GREENSBORO — Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had a succinct message for Guilford County Democrats in a brief visit Tuesday afternoon.
Think smaller when it comes to political office, Holder said, but work just as hard.
“We get all excited about who’s running for president,” he said, “but we don’t give enough attention to those who are running down ballot.”
Holder told his audience of about 100 that the winners of those “down ballot” seats in the N.C. House and N.C. Senate will be the decision-makers who draw new lines for congressional districts in years ahead.
He said that ultimately means having much to say about who represents the state in the U.S. House of Representatives and the subsequent balance of power in the nation’s capital.
Holder, 67, urged his audience of party volunteers to devote an hour at a time during the 27 days before the midterm election to spread the word on behalf of Democratic candidates for both houses in the General Assembly and for Anita Earls, a Democratic candidate for a seat on the N.C. Supreme Court.
Originally from New York, Holder led the U.S. Justice Department from 2009 through April 2015, when he returned to private practice as a lawyer. He also has served as the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee for the past two years, a group that aims to increase the number of Democratic state legislators in key states.
That’s a particular goal for the Democratic Party in such states as North Carolina where the two major parties have fought bitterly over the alleged gerrymandering of congressional districts along both partisan and racial lines.
He noted that the next test case on partisan gerrymandering to reach the U.S. Supreme Court could involve North Carolina, a case that includes a recent ruling by a three-judge panel based in Greensboro that the GOP-controlled General Assembly went overboard in favoring Republican candidates when it drew the state’s current congressional map.
Holder said that he shared a similar message Monday with Democratic volunteers in Charlotte on a trip that also includes stops in battleground states Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Holder told his midday audience at the Guilford Democratic Party headquarters off West Meadowview Road that Nov. 6 “is the most important midterm election of my lifetime.”
He said the election is so important because it represents a golden opportunity to start reining in some of what he characterized as the other party’s excesses in Raleigh and in Washington since President Donald Trump has been in office.
Holder cited such Republican-driven decisions as failing to expand Medicaid in North Carolina and changes to state voting laws that he said would make it more difficult to vote, particularly for voters in population groups who typically support Democratic candidates.
The alternative to a successful “blue wave” is “allowing that which has happened over the last 15 or 16 months to continue to happen,” he said.
“That’s a frightening prospect,” Holder said. “I’m asking you to do something that’s good for our party, but that’s also patriotic and good for our nation.”
Republicans dispute such bleak assessments of their performance in the North Carolina driver’s seat, pointing to a recent university study that ranked North Carolina high in fiscal health, to historically low unemployment levels, to recent improvements in education spending and to other material gains since they took legislative control in Raleigh seven years ago.
They are appealing the partisan gerrymandering case to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that GOP legislative leaders did not exceed their lawful powers in drawing the state’s 13 congressional districts as they did.
After his remarks Tuesday, Holder fielded questions from listeners who asked about the nation’s partisan rancor, wondered about the prospects for impeaching Trump, and expressed frustration with Democratic leaders’ seeming inability to effectively counter the president’s sometimes harsh partisan attacks.
Holder said he did not foresee impeachment as a likely outcome even if Democrats retake control of the U.S. House next month. That’s because even if the lower body should resolve to impeach, the party split in the U.S. Senate likely will remain wide enough it would be impossible to get the two-thirds majority of senators required to remove a president, he said.
Audience member Fritz Apple, 82, told the former attorney general that as a lifelong Democrat, he wants leaders of the party to stand up to Trump more assertively when the president suggests that they and others in the party are evildoers.
“I’m no choir boy,” the Greensboro resident said, “but I’m certainly not evil.”