We’ve always tended to think North Carolina is a deep purple state, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.
But what happened in North Carolina Tuesday night looked more like a deep red tidal wave crashing ashore. It swept GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump to victory in the state, along with Sen. Richard Burr. It also buoyed Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican Council of State candidates, though McCrory and several other GOP candidates fell behind after late-arriving ballots arrived from urban counties.
The Trump-inspired wave couldn’t have come at a better time for Burr, who had endured much second-guessing from fellow Republicans in the run-up to the voting. They questioned whether he was running hard enough. He declined, for instance, to head home to campaign in earnest until after Congress adjourned.
And when he did come home, he seemed to prefer making campaign stops at businesses, as opposed to focusing on big rallies or appearances at festivals and other public gatherings where he could maximize his personal exposure to voters.
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Given his seniority and clout in Washington, few expected to see polls showing him in a too-close-to-call race against the little-known Ross.
Ross didn’t have the kind of name recognition or statewide political organization that, say, a candidate such as former Sen. Kay Hagan might have brought. Ross, a former N.C. House member, out-hustled Burr in fundraising for the final three quarters of the race. Burr seemed content to cast his lot with the mercurial Trump, betting that Trump’s appeal to working-class whites would help carry him to victory.
That reasoning looked suspect following the release of the Access Hollywood tape showing Trump joking about sexually assaulting women.
But Burr’s instincts proved correct. With all but two precincts reporting at 1 a.m. Wednesday, he had garnered 51 percent of the vote to Ross’ 45 percent. He even survived the eleventh-hour emergence of a recording showing him jokingly suggesting to a GOP gathering that a gun-owners’ magazine should have put a “bullseye” over Hillary Clinton’s photo.
His pledge to that same GOP gathering that he would refuse to confirm any Supreme Court nominees from a President Hillary Clinton revealed just how deeply and unproductively partisan Burr’s political outlook can be. When word of his comments went public, he correctly issued a statement walking them back – partially, at least. He said he would “assess the record of any Supreme Court nominee.”
That’s what he should do regardless of he’s whether dealing with a Democrat or Republican president. Tuesday’s results showed we remain a deeply divided state, Republicans against Democrats, rural areas against urban areas.
In such an environment, North Carolina and America need leaders who can rise above petty partisanship to do what is best for the entire country, not just for the true-believers on their side.
Burr says this will be his last term in the Senate. Let’s hope it’s not too late for him to learn this one last political lesson.