Democrats hold town hall for party leader candidates

Jan. 16, 2013 @ 10:33 PM

More than 50 state Democratic Party leaders gathered Wednesday to hear from two men vying to lead the wounded party as it seeks to recover from recent election loses giving Republicans control of the North Carolina General Assembly.

The two candidates, Eric Mansfield, a former state Senator from Cumberland County, and Pittsboro Mayor Randy Voller agreed that Democrats must do a better job of getting their message out to voters, and also of raising money to compete with GOP candidates who are more often backed by deep-pocketed donors.

Roughly 720 party leaders will gather in Durham Feb. 2 to elect either Mansfield or Voller the new state party chairman. They will also choose several vice chairs.

Wednesday’s meeting at Extraordinary Ventures in Chapel Hill drew several area Democratic leaders and others from across the state.

State Auditor Beth Woods, a  Democrat, attended the meeting.

While the two men are officially competing for the top seat in the party, each said that if he wins, the other will be among the first he calls to help in the fight to regain control of the General Assembly.

 “If I win, my next step would be to have Randy Voller right next to me,” said Mansfield, responding to a statement by a woman who said after hearing the two men make their pitches for the seat that she was more confused than ever about who to back.

Mansfield said Voller has a way of engaging people that would be useful in rebuilding the party.

 “I’m sure there are some regions in the state where Randy might be a better messenger than me,” Mansfield said.  “This party has to have everyone involved, engaged and where there is talent, use it.”

Voller said he would also put Mansfield to work if he wins the election next month.

“I’m not running against Eric and he’s not running against me,” Voller said. “We’re running for the position.”

If he wins, Mansfield said he would make sure the state Democrat Party does a better job of getting the word out about what the party stands for. 

“I believe we as Democrats have got message, message internally about who we are, what we are and what we believe,” Mansfield said.

Voller said he believes Democrats must be more authentic in communities across the state.

“People can tell when you’re faking it,” Voller said. “People can tell when you talk about stuff but you don’t do it, when you’re long on talk and short on walk.”

He said Democrats can’t walk away from their values.

“We need to be the Democratic Party, and we need to own it and be proud of it” Voller said.

Both Mansfield and Voller said Democrats have to figure out a way to get their constituents excited about non-presidential elections.

“I would say that on Feb. 3 that we start voter registration all over with a goal of 200,000 new registrars by the year 2014,” Mansfield said. “But not only do we have to register new voters, we have to educate the voters we already have, to inform them that it’s just not good enough to wait every four years to vote or every two years to vote. We need to start voting in every single year, starting with the municipal election.”

Voller also said it’s important to mobilize voters so that they’re engaged in every election.

 “Our party is obsessed every four years,” Voller said. “We buzz around and get excited about a sexy presidential candidate, but like cicadas we die and we go back into the ground. This party cannot be the cicada party. It cannot emerge every four years and buzz around and have a lot of activity, and leave a lot of dead carcasses of volunteers who gave their all and they don’t get involved in their community.”