2022 U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Jackson visited NC State Wednesday, Nov. 3, as part of an ongoing college campus tour. The serving state senator, vying to replace the retiring Richard Burr, held a town hall at Stafford Commons from 12-12:50 p.m. Jackson stuck around afterwards to answer more questions.
“I feel like candidates come to colleges in the last 30 days [before election day] and talk about getting out the vote, but that's not really earning support,” Jackson said after the event. “That's just asking and hoping for support. We're starting early because I want to actually earn people’s support, but there's no easy way to do it. It means you actually got to show up and open yourself up to them.”
Prior to the question-and-answer portion of the town hall, he went through many of his campaign positions including moving to universal healthcare, a regulatory approach to marijuana use and ending gerrymandering through a new voting rights act. According to Jackson’s campaign, attendance peaked at 210 people.
“Twice as many people as we expected,” Jackson said. “I'm not sure how many people were here, but I know it was a full crowd, and we love it.”
Sam Goetz, a fourth-year studying political science and the treasurer for the NC State College Democrats, said the organization has anticipated Jackson’s visit for the past few months.
“I heard about Jeff Jackson, probably six years ago, would have been during one of his [NC] Senate races,” Goetz said. “He is just an incredible guy; he’s super down to earth. He really makes it his job to connect with his voter base because he wants to do the best that he can to represent his voter base, and that's really what just sold me on him.”
Jackson said his method of continuous town hall events is meant to counter misinformation. Prior to this college campus tour, he visited all 100 counties in North Carolina to create a reputation that could withstand opposing candidates’ attack ads.
During the question-and-answer portion, students asked about issues such as college affordability, raising the minimum wage, inflation and federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.
On college affordability, Jackson proposed free community college, shifting away from trying to make a profit off student loans and utilizing income-driven repayment plans. Jackson said he supports an increase in the minimum wage and federal recognition of the Lumbee Tribe, and also said some inflation is the result of having to jump-start the economy with areas of concern like energy and automobiles, as well as supply chain issues.
There were no disruptions save for a question about Jackson’s position on gun control.
A student said Jackson supported red flag laws and background checks and said measures like those violate the due process clause of the Constitution. Jackson said the question contained misinformation, pivoting to his stance on the NRA while the student pushed back before heckling Jackson.
Houston Bumgarner, a third-year studying fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology, said that moment stood out to him. Bumgarner heard about the town hall through a politically inclined friend, but was already impressed by Jackson through his weekly COVID-19 update posts on the NC State subreddit.
“He did a great job answering all the questions,” Bumgarner said. “I really liked how when he was kinda getting heckled, he was able to stay calm and provide a good answer that really addressed the question and still got on to the next bit that he was trying to get to.”
The student, Spencer Pope, is a fourth-year studying psychology and the president of The Free Pack, a conservative news publication by NC State students. Pope said he heard about the town hall through a painting outside the Free Expression Tunnel and attended the event to see what Jackson had to say and to ask the gun control question.
“I think he was very dismissive of me because he didn't actually want to answer the question, in particular, red flag laws are very unpopular amongst pretty much anybody who's a gun owner; I can't think of anyone that supports them,” Pope said. “I thought it was insulting for him to say I had misinformation when the information I pulled was directly from his website. Was I unprofessional? Yes. But he also twisted what I said and would not answer the question.”
Jackson’s website states he’s proposed to “implement universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders and to prohibit the sale of bump stocks and similar devices.”
Pope said, for a Democratic candidate, the town hall was “pretty run of the mill,” with no surprising moments. He said he thought most of the questions were softballs, but he liked that Jackson was staying after the event to continue answering questions.
“I do think it's refreshing to see him doing this,” Pope said. “Even if I disagree with him on a lot [of issues], I think this is important for candidates to actually go out and talk to people.”
Jackson’s NC State trip was just the ninth stop out of the 18 he currently has scheduled. As he stumped, he encouraged students to get involved either in his campaign or in local politics, no matter the level. According to his campaign, 20 students joined up after the event.
Jackson has a tough primary opponent in Cheri Beasley, but Jackson’s grassroots campaign has already made an impression on the students there to see it in person.
“I wanted to see how he was planning on running, because he's running against a moderate who's getting more money from people, but he's trying to be more personable,” Bumgarner said. “And I really appreciate him coming and talking to everybody, and how he was talking about how he's been to every county, and it was nice to hear that he's planning on continuing and doing that more. … I agree with him on more issues than his primary opponents. So I think I probably am sold on him.”