N.C. Democratic senate candidates go hunting for the mythical moderate unicorn | Triangulator | Indy Week

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N.C. Democratic senate candidates go hunting for the mythical moderate unicorn

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It's not often that you see Democratic senatorial candidates attacking their opponents for working for the ACLU, but a little more than two months out from the primary, here we are.

On Sunday, Durham businessman and U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Griffin told The News & Observer that rival Deborah Ross' "history" as the state director of the ACLU makes her unelectable. "If she wins the primary," Griffin said, "she will spend the entire general election defending every action she took as the director of ACLU."

Then, on Monday, Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey piled on in ominous fashion. "We must examine each candidate's record," Rey said in an email blast. "Democrats know Ross' record will be the source of Republican attack and does not appeal to independents."

The biggest point of contention is the ACLU's opposition to two separate pieces of legislation while Ross ran it: one that established a sex-offender registry in North Carolina in 1997, and a 2001 bill that would have allowed public schools to display the Ten Commandments.

Holning Lau, the immediate past president of the state ACLU, responded to Griffin's remarks in a statement to the INDY: "The ACLU's mission is to protect constitutional rights for everyone, and it isn't afraid to take up tough civil liberties issues in order to defend all people from government abuse and overreach. For almost 100 years, the ACLU has successfully defended many of the rights and liberties we all enjoy today, even when those cases were considered controversial."

Ignore for a second that attacking someone for defending civil liberties—yes, even those of sex offenders—is asinine, and makes precious little political sense in a Democratic primary that will be decided by progressives. "Don't vote for Deborah Ross because Republicans will attack her" is an exceptionally weird position for Griffin and Rey to take. After all, anyone running as a Democrat for Senate is going to be attacked. That's how politics works, guys.

The bigger problem is that Griffin and Rey are conflating "electability" with "pandering to moderates."

It's a common misconception that, because North Carolina has a very conservative Legislature, every Democrat running for statewide office has to be a moderate Blue Dog; in reality, the moderate wings of both parties have been all but wiped out by a combination of gerrymandering and polarization. There's no "silent majority" of independents yearning for someone who sucks up to both sides rather than one. But by pushing the narrative that working for the ACLU is something Ross should be ashamed of, that's the unicorn Griffin and Rey apparently want to chase.

Reach the INDY's Triangulator team at triangulator@indyweek.com.

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