Columnist by Tom Campbell
Die-hard politicians, pundits and partisans waited until the early hours before finding clarity on North Carolina’s election winners and losers. We should have expected that. Our state remains a shade of purple.
Republicans had a good night but fell short of a great night. Democrats were disappointed but avoided the “bombing” that former President Obama described in his first midterm election.
Unspoken, but always just below the surface, was Donald Trump, who endorsed a number of candidates. But two things became apparent: Some of Trump’s candidates were weak, and voters weren’t buying what he was trying to sell. His influence appears to have waned both nationally and in North Carolina.
Meanwhile, record turnout for mail-in and early voting, coupled with long lines on Election Day, gave Democrats hope for a small “blue wave” like those experienced in 2018. But that never came about.
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In the main event, the US Senate race, Democrats had hoped the state would reverse its traditional Republican representation and this time send a Democrat. The result had national significance, but could also have had significance in determining who controlled the Senate.
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley appeared to be a strong candidate with national recognition. Her opponent, Ted Budd, hugged the former president. Trump even showed up at a rally in Wilmington to support him, but money was the deciding factor. Independent groups – the Club for Growth was one of them – have pumped millions into our state to support Budd. And although federal campaign finance reports show that Beasley’s campaign outperformed Budd, the outside spend expended on Budd was far greater.
Some Democrats were quick to criticize their party for not putting more money into supporting Beasley. The party chose to allocate funds to other states, perhaps believing that even with their full support, Beasley would likely fall short. We’ll never know, but what we do know is that the race wasn’t as close as predicted.
As disappointing as the Senate race was, the real heartbreak for Democrats had to be the judiciary election. The two Supreme Court elections were the most important in voting, and Republicans won both, changing the composition of our Supreme Court from the current 4-3 majority for Democrats to 5-2 in favor of Republicans. The Republicans also won all four Court of Appeals races. We will understand how important these elections are when issues such as abortion, electoral laws, education, power relations and new elections reach the new court. Court decisions increasingly follow party lines.
Perhaps the brightest spot for Democrats was the congressional elections. As of Tuesday, Republicans held an 8-5 majority in the state delegation. The census gave us a 14th seat and most pundits were predicting a result of 8 to 6, but voters demonstrated their independence and put the candidates above the party line. North Carolina will send seven Republicans and seven Democrats to Washington next January.
However, new districts will be drawn before the 2024 elections. Courts axed the congressional districts drawn by the legislature and had three “special masters” draw new maps used that year. Since all of this happened so close to the election, the courts also dictated that new maps of Congress be drawn ahead of the 2024 campaign… and this is where we could see how the new Republican appellate court plurality comes into play.
Democrats can express some satisfaction at not losing veto-proof majorities in both houses of the legislature, despite suffering losses. Republicans captured 30 of the 50 Senate seats, enough for a supermajority in the upper house. But Republicans fell a seat short of a veto-safe lead in the House of Representatives, giving Gov. Roy Cooper some consolation that Republicans won’t be able to pass what they want, carte blanche, without him having a say Has.
Republicans didn’t celebrate as much nationally. Nationwide, Democrats are claiming victory because even if they were to lose control of the US House and Senate, their losses were not nearly as great as expected.
For now, it seems Republicans can celebrate at the state level while lamenting the national results.
Tom Campbell ([email protected]) is a North Carolina Hall of Fame broadcaster and columnist who has covered public policy issues in North Carolina since 1965.