RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina state senator announced Tuesday that he’s running for the U.S. Senate in 2022, hoping to flip fortunes for Democrats from his state to serve in the chamber after a string of defeats.
Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte business attorney, Afghan war veteran and National Guard soldier, unveiled his bid, saying he is committed to “honesty and decency” in politics and helping working people and working families.
Jackson, 38, is the second high-profile Democrat to enter the race to succeed three-term Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who is not seeking reelection. Erica Smith, a former state senator who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2020 and to challenge Republican incumbent Thom Tillis, is in again.
Tillis ultimately narrowly defeated Democrat Cal Cunningham in November. Those two campaigns and outside groups spent $287 million combined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That was a record before the two Georgia Senate elections that went to Jan. 5 runoffs swamped that total.
In contrast with North Carolina’s hyper-nationalized Senate race in 2020, Jackson said he’ll attempt to turn his campaign inward by pledging to visit all 100 counties as the coronavirus pandemic has subsided. He said he’ll hold town halls in each to “build an agenda that’s actually tailored to our state, not an agenda that’s imported from D.C. or from donors.”
In a campaign announcement video featuring his wife and three young children, Jackson said voters want a different approach to win their support.
“The idea is just to do a good job and this is what a good job would look like,” Jackson told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “The idea is not to run a super clever political campaign. The idea is just to be very straightforward and surprise people by how real it is.”
North Carolina Republicans have now won four consecutive Senate races dating to 2010. Cunningham’s bid for U.S. Senate was derailed in the campaign’s final weeks by his acknowledgement of a recent extramarital affair. But Democrats nationally are heartened by victories elsewhere, capped by both Georgia wins. That caused a 50-50 split in the chamber that gave Democrats control because Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, breaks ties.
Other Democrats are weighing whether to enter the contest, which will still require massive fundraising even in the coming months to gain the attention of voters in the March 2022 primaries. Jackson, who sat next to Smith on the state Senate floor the past two years, said he considers her a friend and would endorse her immediately if she won the primary.
On the Republican side, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro announced he’s running last month. North Carolina native Lara Trump, the daughter-in-law of former President Donald Trump, is also considering a bid.
Jackson decided against running for Senate in 2020 after meeting with then-Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Schumer ultimately backed Cunningham’s bid, and Smith accused party leaders of stacking the deck against her as a Black woman in the March 2020 primary. Jackson and Cunningham are white.
Jackson said in 2019 that Schumer had wanted him to spend all hours “in a windowless basement” raising campaign money to defeat Tillis. Jackson told the AP on Tuesday he had not spoken to Schumer about 2022 but “I’m going to run this campaign the way I think it needs to be run.”
Jackson’s military career evokes Cunningham’s. While in college, Jackson enlisted in the Army Reserve after the Sept. 11 attacks. He served in Afghanistan for nearly a year in the mid-2000s. He remains a military attorney in a North Carolina National Guard unit and is a former local prosecutor.
Jackson’s file of legislative accomplishments in Raleigh is relatively thin — largely the result of serving in the minority party. He did advocate successfully for a 2019 law that undid a 40-year-old court decision that had made North Carolina the only state where women could not revoke consent once a sex act had begun.
Jackson also has made splashes with recorded floor speeches and social media posts that have gone viral.
State Republicans already tried to link Jackson to Cunningham on Tuesday, calling him “Cal Jr.”
“North Carolina needs leaders who get results and Cal Jr. believes success equals retweets,” state GOP spokesman Tim Wigginton said in a news release.