People generally can get to know top of the ticket candidates well enough to make a decision without proxies. But the farther down the ballot you go, the more political endorsements matter.

With limited name recognition, candidates for General Assembly and local office often rely on more well-known figures and organizations to vouch for them. Endorsements are a key measure of a viable candidate, right there next to fundraising ability. They’re vital to escaping party primaries and getting to November.

That’s why if you hit any candidate’s campaign website, you’re sure to see a section riddled with logos containing all their endorsements.

Sometimes it’s easy to figure out what an endorsing body cares about, sometimes not. And some endorsements matter more than others.

To help you make sense of it all, we’ve collected some of the more important endorsing bodies in North Carolina state and local office.

Here are 16 of the endorsements that truly matter in North Carolina politics.

Seen an endorsement that you wanted more information about? Let us know: andrew@longleafpolitics.com.

State Employees Association of North Carolina

What it is: This organization represents state workers, advocating for pay raises and improved health care and retirement benefits.

Who they endorse: SEANC’s endorsements, done through their political action committee, are truly bipartisan. In 2016, they endorsed 40 Democrats and 28 Republicans for state House.

Why they matter: State employees are reliable and engaged voters. Because either party can earn their endorsement, their picks carry more weight. The State Employees Association is well-organized, reasonable and clear in their mission.


EMILY’s List

What it is: This Washington-based national organization launched in 1985 that’s dedicated to electing “pro-choice Democratic women” at the state and federal level. EMILY stands for “Early money is like yeast,” making the dough rise.

Who they endorse: EMILY’s List is backing 20 Democratic female candidates for General Assembly this year.

Why they matter: As the acronym suggests, EMILY’s List gets involved early in the political process, lending both credibility and cash to candidates trying to break through the Democratic primary. They also recruit candidates and played a huge role in making every General Assembly race contested this year.


Sierra Club

What it is: The North Carolina chapter advocates for clean air and water, and stronger environmental protections statewide.

Who they endorse: Historically their endorsements have been somewhat bipartisan, but in 2018 they’re virtually exclusively endorsing Democrats.

Why they matter: The environment is a great issue to collect unaffiliated candidates. Though they’re not a particularly big spender ($100,000 in 2016), the Sierra Club is a consistent voice in Raleigh and send mailers on behalf of their candidates.

Note: The NC League of Conservation Voters is similar politically and strategically to the Sierra Club but does not have as deep of pockets. They’ve endorsed a slate of Democrats this year.


N.C. Home Builders Association

What it is: They represent the state’s home construction industry. Their political arm, called the BUILD-PAC, supports candidates at all levels of government through local Home Builders Associations.

Who they endorse: In the current environment, they tend to support Republicans. But they also endorse pro-business Democrats, typically incumbents.

Why they matter: They’ve got decently deep pockets (just under $300,000 in 2016) and get involved early in the process. They spent $125,000 on mailers during the primary for 17 incumbents.

New houses in Cary. Photo by Payton Chung via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Civitas Action

What it is: Civitas Action is a conservative organization that ranks legislators based on their votes.

Who they endorse: As a conservative group, they generally endorse Republicans who adhere to traditional conservative positions.

Why they matter: They don’t really spend money, but they have a devoted following and get involved in races with low name ID, like state Supreme Court.


NC Chamber

What it is: This organization represents the state’s business community.

Who they endorse: They currently endorse Republicans, but also endorse a small number of incumbent pro-business Democrats. Only five Democrats made their list of “Jobs Champions” in March.

Why they matter: They have the ear of the state’s most politically connected people and keep in regular touch with their members. Like the Home Builders Association, they get involved early and send mailers even in primary season.


NC REALTORS

What it is: They represent the state’s real estate industry.

Who they endorse: Their endorsements tend to be bipartisan. They support pro-business policies, better infrastructure and property rights.

Why they matter: NC REALTORS counts 43,000+ members, and they by design are super involved in local affairs. The PAC contributed more than $750,000 to candidates in 2016.


Fraternal Order of Police

What it is: This is the state and nation’s largest organization of law enforcement professionals. They have roughly 7,000 members in North Carolina and 330,000 nationally.

Who they endorse: They generally endorse Republican, conservative candidates who support pay raises for law enforcement and vocally support police officers.

Why they matter: The FOP endorsement can play a pivotal role in Republican primaries, generally determining who is the “law and order” candidate. Like state employees, law enforcement officials are also engaged, regular voters.

Photo in Halifax County’s town of Enfield by Cliff via Flickr (Creative Commons).

NC Values Coalition

What it is: This organization was created in 2011 and advocates for socially conservative, pro-traditional family, pro-religious positions.

Who they endorse: They endorse Republicans who are socially conservative.

Why they matter: They run an effective grassroots organization that makes noise at the state and local level.


North Carolina Association of Educators

What it is: This is the state’s largest teachers group.

Who they endorse: In the past, they’ve supported candidates on either side of the aisle who support positive education policy. These days, however, they exclusively endorse Democrats.

Why they matter: They represent a group of people universally supported by the state’s voters and are able to effectively turn them out for rallies and other campaigns.

Photo of a 2013 teacher protest in Cumberland County by Gerry Dincher via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Grass Roots North Carolina

What it is: This organization advocates for gun rights.

Who they endorse: They endorse Republicans who support pro-gun policies.

Why they matter: Gun rights are a crucial litmus test for many voters in Republican primaries, and GRNC produces detailed endorsements for these races.

Civilians participate in a marksmanship competition at the North Carolina National Guard’s Camp Butner Training Site. Photo by the N.C. National Guard via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Human Rights Campaign

What it is: This organization advocates for pro-LGBT policies.

Who they endorse: In 2016, the Human Rights Campaign only endorsed Democrats.

Why they matter: They host lucrative fundraisers for Democratic candidates and have the ear of politicians at the state and local levels.


Other endorsements that matter:

Local parties. County Democratic and Republican party organizations generally make endorsements in primaries that are probably the most influential of them all. They have people working polling locations and hand out fliers with their candidates.

POTUS. Down-ballot races almost always are influenced by the president in office —but sometimes, the president of the United States gets directly involved. This brings in serious money. Former President Barack Obama is getting into state legislative races in North Carolina, endorsing a half-dozen or so candidates. President Donald Trump has also raised money for Congressional candidates including Mark Harris and U.S. Rep. Ted Budd.

Black Political Caucus. Several cities around North Carolina have African-American caucuses. Black voters make up a large portion of the Democratic primary electorate, and their endorsements carry serious weight in cities like Charlotte.

Newspapers. The state’s newspapers do a lot of due diligence on all levels of the ballot and can be very influential in down-ballot races like judge contests.

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