Mecklenburg County Democrats prevailed in some key state legislative races Tuesday, with Republicans led in others.
Democrat Chaz Beasly won by 54.3 percent in the race for House District 92, which had been a Republican-held seat. Mary Belk finished slightly ahead of incumbent Republican Rob Bryan, 51 to 49 percent, in the race for House District 88.
Republicans were holding their own in some other contests. Dan Bishop had a 56.8 percent to 43.2 percent lead over Democrat Lloyd Scher for Senate District 39, which had been held by Republican Bob Rucho. And Jeff Tarte, an incumbent, held a 54.5 percent edge over Democratic challenger Jonathan Hudson, who had 40.7 percent. Libertarian Chris Cole had the balance of votes in the race.
Several key Republican legislators decided not to run for reelection or pursued other seats, leaving their seats open. Rucho, a conservative stalwart and head of the Senate Finance and Redistricting committees, said in November that he wasn’t running for another term after 17 years in the legislature. Rucho was a main architect of state tax policies, voting districts and the 2013 attempted takeover of Charlotte’s airport.
Scher, the Democrat, and Bishop, a Republican, were running to replace Rucho in the now-open seat. Bishop’s run for the State Senate left his N.C. House seat, District 104, open as well.
In the house, Republican Charles Jeter was facing a challenge for his House District 92 seat from newcomer Beasley, a Democrat. The two-term legislator upended the race in his district, which stretches down the Catawba River from Huntersville to Lake Wylie, when he announced in July that he was resigning.
Jeter called it “one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life,” but said he needed to focus more on his family. Beth Danae Caulfield, a Republican, stepped in to fill his place on the ballot opposing Beasley.
Several Democratic legislators ran unopposed in Mecklenburg. Rep. Rodney Moore, who represents District 99; Becky Carney, representing District 102; Carla Cunningham of District 106; Kelly Alexander of District 107; and John Autry, a current Charlotte City Council member seeking the House District 100 seat, faced no opponent.
In House District 105, Republican Scott Stone was appointed in May to replace Jacqueline Shaffer, a Republican legislator who resigned. Schaffer had previously announced she would not seek reelection. The southeast Charlotte representative had championed legislation on religious freedom, restricting abortion and loosening gun control during her time in the statehouse.
Democrat Connie Green-Johnson challenged Stone for the seat. Stone had a 55.2 percent lead over Green-Johnson, who had 44.7 percent in the close contest.
Statewide, North Carolina Republicans looked headed toward maintaining their majorities in the General Assembly, but their ability to override a veto by the governor was in doubt.
Lawmakers’ campaigns came against a backdrop of hyper-partisanship, acrimonious social legislation and slippery coattails from unpredictable presidential, gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.
The Republicans have controlled the General Assembly since 2011, when they took charge of both the House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction. During the 2015-16 legislative session, they controlled the Senate 34-16 and the House 74-45 with one GOP-leaning unaffilated member.
By controlling three-fifths of seats in each chamber since 2013, they held supermajorities, which allowed them to override any veto by the governor if nearly all GOP members supported it.
To end the supermajority, Democrats on Tuesday needed to win either five net seats in the Senate or four net seats in the House.
That looked more likely to happen in the House than in the Senate. Republicans looked unlikely to lose many Senate seats and possibly able to pick up at least one to strengthen their majority.
Since 2012, when Republicans trounced Democrats by increasing their majorities in the state Senate and House – and also won the governor’s mansion – they have implemented a conservative economic and social agenda. That has led to a slew of lawsuits over voting rights and other issues.
This year, many had privately worried about fallout from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and the controversial House Bill 2 limiting anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, all of which Democrats attempted to exploit.
Pollsters and pundits also predicted North Carolina’s population boom had brought enough moderate voters unaffiliated with either party to swing many close races. Joe Stewart, executive director of the nonpartisan research group the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation, tracks legislative races. He pointed to the state’s growing urban-rural cultural divide.
All 50 Senate seats were up for election, but 15 senators faced no challengers and only seven races were considered truly competitive, a result of legislative districts drawn to favor Republicans.