This story is the latest installment in our “Contenders” series, where we outline the strengths and weaknesses of the people most likely to run for higher office in the coming years. Want to keep up? Sign up for the weekly Longleaf Politics newsletter.

Why Jeff Jackson is a contender

Not since John Edwards[footnote]This is intended in the best possible way. Don’t forget, Edwards finished second in the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and was the pride of the state before his fall.[/footnote] has North Carolina been home to a politician with as much potential as Sen. Jeff Jackson.

Just four years after being appointed to a state Senate seat, Jackson has become arguably the most visible leader in the North Carolina Democratic Party. Fresh off of leading the successful campaign to break the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly, this Charlotte Democrat is already considered a frontrunner to challenge U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis in 2020.

As a former prosecutor, he’d have an inside track to the state attorney general job. As a captain in the U.S. Army National Guard, he has instant credibility in a military-friendly state. As a top fundraiser in his party, he already has statewide exposure. 

Jackson has plenty of options in his political career, and plenty of time to decide. But don’t be surprised if Jackson winds up in the presidential short-list in the next decade.

Photo by Jeff Jackson via Facebook

Jeff Jackson’s advantages

Support statewide. In the 2018 elections, Jackson appeared at fundraisers for Democratic candidates statewide. There’s a reason: He resonates across North Carolina.

Reasonable on policy. Like Gov. Roy Cooper, Jackson has carved out a reputation for proposing “common sense” solutions on policy issues. His “Actually Drain the Swamp” bill is full of proposals that are popular statewide. He hasn’t been tied to less-popular proposals like the $15 minimum wage.

Understands both modern and old-school campaigning. Jackson is a master at social media and the Internet and has gone viral on more than one occasion. But he also maintains shoe-leather campaigns, knocking on 10,000 doors each summer.

Charismatic. Jackson is whip-smart and a good speaker, and would excel in a debate format.

Jeff Jackson’s disadvantages

Untested. Like most contenders, Jackson hasn’t faced a true test of his appeal. His Charlotte district is the definition of safe, and he was appointed in the first place. Republicans have already said they have ways of attacking him when the time comes, but we’ll see if they stick.

Can he lead instead of just oppose? His rise to power has coincided with Democrats being in the downswing. It’s much easier to criticize the majority than it is to actually implement policy proposals and then answer for him. Democrats actually taking a majority in the General Assembly could either be the best or worst possible thing for Jackson if they’re then forced to act on their ideas.

The crystal ball

Jackson will run for U.S. Senate in 2020 or 2022 (or both) and will win one of those races. He’ll be on the short-list for Democratic nominee for POTUS in 2024, but won’t run immediately. 

Cover image of Sen. Jeff Jackson by Lorenzo Pedro via Facebook.


  1. Yep, I’ve thought for some time that he would run against Tillis. Jackson is a very strong campaigner and Tillis is potentially vulnerable. He (Tillis) was saying he might not run, but that was then.


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