She is the youngest state chair of the Democratic Party in the country and the first Gen Z chairwoman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. She has a goal of flipping North Carolina blue for the first time since 2008, when Barack Obama won the state by a narrow margin. She faces a tough challenge from a well-organized Republican Party that has the backing of former president Donald Trump and other potential presidential candidates. She is Anderson Clayton, and she thinks it’s now or never for her state.
“Like, I know that we either win in 2024, and we do amazing things and we go forward as a state and as a nation, or we regress backwards,” she told The Independent in an interview. “It really is now or never for North Carolina, in my opinion.”
Clayton, who grew up in rural Person County on the northern border with Virginia, said she got involved in politics because she wanted to make a difference in her community and her state. She worked on several campaigns, including those of Vice President Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2020, before returning to her hometown and becoming the chair of the local Democratic Party. She helped flip control of the Rockford City Council and decided to run for the state party chair in February.
She won the election in a surprise upset, defeating the incumbent chair Bobbie Richardson, who had the endorsement of the entire state Democratic congressional delegation, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Democratic attorney general, Josh Stein. Clayton said she ran on a message of change and innovation, arguing that Democrats need to invest in rural communities and young people if they hope to erode Republicans’ grip on state and local power.
“One of the things that I really want to change is the way that we look at and perceive rural communities as a problem versus worth investing in,” she said.
She also said that Democrats need to harness the energy and anger of their base and turn it into action. She pointed to the recent override of Cooper’s veto by the Republican-controlled state legislature, which passed a 12-week abortion ban that would severely limit abortion access throughout much of the South.
“They have to win North Carolina,” Clayton said of the Republicans, noting how the last time a Republican won the presidency without winning the Tar Heel State was Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. “And what’s at stake is that you have three candidates like Trump and Pence and DeSantis, who are coming in who are all three examples, in my opinion, of right-wing extremism each in their own right.”
Clayton also wants to invest in young people and diverse candidates to build a strong party for the future. She said she wants to recruit and train more people from underrepresented backgrounds to run for office and work on campaigns. She also wants to engage more young voters and activists who may feel disillusioned or ignored by the party establishment.
“The Democratic Party has become too much of a metropolitan, cosmopolitan party,” said David Axelrod, a former top adviser to Obama. “There is a sense in the party that we’re the party of working people, but if you don’t communicate respect, and only say, ‘Let me tell you what we’re doing for you,’ then you’re not very persuasive. And there were a lot of working people who felt betrayed.”
Clayton said she is not afraid to be candid about her party’s flaws and missteps. She said that many Democratic officials viewed rural voters as out of reach and relied too much on the Obama coalition without understanding its dynamics.
“Put a map of North Carolina on the wall, throw a dart at said map, and any given county, 50-50 shot there’s actually going to be a Democratic presence on the ground,” said Jonah Garson, the party’s first vice chair.
Clayton said she is optimistic about her party’s chances in 2024, but she knows it won’t be easy. She said she is ready to work hard and inspire others to join her.
– The 25-year-old Democratic party chairwoman who wants to turn North Carolina blue: ‘It’s now or never’, The Independent, 19 June 2023
– The Youngest State Party Leader in the U.S. Has a Blue-Collar Blueprint, The New York Times, 4 May 2023
– A Gen Z party chair hopes to change Democrats’ fortunes in N.C., The Washington Post, 28 March 2023
– Anderson Clayton is a fresh voice atop the North Carolina Democratic Party, WUNC, 21 February 2023