Politics & Government

Watch these districts for clues to whether Democrats will shift NC’s balance of power

Tuesday’s election has the potential to put enough Democrats in the state legislature to end the Republican lock on overriding the governor’s vetoes.

Or not.

Weeks of early-voting analysis, polls and campaigning have not clarified whether voters will unseat Republican incumbents or return them to office with a vote of confidence.

There are 170 seats up for grabs, but a few key races could signal the mood of the electorate as the night goes on.

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Jonathan Kappler, executive director of the NC Free Enterprise Foundation, is one of the more exhaustive data analysts, sharing his insights over Twitter as the election neared. His conclusion: It’s up in the air.

“I think the information available to us right now indicates a competitive environment for both parties,” Kappler told The News & Observer in a Twitter message Monday. “No obvious sign of a Democratic wave, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Unaffiliated voters could break to the Dems and push them over the edge in many close contests.

“The playing field is wider than typical this year, with lots of close races. Could be a very long night.”

Democrats would have to pick up four seats in the House or six seats in the Senate to break the Republicans’ supermajority. It is less likely that Democrats could pick up enough votes to resume their control of the General Assembly. But if they did, expanding Medicaid and other issues of health care access would be among their top priorities.

“If Democrats are able to break the veto-proof majority in at least one chamber, that could change the Republicans’ ability to push a legislative agenda for the next two years,” Meredith College political science professor David McLennan told The N&O Monday by email. “Republicans would have constraints on the most conservative policies, particularly social policies, and force them to deal with Democrats on the budget and other issues. The governor’s veto would return to being an effective political instrument for deterring Republicans in pushing controversial policy issues.”

McLennan said it could also return the General Assembly to conduct more open meetings on major policy issues and allow full debate with amendments on the floors of both House and Senate.

A poll released Monday by High Point University also calls it too close to predict.

Forty-three percent of those polled were registered voters who said they have cast ballots or intend to cast ballots and would vote for Republican state Senate candidates. Forty-five percent said they would vote for Democratic Senate candidates.

Forty-two percent said they voted or would vote for the Republican Party’s House candidates and 46 percent said they would or have cast their ballots with the Democratic Party.

Eight percent of registered voters who hadn’t yet voted said they didn’t know or weren’t sure who they would vote for and didn’t lean toward one party over another.

The poll also measured attitudes about Congress, President Trump and the direction the country is going.

“Our poll shows that voters are split on how they voted or will vote, and what registered voters told us about their view of the president and the direction of the country may play into their decision on how to cast their ballot on Election Day,” Brian McDonald, associate director of the university poll and adjunct instructor of survey research methods, said in a statement accompanying the survey results.

Here are a few guideposts to watch on Election Day.

Senate District 17 — Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Republican from Cary, and Sam Searcy, a Democrat from Holly Springs. The district has long been challenging for candidates of both main parties. These two candidates have been embroiled in a late-campaign blitz of televised attack ads against each other.

Senate District 18 — Republican Sen. John M. Alexander is being challenged by Mack Paul of Raleigh, a lawyer and former head of the Wake County Democratic Party. Both live in Raleigh.

Senate District 27 — Sen. Trudy Wade, a Republican from Greensboro, is in competition with Democrat Michael Garrett. Wade has been a lightning rod for controversy for her pro-business, environmental deregulation record. Garrett runs a local marketing firm. It is the second time the candidates have run against each other.

Senate District 39 — Dan Bishop, a Charlotte Republican who was a main proponent of HB2, known for its gender restrictions on who can use public restrooms, faces Chad Stachowicz of Charlotte. The district was recently redrawn to include a large number of residents who haven’t been represented by Bishop before.

Senate District 25 — Two-term incumbent Sen. Tom McInnis inherited Moore County in the most recent redistricting, which has a high percentage of Republicans. But there were hard feelings among Republicans in the primary, leading to one candidate filing a complaint against McInnis’ campaign tactics. Disaffected Republicans and unaffiliated voters pose a threat. His opponent is first-time candidate Helen Probst Mills, who has benefited from outside grassroots organizations, while McInnis has been backed by business political action committees.

House District 7 — Rep. Bobbie Richardson, a Democrat from Louisburg, is in a hard-fought contest with Republican nominee Lisa Stone Barnes of Spring Hope, a Nash County commissioner. Richardson’s district was redrawn to lean Republican.

House District 62 — Four-term Rep. John Faircloth of High Point, a Republican, faces Martha Shafer of Summerfield. Faircloth, a retired police chief, has a Republican-leaning district. But Shafer, a retired health-care executive, has been an unexpectedly successful fundraiser, taking in $215,900 in the first three quarters of the year, compared to $132,000 by Faircloth. Shafer is among two dozen candidates for the legislature backed by the Hollywood-funded One Vote at a Time, which is donating campaign videos the candidates can use for TV or online.

House District 36 — Another Wake County race with negative ads flying in the final days. Cary Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar is a key budget writer in the House, a position that gives him significant authority. Challenger Julie von Haefen is in the guardian ad litem program as a court-appointed party protecting children’s best interests. She is also active in PTA organizations from the state to local levels.

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