100-County Campaign

State Sen. Jeff Jackson, seeking U.S. Senate seat, holds outdoor town hall in Chatham

BY D. LARS DOLDER, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/15/21

About 40 people gathered at Pittsboro’s Kiwanis Park on Monday — shivering in the cold and socially distanced — to hear state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) pitch his bid for U.S. Senate.

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100-County Campaign

State Sen. Jeff Jackson, seeking U.S. Senate seat, holds outdoor town hall in Chatham

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PITTSBORO — About 40 people gathered at Pittsboro’s Kiwanis Park on Monday — shivering in the cold and socially distanced — to hear state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) pitch his bid for U.S. Senate.

The Chatham rally was Jackson’s eighth stop on what he calls his “100 county campaign,” an effort to personally visit with residents of each N.C. county. The trans-state tour has no rigid timeline, according to Jackson campaign press secretary Ty McEachern, but would ideally conclude within 100 days, in advance of the primaries.

Jackson’s objective, he says, is to rework the traditional campaign model to better engage would-be voters and address their concerns. When he first entertained the idea of running for Congress, campaign experts and political advisers recommended Jackson synthesize his objectives into “five key phrases” with mass appeal that could be easily repeated and broadcast.

“Well that’s bulls--t,” Jackson said in his speech Monday, evoking cheers and applause from the crowd. “... It’s easy to demonize a set of vague principles. We need to make it specific. We need to localize it.”

Jackson’s goal is to hear from as many North Carolina voices as possible before committing to a platform. 

“The idea is you make it a 100 county campaign by going everywhere,” Jackson said. “But then you build an agenda that actually reflects the state.”

Having only begun his rounds, then, it’s premature for Jackson to assemble his primary objectives or to request voter support, he told the News + Record.

“I think in the last election, most people found themselves voting against something,” he said. “And the purpose of this campaign is to give them something to actually vote for. But in order to do that, you have to take a little bit of time to learn about the candidate, and to listen to what they’re saying. And so at this early stage in the campaign, I’m really not asking for people’s support. I’m asking for the opportunity to earn their support. And that’s what I would ask folks here.”

Jackson, a 38-year-old Charlottean, is serving in his fourth term as a state senator. He is a lawyer, and previously worked as a Gaston County prosecutor. He is also an 18-year army veteran, having fought in the Afghanistan war and currently serving as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. He is among six candidates — including Chatham’s Kimrey Rhinehardt, who is unaffiliated — seeking to replace longtime Sen. Richard Burr (R) in the 2022 election. (Burr isn’t seeking re-election.) If Jackson wins, he could further tip the Senate’s narrow Democratic majority.

Though a Democrat, Jackson has been openly critical of politicians from both major parties, expressing disdain for any leader who makes policy decisions in the interest of party power. He reiterated this contempt on Monday when addressing the state’s history of gerrymandering.

“Democrats could have done something about it, but wanted to hold on to power,” he said, referring to when the Democratic Party last held majority power in the General Assembly about 10 years ago. “First thing we did when Republicans took over was say, ‘How about independent redistricting?’ And they said, ‘How about epic payback?’”

The double standard represents what most voters recognize, Jackson said — a widening party divide.

“This is as bad as it’s ever been,” he said. “But what’s interesting is coming out of this pandemic, there’s going to be a physical coming back together. Well, what if we could pair that with a political coming back together?”

If so, Jackson expects Congress will find that many of the biggest issues facing this country transcend party lines. Chatham’s primary concerns, for example, including water contamination and broadband inequity, are almost nationally ubiquitous. All voters would like cleaner water, he said — it shouldn’t be framed as a one-party mission.

On broadband, he says federal spending must accelerate in the short-term to prevent any further delay in universal access.

“We’re making a mental transition at a state level from broadband being a luxury to being a necessity,” he said. “But that comes with an appropriation that’s required.” 

State and federal programs already exist to promote broadband expansion in rural areas, but they’re underfunded and sluggish, according to Jackson.

“There is a program for pushing out broadband into more rural areas, but we only funded to the tune of about $10 million a year,” he said. “And that money goes really fast. That’s not enough to move the needle ... What we need to do, rather than parcel that out over 10 years or 12 years, is front-load that funding — spend as much of it as early as possible. Can you imagine being the last community to be hooked up to broadband 12 years from now? Terrible.”

To achieve such lofty goals, however, voters must unite behind common ideals, Jackson says, not party banners. He hopes to demonstrate with his campaign that he’s interested in what’s important to all North Carolinians.

“Everyone deserves respect; I show everybody respect,” he said. “... What we’re trying to do with this campaign is to treat it as a massive showing of good faith and a raising of people’s expectations. You should expect more from your representatives than people who constantly lower your expectations.”

The event was scheduled to last one hour, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., but was halted early when a Kiwanis Club representative interrupted to inform the campaign that political events were forbidden on the property. A similar Republican event had been turned down earlier, the representative said. Jackson followed the in-person town hall with a similar virtual event broadcast from downtown Pittsboro outside the historic courthouse. 

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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