to be a year when voters on both sides of the aisle are going to be charged up,” Carr said. “The candidates have to dig in, talk to voters, build up policy platforms that resonate with their base.”

She said candidates will need to focus on everyday issues like the economy and education while also dealing with inflation, war abroad and COVID-19.

Olasanoye said The Collective PAC will help Beasley raise money and “do everything we can” to reach voters and make sure they turn out to the polls. He said some Black voters in North Carolina haven’t voted since Barack Obama’s presidency, and turnout will be key in getting Beasley, Foushee and others elected.

“Every single voter is going to matter here,” he said.

He expects the Beasley-Budd election to be close, potentially decided by only 2 or 3 points.

A lot is at stake this November, Olasanoye said, which was acutely illustrated with the leaked Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that dealt a blow to abortion rights supporters.

The Collective’s mission is to “build Black political power,” he said, and Black women’s voices have to be at the table.

“It’s an incredibly important thing,” Olasanoye said. “It’s not just symbolism, it has real practical policy implications.”

To get there in November, he said, it is “super important that everybody rolls up their sleeves.”

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at https://campsite.bio/underthedome or wherever you get your podcasts.