For Republicans, Mecklenburg and Wake are more than North Carolina’s most populous counties. They’re windows into the future of state politics.
That’s why the N.C. Republican Party last week launched what it calls “Project Listen,” a concerted effort designed to improve the party’s brand in the state’s biggest counties.
“That’s the place to start,” says GOP strategist Paul Shumaker. “This is just a first step in what needs to be an ongoing process for the Republican Party to remain a competitive, viable force.”
The project grew out of a meeting Shumaker had in the home of his longtime client, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who faces re-election in 2016.
Presidential election years haven’t always been kind to Republicans of late.
In 2008, while Democrat Barack Obama squeaked out a narrow win in North Carolina, Democrat Kay Hagan beat Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole by 362,000 votes.
She rolled up nearly half that margin in just two of the state’s bluest counties – Mecklenburg and Wake.
Since 2010, the counties have been the state’s growth engine, accounting for almost half of its total growth. Already about 1 in every 5 North Carolina voters lives in Wake and Mecklenburg.
Those are also the kinds of voters who interest the GOP.
In both counties, registered unaffiliated voters have overtaken registered Republicans and are closing in on Democrats. And unaffiliateds may be the state’s only genuine swing voters.
Burr has an immediate interest in figuring out the two counties – it’s called 2016. Shumaker says there’s a longer-term interest as well.
“This state is a competitive state,” he says. “It is there for the taking by either side at any time.” Jim Morrill
GOP bills could face opposition – from a Republican lawmaker
Last week, the N.C. Senate passed bills to dramatically reconfigure the Greensboro City Council and the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
Republican lawmakers initiated both bills over the protests of many local leaders in Greensboro and Wake. Both passed by virtual party-line votes. Now they head to the state House.
There, the votes might not be quite as partisan.
Rep. Charles Jeter, a Huntersville Republican, plans to vote against the GOP-sponsored bills unless they’re changed to at least include a referendum.
“For me, self-governance is about as constitutional as the Constitution gets,” he says. “The City Council in Greensboro has not asked for it – in fact they’ve asked not to do it. The county commission in Wake County has not asked for it – in fact they’ve asked not to do it.
“Without a referendum or without a request from the government in question, I will vote against both measures.”
That position could make him popular with the bills’ critics. Says Jeter: “I could get elected in Greensboro right now.” Jim Morrill
Republican Stone says he’s running for Charlotte mayor
As a handful of Democrats are planning to run for mayor of Charlotte, at least one Republican is mounting his own campaign.
“It is my intention to run for mayor,” said Scott Stone. “This is a critical time in our community. We need strong leadership who will restore trust in our local government.”
Stone lost to Democrat Anthony Foxx in 2011. Since then, Charlotte has had three mayors: Patsy Kinsey, Patrick Cannon – now in prison for corruption – and incumbent Dan Clodfelter.
“This campaign cycle feels very different than 2011,” Stone said. “A lot has happened in the past four years. The early support I am receiving is evidence that we can win.” Jim Morrill
N.C. Sens. Tillis, Burr sign colleagues’ letter to Iran
Both U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis signed on to last week’s controversial letter by freshman GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas telling Iran’s leaders that an international nuclear agreement could be torn up after President Barack Obama leaves office.
A total of 47 senators signed the open letter telling Iranian leaders some basics on how elections in the United States work, highlighting Obama’s short tenure.
Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “The Iranian leadership ought to know that if the Congress is not fully behind this, this would be an agreement that had a very short-lived life.”
Tillis said many senators were worried about a bad deal.
“I can’t imagine why the president wouldn’t want the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, to take a look at this and validate it if it’s a good deal,” he said. “And if it’s a bad deal let’s not have that negative effect it could have on our safety and security.” Renee Schoof, McClatchy Washington Bureau
Carlee joins delegation on trip to Raleigh to meet lawmakers
Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee joins a City Council delegation heading to Raleigh this week for Town Hall Day.
Sponsored by the League of Municipalities, it brings municipal officials from around the state to meet with lawmakers.
Charlotte’s delegation will include council members John Autry, Ed Driggs, Claire Fallon, LaWana Mayfield, Greg Phipps and Kenny Smith. Jim Morrill