RALEIGH, N.C. — 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 “honest and decent politics” and “working people and working families.”
Jackson, 38, is the second 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 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, an all-time 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.”
“People want a different approach. They want an approach that they can respect and one that respects them,” he said in a video that features his wife and three young children. “Look, folks, you should have higher expectations for this office than you currently do.”
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, including those for both Georgia seats. 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 2021 primaries.
On the Republican side, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro announced he's running last month and is already travelling on the GOP meeting circuit seeking support. 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.
Jackson's military career is similar to that of Cunningham. He enlisted in the Army Reserve after the Sept. 11 attacks and served in Afghanistan. He's a military attorney in a North Carolina National Guard unit and a former local prosecutor. Jackson was ordered to guard training in the final weeks of his state Senate race this past fall, handing his reelection campaign to his wife.
While Jackson's file of legislative accomplishments in Raleigh is thin — largely the result of serving in the minority party — he's made splashes with recorded floor speeches and social media posts that have gone viral. That social media presence has buoyed his fundraising and profile.
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.
Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press