Tuesday's results potentially hold a world of changes for state and local politics and governance. Here are five things to watch for as the votes are counted:
Votes for legislative races
Republicans believe they'll pick up enough seats to take over the N.C. Senate. Democrats say no way. Either way, the result has huge consequences for how the state is run. If Bev Perdue becomes governor, she may find herself overshadowed by a Democratic Senate that's used to getting its way. If Pat McCrory is elected, he'll face big frustrations dealing with the Senate leadership in particular. On the other hand, if Republicans win the Senate, a Gov. Perdue will face frustrations, while a Gov. McCrory would have a much easier time launching his proposals.
N.C. Supreme Court seat
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The vote for the single seat on the N.C. Supreme Court could shift which party has a majority on the court. The 7-member court now has four Republicans and three Democrats. Often it's hard to determine which opinions, if any, are affected by political party, and N.C. judicial races are officially nonpartisan. But the parties think it matters, because the Supreme Court may rule on biennial redistricting plans, which have a lot to do with who controls the legislature. If Wake Forest law professor Suzanne Reynolds knocks off Justice Robert Edmunds, as seems possible – thanks to an apparent voter preference for female candidates in judicial and other down-ballot races – then the makeup would shift to 4-3 in favor of Democrats.
The race for lieutenant governor
Former state Sen. Robert Pittenger of Mecklenburg is pumping tons of money into his race against Democratic Sen. Walter Dalton for the right to preside over the Senate. If Dalton wins and Democrats maintain their edge, look for the status quo. If Pittenger wins, look for interesting things to happen in the Senate. If Democrats retain control, there will be parliamentary fireworks. If Republicans win the Senate, there will be a period of adjustment among GOP senators who would finally have a chance to shape the Senate version of the state budget.
Who wins congressional races?
If Democrat Larry Kissell beats incumbent Republican Robin Hayes in the 8th District, or more unlikely, if Daniel Johnson ousts incumbent Republican Patrick McHenry, or – even more unlikely – Democrat Harry Taylor offs Charlotte's Sue Myrick in the 9th, that means anti-incumbent fever has probably swept the whole country. The 9th and 10th districts are the kind of areas where Republicans have relied on conservative voters for decades. The 9th District (Myrick's) and the 10th (McHenry's) have been about as Republican as it is possible to be, dating to the 1950s – long before the Nixon, Thurmond and Reagan eras transformed former southern Democrats into New South Republicans.
What are voters' intentions?
Watch the Mecklenburg County commissioner race and governor's race, to assess straight-ticket voting, splitting votes or single-shotting. If Obama, Hagan and McCrory win the state, voters were looking for "change" but not necessarily "Democrats." If Democrats Harold Cogdell, Jennifer Roberts and Dan Murrey take all three at-large Mecklenburg commissioner seats, it means voters were saying, "Democrats, please."
If some at-large seats go to incumbent Republican Dan Ramirez or fellow GOPers Hal Jordan or Susan Walker, voters were looking at individuals, not party. If Republicans sweep at-large seats, it points to a large Republican turnout, possibly McCrory fans wanting a local guy in Raleigh. If any at-large candidates gets noticeably more votes than the others, it suggests single-shot voting.