According to Andrew Dunn of www.longleafpolitics.com, a flurry of online video ads began appearing on Facebook on June 25 targeting seven Republican representatives besides Clampitt — Ashe County’s Jonathan Jordan, Mecklenburg’s John Bradford, Bill Brawley, Andy Dulin and Scott Stone, and Wake County’s Nelson Dollar and Chris Malone.
Dunn reports that each of the ads has “between $100 and $500 behind it, which equates to 5K-10K views.” The ads, he said on Twitter, mostly target women aged 35 to 54.
The video ads have also been seen on YouTube, Netflix and other such online streaming sites, but no matter where they air, the message is the same no matter who the target is.
As the camera pans out over empty school desks, a voice states, “North Carolina schools are falling behind.” A sketch of Clampitt appears on a blackboard that also reads, “Per student spending in North Carolina is $2,400 below the national average,” while the narrator says, “But Mike Clampitt supported more tax breaks for corporations, and now he wants to lock in tax breaks for millionaires.”
The blackboard then changes to read, “Ranked 39th in the country — National Education Association” and also then reads “Mike Clampitt voted for billions in corporate tax cuts” as the narrator ends with, “Tell Mike Clampitt no more tax giveaways. Start funding our schools.”
When reached via email July 9, Clampitt called the ads “dark money attacks” that are based on “cherry-picked talking points” designed to deceive voters.
“As I told the teachers from our area that came to Raleigh to voice their concerns, I respect and value their hard work, and I will continue support more significant investment in our state’s education and our children,” Clampitt said.
He then detailed in a bulleted list everything he says the legislature has done for teachers in the past five or so years, including an average $53,600 teacher salary for the coming school year.
Clampitt also listed a $233,000 increase in lifetime earning potential of a North Carolina teacher since 2013, thanks to five consecutive pay raises averaging 19 percent, or about $8,600. More than 44,000 teachers, according to Clampitt, have received a pay raise of at least $10,000 under Republican leadership.
“The real irony is this group hopes to elect my opponent, who claims to support teachers, but before voters kicked him out of office, he voted against many teacher pay increases, voted to cut teacher pay and force furloughs and even voted to lay off teachers, all while significantly raising taxes on all North Carolinians,” Clampitt said.
His opponent, Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, sees things differently.
“Since 2010 and the Republican takeover, we’ve gone from being in the solid middle, sometimes the upper half,” said Queen, the son of two educators. “Now, we’ve literally dropped almost all the way to the bottom. There’s no question we’ve lost relative ground.”
Queen, who has served in both the state House and Senate, also criticized recent Republican tax breaks as misguided and harmful to the most vulnerable in North Carolina.
“We have cut the tax base for the privileged and powerful,” he said. “When you cut out your revenue streams with tax breaks for the wealthy, you cut education and health care. Education is nominally 60 percent of the budget, health care is nominally 30 percent. Everything else is 10 percent. They’re very proud of their big tax cut, but it comes right out of education and health care, and it goes right to the top 1 percent. The tax cuts didn’t hit the average citizen. The service cuts hit the average citizen, the little man.”
The NCAE ads were a surprise to Queen, he said, but a welcome one.
“I’m glad they’re looking at my race as an important one,” he said. “I’m glad of that. I want their support. I’ve got their endorsement.”
Queen narrowly lost to Clampitt in November 2016 in one of the tightest races in the state; fewer than 300 votes separated the two men despite Queen defeating Clampitt in 2012 and 2014 by more than 1,000 votes.
Targeted spending by interest groups is likely to be high in this district, as it’s seen by Democrats as a viable target and seen by Republicans as a defensible seat.
“The trends have been in the progressive direction, whether it’s Virginia or Alabama, or across the nation,” said Queen. “We got beat in a Trump wave, and now the trend is going the other way.”