For the first time in anyone’s memory, nearly all 170 state legislative races in North Carolina will feature both a Republican and Democratic candidate.
Candidate filing ended at noon Wednesday, leaving no uncontested races for state House or state Senate after a heavy recruiting push from both major parties.
In past election cycles, districts drawn to strongly favor one party often failed to draw more than one candidate. The 2016 general election included 73 districts in which just one of the major parties fielded a candidate. Republicans didn’t have a candidate in 30 House races and four Senate races. Democrats had no candidate in 28 House races and 11 Senate races.
This year, though, Democrats announced early on that they intended to find candidates in all districts.
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“This is a historic day,” Robert Howard, the state Democratic Party’s spokesman, said on Twitter. “Our party is the strongest it’s ever been and NC is fired up to break the supermajority.”
Republicans also fielded a full slate of candidates, including every legislative district in Mecklenburg County. State GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said in a tweet, “This shows the strength of democracy in North Carolina.”
Woodhouse himself filed papers on behalf of several candidates in Mecklenburg County, paying their $207 filing fees with checks from the state party.
Republicans hold so many seats in the House and Senate that they can override the vetoes of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
Republicans were less vocal about their plans but were able to have the same success in recruiting. Woodhouse issued what appeared to be an automated call to GOP voters in districts lacking a candidate – even offering to pay candidate filing fees – and the effort produced a Republican in each district.
In a Facebook video, Woodhouse said it was a “a record number of legislative candidates like we’ve never seen.” He says Wednesday’s news “will forever put to rest the idea that Republican-drawn legislative maps keep people from running for office.”
Before Woodhouse said one district lacked a Republican candidate, Gerry Cohen, a retired legislative staffer and the unofficial General Assembly historian, tweeted that it “might be first time EVER all seats are contested,” although he said it’s difficult to make comparisons with elections held prior to 1925.
With filing complete, Democrats and Republicans now face the challenge of how to allocate campaign money and resources across 170 districts. Party leaders will have to make strategic decisions about which races offer the best chances of victory – and even under newly drawn maps, many districts still favor one party by 60 to 80 percent of the vote based on past election results.
“The hard work starts now,” House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson said on Twitter. “We heard you when you demanded a #120DistrictStrategy. Now we have 120+ candidates that need support. They need $, they need advice. They need volunteers. They need managers and kitchen cabinet advisers. Now is everyone else’s turn to step up.”
With the general election still months away, attention in the short term will likely turn to the May primaries, where an unusually high number of legislative races have multiple candidates from the same party.
In Mecklenburg, there are 10 primaries for General Assembly seats. Sen. Joel Ford and Rep. Rodney Moore, both Democrats, each face three primary challengers.
There are also Democratic primaries for sheriff and for the board of county commissioners.
Seven Democrats are running for three at-large commissioner seats. There are also primaries in Districts 2, 3 and 4.