It has been a month and a half since Bernie Sanders lost North Carolina on March 15th. And, ever since then, there have been conspiracy theories floating around Facebook and YouTube, by some Bernie for NC supporters, that Sander’s North Carolina campaign manager, Aisha Dew, threw the campaign for Hillary in an effort to ensure her win in the State.
Among the most prominent and vocal Bernie supporters calling for an investigation into the North Carolina campaign is Niko House. House says he was the President of North Carolina College Students for Bernie Sanders during the time Bernie campaigned in North Carolina.
A few days after Sanders’ loss, Niko House posted this video on YouTube, which at the time of this writing has gathered over 54,000 views. You can watch the video here: Niko House
The message Mr. House brings forward is resonating with Bernie supporters, especially among young college students, who for the most part are first time voters and campaigners. How could Bernie have possibly lost all of these states when he was drawing huge crowds? Something must be amiss.
Niko’s message echoed throughout social media as other young Bernie supporters came forward with their own stories from other states Bernie Sanders lost.
For example: a young woman contacted me a few weeks after I initially called Mr. House for an interview. She related a story, that while she was working as a volunteer for the Bernie campaign in South Carolina, she witnessed hundreds of flyers, which could have been recycled and used in other states, trashed in a dumpster behind a local campaign headquarters.
I asked her if she had taken a picture of the flyers in the dumpster—she said she had not because she didn’t have a smartphone.
Sadly, therein lies the rub: many of the rumors and speculation swirling around the internet can’t be verified in a meaningful way. And, I’m reminded of what my old history professor told me almost thirty years ago, “It’s not history if you can’t verify it.”
Secondly, I think it was a shock to many of Bernie’s supporters and volunteers when they realized that politics is a contact sport and opponents will use whatever is at their means to win.
Some would argue the system is rigged—while others would say the game isn’t played fairly.
In any event, my focus here is on Aisha Dew and the campaign she organized for Bernie in North Carolina. It literally took weeks before I could ever get anyone from Bernie’s national campaign to call me back. And, even then, they didn’t want to be named; that’s not surprising since they are still in the middle of a presidential campaign with many states left undecided.
This is also not a “hit piece” on either Niko House or Aisha Dew: I believe Niko believes what he claims in his videos and I believe Ms. Dew did the best she could, given the resources she had available to her.
First, let’s look at how Hillary Clinton was positioned, both in North Carolina and the rest of what has been called “The Southern Eight.”
Long before this campaign cycle and dating back before her last run for the presidency in 2008, Hillary had deep roots in the South among African American voters. She spent considerable time courting AA leaders after she left her post as Secretary of State.
Fighting Hillary in the South would have been an uphill battle for any candidate as some of her relationships date back twenty to perhaps thirty years in the making. She, as well as her surrogates such as Bill Clinton, were making phone calls in an effort to galvanize her support long before she ever announced her candidacy.
As one midlevel staffer told me who has worked multiple states, “We never really expected to win the South and the campaign was careful with money it felt could be used in states where we had a better chance. We had hopes of picking up one or two states but the polling never was in our favor.”
It’s also noteworthy that Bernie continues to raise money from small donors. But, before March 15th (and even before Super Tuesday) the campaign worried it would be low on resources going into the Northern states where polling was more favorable.
Sources close to Bernie’s campaign tell me that Aisha Dew had limited money to run North Carolina. At no time did she have over $20,000 to run the statewide operations. And, the total amount allocated for the North Carolina campaign was around $100,000—much less than what was spent in other states.
Coming off the heels of a devastating South Carolina loss may have put Aisha Dew between a rock and a hard place.
Even though some pundits claimed South Carolina was built for Hillary—the Bernie campaign put more resources and manpower into the state than they did North Carolina.
While North Carolina had only twenty paid staffers—most of those came after the South Carolina primary. Whereas, South Carolina—at its maximum—had close to 240 paid staff and paid volunteers.
A reporter, who traveled with the Sanders campaign in South Carolina, told me that the hope was that Bernie’s message would bleed into the southern parts of North Carolina, especially the heavily populated and left leaning Charlotte areas. As the map below shows, if there was hope of South Carolina’s energy bleeding over into North Carolina, it didn’t work.
Sanders did have pockets of support, as the map indicates, but he lost North Carolina overall .
As it turns out, Sanders actually did better than some of the polling (and internal polling) indicated. And, Aisha Dew is a big reason Bernie had the success he gathered, even though he lost. It’s true that, at the end of the day, it’s all about the delegate count. Sanders came out of North Carolina with 45 committed delegates. That’s no small measure considering the South Carolina results below:
Social media certainly has its place in information gathering—but it can sometimes get it wrong. And, as with all things on the internet, the information should be taken with a grain of salt.
Niko House posted another YouTube video soon after North Carolina’s March 15th primary. You can take a look at it here: Niko House 2
Although I understand Niko’s frustration and his disappointment over Bernie’s loss in North Carolina—there’s no evidence of saboteurs or mismanagement from Aisha Dew, Robert Dempsy or even the Chair of the NCDP, Patsy Keever.
But, looking at this objectively, I see a state director who opened five Sanders offices on a shoestring budget. Ms. Dew organized, as best she could, young people with no political volunteer experience and tried to keep them on the same page.
I’ve heard from a lot of college students in North Carolina over the past month—in an effort to glean what went wrong in Bernie’s North Carolina campaign.
Unfortunately, many of those casting shade on Aisha Dew never contributed to Bernie’s campaign in a meaningful way. I’ve yet to speak with many who spent time canvasing, phone banking or participating in Ms. Dew’s GOTV campaign.
Most went off in their own direction and commingled with likeminded individuals without guidance and support of the state campaign. In essence, Aisha Dew was in a unique position of having to herd cats.
But, there is a lot of water under the bridge. And, some hurt feelings.
Some people still feel slighted at the miscommunication that happened in February during Rev. William Barber’s HKonJ event. There are many sides to the story and as time goes on the stories grow. Below is a screenshot of a post about it that was taken down from DailyKos.com
In a nutshell, HKonJ is a march for Justice. Rev. Barber and his team are adamant in keeping it that way and not turning the event into a political rally. Aisha Dew complied with those wishes but she was still blamed when the wearing of Bernie gear was not allowed. Bernie supporters were NEVER asked not to attend the rally. They were asked not to make it a political campaign event.
And, lastly—there’s a story swirling around that a paid staffer was fired because she turned in gas receipts and complained when she wasn’t paid. Although sources close to the Sanders campaign wouldn’t comment on particular individuals or personnel matters, I have learned that the individual social media is talking about was a South Carolina staffer. And, she was paid for the expenses she incurred. Since the Sanders campaign is abundantly willing to pay vacation and sick leave time, I doubt reimbursements would be that much of an issue for them. The staffer ended up in North Carolina and Ms. Dew was blamed—for something she had nothing to do with.
Ms. Dew has also been blamed over the matter of some potential endorsements by political candidates and some caucus leaders leading up to the primary. The sources I’ve spoken with at Sanders national level tell me that all endorsements are vetted on the national level—meaning Aisha Dew would not have been a part of that decision making process.
So, what can be made of all of this?
Campaigns at this level are as much art as science. And, surely some mistakes were made: hindsight is always 20/20 vison.
But, for anyone to think or even assume Aisha Dew or her staff were spies for Hillary or out to sabotage Sanders campaign for Clinton’s benefit is overreaching.