The Fall of the Basnight/Rand Empire and the Rise of a New Generation of United, Savvy Republican Leaders … Who can Raise Money

by johndavis, December 8, 2010

Post:  December 7, 2010       Volume III, No. 2 “I can’t control my caucus anymore.” NC Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, Sited in John Davis Political Report, Volume II, No. 8, December 10, 2009 NOTE:  For those of you who are not subscribers, please subscribe today at $485 for the Premium Annual Subscription by clicking
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Post:  December 7, 2010       Volume III, No. 2

I can't control my caucus anymore.” NC Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, Sited in John Davis Political Report, Volume II, No. 8, December 10, 2009

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A Political Wave Does Not a Majority Make

Many assert that the Republican "Wave" of 2010 was the reason that North Carolina Republicans won the majority in both chambers of the General Assembly on November 2, a first since 1898.  Well, if all it takes is a GOP "Wave," then why haven't Republicans won the majority in the North Carolina General Assembly more often than the one time in 1994 … during a stretch of 112 years?  Why is it that only two other states, Oregon and Washington, have an undefeated run of Democratic governors as long as North Carolina?

Sorry, a wave does not a majority make.

The Republican “wave” that swept the U.S. this fall presented a wonderful opportunity for Republicans to achieve historic gains in North Carolina … but nothing more than a wonderful opportunity. Democrats have always been able to beat back the national Republican wave election years because of money, savvy and unity … aided by underfunded Republican candidates and Republican Party disunity.

In 2010, the Republican and Democratic caucus strengths were reversed.  It was the Democrats who began to self destruct.  Republicans seized that opportunity by doing everything right while the Democrats were doing the most important things wrong.

The potential for Republicans to hold the majority long term has nothing to do with "wave" elections, it is great because they have gotten very good at winning campaigns.

Divided Democratic Leadership Led by Inexperienced War Generals

The NC Senate Democratic Caucus started down the road to defeat on November 17, 2009, a year before the 2010 elections.  That was the day Sen. Martin Nesbitt (D-Buncombe) was elected Majority Leader following the abrupt resignation of long-time Majority Leader and Rules Chairman Sen. Tony Rand (D-Cumberland).

Rand was a great war general; Nesbitt was not.

The historic era of unparalleled power of Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight came to an end that day.  Basnight began to tell his friends, “I can’t control my caucus anymore.”  A new era of Senate leadership began, an era led by seasoned urban lawyers with unquestionable public policy credentials ... but not political combat credentials.

Marc Basnight and Tony Rand were unquestionably two of the most powerful legislative leaders in state history … powerful because they knew how to win campaigns even during GOP wave years. However, they wielded their power with such ruthless efficiency that over time they made lots of enemies … including in their own caucus.  The little known fact outside the Raleigh beltline is that Basnight and Rand were slowly becoming a minority in their majority caucus.

Basnight and his inner circle were business owners.  Their fatal flaw was the failure to see the value in maintaining a base of philosophical allies in their caucus by recruiting and helping elect other Democratic business owners.

And so, imperceptibly over time, a liberal coalition of Senate Democrats grew in number and coalesced to create its own force, a mutinous force that became stronger than that of the leaders Basnight and Rand.

Thus, the fall of the Basnight/Rand Empire … and with it, a divided caucus led by inexperienced political war generals.  They were doomed a year ago.

United Republican Leadership Led by Seasoned War Generals Who Can Raise Money

By 2008, Senate Republicans and their political team under the leadership of Phil Berger from Eden had become seasoned political combat veterans.  They had become so good that they would have won a majority of seats in the North Carolina Senate, during one of the worst years for Republicans in modern political history, if it were not for the unity, savvy and especially the fundraising prowess of the Basnight/Rand political machine.

Senate Democrats were forced to spend an average of $500,000 per competitive race just to fend off Republicans who spent a third of that.  That’s how effective Republican leaders, their political staff and their consultants had become at winning campaigns.  They were a serious political threat even during a Democratic "Wave" ... long before the GOP wave came along.

Among House Republicans, a strong political war general was needed.  In 2010, that leader emerged in the name of Thom Tillis, a two-term member of the House from Huntersville.  Tillis joined Skip Stam from Apex in what has become a powerful force with a working relationship that has the long-term potential equal to that of Basnight and Rand.  They are competent, intelligent, politically savvy, and committed to the state ... with a priority of restoring the state’s economic vitality.  Oh, and they can raise money!

“We went in united, we came out united.”

Most importantly, Stam and Tillis are united.

I asked a House member to tell me about the Republican House Caucus meeting held a couple of weeks ago during which Skip Stam and Thom Tillis vied against each other for the position of Speaker.  That member said, “We went in united, we came out united … thanks to the way Skip Stam and Thom Tillis conducted themselves.”  That speaks well for long-term majority status for Republicans in the North Carolina House.

And speaking of the importance of unity and political warfare experience, the role played by NC GOP Party Chair Tom Fetzer in 2009 and 2010 cannot be overstated.  A party with a history of being divided, conservative versus moderates, came together under the leadership of Fetzer.  Fetzer not only brought unity to the GOP this election cycle, he brought political savvy and fundraising skills from his years as Mayor of Raleigh and as a political consultant.

Fetzer’s rallying theme for the 2010 elections: “One Team, One Goal, Victory.”  Unity, savvy and successful fundraising is why Republicans won in 2010.  Otherwise, 2010 would have been just another Republican “wave” year written off as a just another missed opportunity.

Don’t Dismiss the Significance of the GOP Commitment

To suggest that “the wave” alone would have carried the GOP into power in 2010 not only flies in the face of NC history, it dismisses the significance of the GOP commitment.

  • It dismisses the significance of a leave-it-all-on-the-battlefield 18-month commitment of time and energy by an atypically savvy and united group of NC Republican party leaders and their exceptional staff;
  • It dismisses the significance of an atypically savvy and united Senate and House Republican caucus leadership team and their exceptional political staff;
  • It dismisses the definitive value of the thousands of volunteers who manned the phone banks for months making 2 million calls so they would not be beat this year in the early voting turnout;
  • It dismisses the extraordinary class of candidates who neglected their families and risked their personal resources while working the campaign trail to exhaustion day after week after month after month … nights and weekends;
  • It dismisses the significance of thousands of new contributors to Republican candidates and the hard work of those who took the time to work the phones raising the money;
  • It dismisses the significance of new independent expenditure groups that followed the 2008 labor union play book with a partisan investment of millions;
  • It dismisses the significance of the fact that through mid-October, Republican fundraising was UP twice as much as in 2008 while Democrats were DOWN $2 million;
  • It dismisses the significance of the Tea Partiers and all of those rallies held all over the state … rallies organized by organizations like Americans for Prosperity and Civitas … rallies that would not have happened if it were not for committed and hard-working staff;
  • It dismisses the significance of the value of 60 polls made public by organizations like Civitas, Carolina Strategy Group and Public Policy Polling ... and groups like the NC FreeEnterprise Foundation who compiled political research for easy access;
  • It dismisses the significance of the value of organizations like the John Locke Foundation that was a constant source of misery for Gov. Perdue and the Democratic establishment, keeping them tripped up with their effective investigative reporting and in-your-face news releases;
  • It dismisses the significance of the constant drum beat of conservative thought pushed into the public conscience by talk radio, Fox News and a gazillion conservative publications and web sites.

Republicans in other states may have inadvertently won the power because of the national wave.  Here in North Carolina, the “wave” was nothing more than an opportunity.

Republicans seized that opportunity by doing everything right while the Democrats were doing the most important things wrong.  The potential for Republicans to hold the majority long term has nothing to do with "wave" elections, it is great because they have gotten very good at winning campaigns.

Well, there you have it, the John Davis Political Report for Tuesday, December 7, 2010.

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