08/13/08 — Democrats turn out for Ronnie Griffin fundraiser

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Democrats turn out for Ronnie Griffin fundraiser

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 13, 2008 1:39 PM

Faced with an open seat in the state House District 11 race, North Carolina's Democratic leadership is hoping to be able to use it to strengthen the party's grip on the chamber.

Ronnie Griffin Fundraiser

News-Argus/Mitch Loeber

State House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, talks with Democratic District 11 candidate Ronnie Griffin at a fundraiser Tuesday night in Goldsboro.

Already holding a 68 to 52 majority, House Majority leader Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, said Tuesday night at a fundraiser held by Jimmie Edmundson for candidate Ronnie Griffin, that he believes the party can pick up anywhere from four to seven seats. House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, was even more hopeful, putting the high end of the party's goal at 10 new seats.

Party leaders explained that their optimism comes from candidates like Griffin, who will be facing off against Republican and current Wayne County Commissioner Efton Sager.

They will be running to replace Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, who is running for the District 5 state Senate seat being vacated by John Kerr, D-Wayne.

"It's an open seat, and anytime you've got an open seat it's supposedly easier to win than beating an incumbent," Holliman said.

Especially, Hackney added, with a good candidate like Griffin.

"The best thing you can do is recruit and have a really high quality, well-known and respected candidate," he said. "And that's what we have. We feel that with Ronnie's military background and his business experience, he's a perfect fit for this district, and we think the voters will feel that way, too."

Holliman also noted that Griffin's previous candidacies should help him this time around.

It's a strategy, they explained, that they are employing in other races, including the other two open seats and those where they feel Republicans might be vulnerable.

"Picking a good candidate is half the battle," Hackney said.

The other half, he said, is highlighting what Democrats have been able to do with their majority in recent years, pointing in particular to education funding, health care, job creation and the passage of "fiscally sound" budgets.

"I think we had a good session. We kept it in the middle of the road, not too far left and not too far right," he said. "We're trying to move North Carolina forward."

That's why, he added, party leaders believe it's important they maintain their position.

"It's a process, and of course we'll try to work with the other side, but if you're in the majority, you get to set the agenda," Holliman explained.

By doing that, Hackney said the Democrats will be able to "keep a centrist, middle-of-the-road philosophy in charge, and a strong interest on education for everybody, and especially on bringing teacher pay up to the national average."

And he doesn't believe that there will be any lingering effects from some of the Democratic Party's low points, including the scandals and questionable actions involving former House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, former Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover, and even the governor's wife, Mary Easley.

"I think the public has some confidence we've taken these issues seriously and acted appropriately," Hackney said.

Also likely to help, Holliman added -- although Hackney was not as bullish on the potential effects -- is the attention being paid to North Carolina by presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

"That kind of grassroots effort can make a difference," Holliman said, especially in a race like District 11 where registered Republicans currently outnumber registered Democrats.

"The numbers are not where we'd like to see them as far as registration goes, but we're getting close," he said. "We'll be having a get-out-the-vote program."

But right now, they feel good about where Griffin's campaign is and how he's organized it with different committees in various areas of the county.

"He's organized and raising money and raising money the right way from friends and neighbors and supporters," Hackney said. "This is going to be a district where a lot of money is needed."

And a lot of help, which Holliman pledged Griffin would receive.

"We think this seat is very important. We will be here all we can. It's a real opportunity for us to pick up a seat, but even more than that, it's an opportunity to get a really top representative here," he said.