We will be dissecting Tuesday’s elections for months to come but there are some immediate takeaways from the outcomes. With three notable exceptions it was a great year for Republicans in North Carolina.
Few predicted a convincing Donald Trump national presidential victory. He defied long-standing political beliefs and practices in an unprecedented and historic victory. Neither the political parties, most elected officials, nor the media or pollsters recognized the depth of the anger, distrust and desire for change among white middle class voters. Trump alone did. Even those who didn’t like his bombastic personality embraced his call to “drain the swamp” and responded to fears that the next president would nominate as many as three new Supreme Court Justices. Trump’s coattails guaranteed that Republicans maintained control of the U.S. House and Senate.
Exception one: Republican Pat McCrory may be the first North Carolina governor to be defeated seeking re-election. Out of 4.6 million votes cast Roy Cooper won by only 5,000, however this contest isn’t final. Some 8,000 provisional ballots have to be tallied, there are questions about Durham County’s election results and you can be assured a recount will be requested. The courts might ultimately decide the gubernatorial outcome.
Why did the incumbent governor get fewer North Carolina votes than either Trump or the reelected Senator Richard Burr? When the dust settles it will be the fallout from HB2 that did McCrory in. As Beverly Perdue learned, Cooper will face unique circumstances. Republicans actually gained a seat in the NC House and maintained firm control over the Senate, setting up a very interesting 2017 legislative session that assures a Cooper veto can be overturned.
For the first time in our lifetimes the Council of State will have 6 Republicans and 4 Democrats, assuming Tuesday’s outcomes stand. Republicans picked off the office of State Treasurer, the Commissioner of Insurance and Superintendent of Public Instruction, while retaining the Lt. Governor, Commissioner of Labor and Commissioner of Agriculture.
Exception two was Democrat Josh Stein winning the Attorney General’s office. We suspect Buck Newton’s close association to HB2 spelled his defeat.
The third exception came from the Supreme Court contest. Democrat Mike Morgan had more than a 300,000-vote plurality over incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds. Some speculate voters didn’t know either candidate and since Morgan’s name appeared first on the ballot (with no listed party affiliation) they chose Morgan. But it may have resulted from the shenanigans the legislature tried to pull to allow Edmunds to stand for a confirmation vote rather than face a human competitor, legislation that was overturned by Edmund’s own Supreme Court colleagues for being unconstitutional. Democrats will now hold a plurality on our highest court, the final arbiter to an ever-growing number of litigations resulting from Republican controlled legislation. Republicans won all the contests for the Court of Appeals, the only surprise being the defeat of incumbent Democrat Linda Stephens by Phil Berger, Jr. – likely a case where name recognition prevailed.
North Carolina turned a deeper red shade in 2016. It was not a good night for Democrats, who must now regroup, reevaluate their policies and constituencies. It should also be a wake-up call for pollsters, consultants and the mainstream media. The voters have spoken and we would all do well to heed their voices.
Tom Campbell is the Executive Producer and Moderator of NC Spin.