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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Anderson Clayton is a fresh voice atop the North Carolina Democratic Party

Anderson Clayton, the new NC Democratic Party Chair, in her office at the NC Democratic headquarters in Raleigh.
Matt Ramey
/
for WUNC
Anderson Clayton, the new NC Democratic Party Chair, in her office at the NC Democratic headquarters in Raleigh.

Anderson Clayton was elected chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party earlier this month in a surprise outcome that ran counter to what of the party establishment had wanted.

Clayton ascended to the post after most recently serving as the Person County Party Chair. At just 25-years-old, her age has been a frequent point of conversation as she began her efforts to prepare progressives for 2024.

Clayton spoke with WUNC’s Jeff Tiberii about her recent win, what comes next, as well as all that talk about age.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.


Clayton: "I represent the type of progressive that wants to see their party go forward and wants to see their communities thrive. People ask me all the time, where do you want to see the party go, left or right? And I tell them, I want to see it go straight, I want to see it go forward. I want to see it make sure that the people in their communities can see somebody that's representing and talking about the issues that actually matter to them and in their own backyard."

Tiberii: "The governor, the attorney general, all of the state's Democratic Congressional delegation, and some of the heavy hitting power brokers within the Democratic Party did not endorse you. They were looking for — in my words here — status quo and another two-year term for the now former state party chair, Bobby Richardson. You looked like a significant underdog on paper going into last Saturday. Did you feel like a significant underdog?"

Anderson Clayton, NC Democratic Party Chair, poses for a portrait at the NC Democratic headquarters in Raleigh on Feb. 16, 2023.
Matt Ramey
/
for WUNC
Anderson Clayton, NC Democratic Party Chair, poses for a portrait at the NC Democratic headquarters in Raleigh on Feb. 16, 2023.

Clayton: "Yeah, I don't think that I necessarily expected you to walk out of Saturday being the state party chair. I think I always wanted to walk out of Saturday feeling like we left it all on the field, and that we gave people in this state something to feel really proud of and to feel like their voices were part of this party again. I tell folks all the time, and I told people on the campaign trail, regardless of what happened, I'd still plan to always be an organizer back in rural North Carolina; that was the goal with all of this is to make sure that people understood rural young folks have a place and can do amazing things when they really get involved in their own backyard. I understand that there's a large undertaking with it. But I think that I'm ready to do it. I had the courage to step up and try."

Tiberii: "The governor, for his part, congratulated you afterward on Twitter. Have you two spoken directly?

Clayton: "Yes, I've definitely talked to Governor Cooper. I was so excited to hear from him. And also (Attorney General Josh) Stein — I had lunch with him on Monday. And we got right to work talking about what we need to do to for 2024. And I think that there's such a huge opportunity here for me to work with them. And, you know, they were also young bucks when they got involved with politics for the first time. And I think that maybe not as young as I am right now. But we oftentimes forget how folks got started in politics. They've been here for a while, honestly. And we need to make sure that we're considering how folks really get to where they are. So, everybody's got to start somewhere. And I think I've got a unique opportunity to start here."

Tiberii: "True or false: The three most important responsibilities of this new post are, in no particular order, recruiting candidates, raising money and mobilizing voters?"

Clayton: "Absolutely. Took the words right out of my mouth. I absolutely think that's the case. I want to make sure that we have someone running in every State House and State Senate seat in 2024. I want to give Democrats somebody to look to and say, 'That's my candidate.' ... To do that, I've got to raise significant amount of funding to be able to take back and really contribute to what Republicans are able to do right now... So, I want to make sure that Democrats can get out early and be able to fight and be able to show their districts like these are, this is who we are, and this is who we represent.

Tiberii: "You hail from Person County. For our listeners who are unfamiliar, that's north of Durham and runs along the Virginia border. What does your victory mean for rural Democrats and rural progressives?"

Anderson Clayton, NC Democratic Party Chair, poses for a portrait at the NC Democratic headquarters in Raleigh on Feb. 16, 2023.
Matt Ramey
/
for WUNC
Anderson Clayton, the newly elected NC Democratic Party Chair, is 25-years-old and commutes to Raleigh from Person County.

Clayton: "I hope it means that you've got a place in this party and that you can change something. One of the things that I feel like people in our party have felt for a long time — honestly, across our state, not just within the Democratic Party, but everywhere — people on the ground feel like they don't have power. We do have agency when we get involved collectively, and we come together and we say, 'This is what we're fighting for.'

"I still live in Person County, I'm doing that commute every day. The Raleigh traffic might give me a little bit of road rage on my way in, but I'm dealing with that. And I'm making sure that I still want to be able to live in the community that got me here. And that made me think politics can be different than what it is right now. Because it's extremely divisive. And it really makes people, I think, turn away from what we need to be talking about, which is just bettering people's lives across our state."

Tiberii: "So, rural is obviously a prominent word on the political bingo card of North Carolina in 2023, or even American politics in 2023. You've said rural a few times. We talk about it regularly in some of our reporting, but I'm curious as to what you think the steps are, how do you actually cultivate a better relationship renew some of what did exist in previous machinations of the rural swaths of our state and the North Carolina Democratic Party?

Clayton: "Yeah, I think we've got to understand, you know, rural communities, while we're getting all of this great money from the infrastructure bill and from the American Rescue Plan, are still having a really hard time surviving. Without Medicaid expansion across our state, hospitals in eastern North Carolina are closing. It's a lot harder to find help for a prenatal care if you're trying to start a family. Our communities are not able to actually thrive right now. They're just able to survive."

Tiberii: "Democrats lost every statewide election in 2022. Democrats have not won a federal election statewide in North Carolina in 15 years. What does that tell you about where you need to prioritize most beginning right now with Week One?"

Anderson Clayton, the newly elected NC Democratic Party Chair, talks with staff at the NC Democratic headquarters in Raleigh on Feb. 16, 2023.
Matt Ramey
/
for WUNC
Anderson Clayton, NC Democratic Party Chair, talks with staff at the NC Democratic headquarters in Raleigh on Feb. 16, 2023.
Anderson Clayton, NC Democratic Party Chair, poses for a portrait at the NC Democratic headquarters in Raleigh on Feb. 16, 2023.
Matt Ramey
/
for WUNC
Anderson Clayton, NC Democratic Party Chair, poses for a portrait at the NC Democratic headquarters in Raleigh on Feb. 16, 2023.

Clayton: It tells me I got a lot of work to do... The Democratic Party for a while has done everything, like, election cycle to election cycle. And I actually really want to be intentional about how we build this party back up. And it's not a two-year process. And that's really what I've told a lot of folks — it's a 10-year build back of how do we recreate and rebuild trust of the Democratic Party in these communities? Because I know right now, our branding is not the best... It's for government in general; rural communities don't believe government works for them. And, and quite frankly, when you're looking at who's in charge right now, I think that there's a real responsibility that we have to start running people who have actual visions for their communities, because that's what we want to see, we want someone who doesn't just want to be in a position to hold the position, but we want to run candidates that actually have the mindset of, 'What is this community look like 50 years from now?' Because that's the most important thing."

Tiberii: "You've worked on a couple of presidential campaigns. Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, I would say that plenty of ink has been spilled, noting the fact that you are only 25 years old. I'm curious, from your perspective, why the age thing is perhaps both a good thing and potentially a shortcoming.

Clayton: "I think where you would find any shortcoming with age is that you have a lack of institutional knowledge. And I think that what I'm going to try to do is really make sure that I have good advisors and people around me who have that backing and that background to be able to give me some advice on what they've seen before and what goes into it. And it doesn't mean I always have to take it, but it does mean that I want to be able to hear it.

The one thing I wish that more people would really think about when they're looking at this is, instead of saying, 'That 25-year-old, who does she think she is?' Is saying, 'Wow, a 25-year-old is ready to step up into leadership right now because they see the dire need for change in our party and change in our state and change in politics.'

Honestly, I want young people to be able to see themselves in roles like this and I know that I need to be able to do a really good job so that they can have a potential future in order to be able to. So, I'm excited to welcome them into this party.


Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Clayton was Person County Precinct Chair. Clayton was in fact Person County Democratic Party Chair.

Jeff Tiberii is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Jeff joined WUNC in 2011. During his 20 years in public radio, he was Morning Edition Host at WFDD and WUNC’s Greensboro Bureau Chief and later, the Capitol Bureau Chief. Jeff has covered state and federal politics, produced the radio documentary “Right Turn,” launched a podcast, and was named North Carolina Radio Reporter of the Year four times.