The midterm elections Tuesday could give Democrats control of the U.S. House in Washington, break the Republicans’ veto-proof supermajority in Raleigh and usher in sweeping changes to the North Carolina constitution, including requiring voters to show photo ID.
Or, it might not. With polls in many key districts showing tight races, and turnout less predictable in a “blue moon” midterm with no statewide, marquee offices like president or governor on the ballot, poll-watchers could have a long night ahead of them Tuesday.
Here are five key issues and races to watch in North Carolina this Tuesday that will have major national, statewide and local implications.
Control of the US House
To retake control of the House of Representatives, Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats. Two heavily contested, Republican-held districts cover parts of Charlotte and its surrounding areas, and will help determine which party controls the House next year.
Democrats are pinning their hopes on flipping seats like the 9th District, which covers southeast Charlotte and runs east through Union County to Fayetteville. It’s an open seat, because former pastor Mark Harris defeated incumbent Robert Pittenger in the Republican primary this spring.
Harris is facing off against Democrat Dan McCready, a businessman and Marine Corps veteran. The race has been hard-fought, with two visits on Harris’s behalf by President Donald Trump showing how badly Republicans want to keep the seat. Between money raised by the campaigns and spending by outside groups, about $14 million has been poured into the campaign, the costliest House race in North Carolina.
Polls show it’s likely to be close, with the latest from The New York Times and Sienna College showing McCready and Harris in a dead heat.
In the 13th District, which runs from Mooresville and Statesville east to Greensboro, first-term U.S. Rep. Ted Budd is defending his seat from a challenge by Greensboro lawyer and organizer Kathy Manning. That race is also likely to be close, with most national observers rating it a toss-up.
The two districts represent Democrats’ best chance to pick up seats in North Carolina this year, and could be a major barometer of whether the hypothetical “blue wave” of voters materializes on Election Day.
Will Democrats break the supermajority?
Republicans have controlled the N.C. General Assembly since 2010, and though Democrats retook the governorship in 2016, Roy Cooper has been mostly hamstrung by state lawmakers. That’s because Republicans hold a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly, meaning they can pass legislation with no bipartisan support and no check from the governor.
“Break the supermajority” has been a major rallying cry for Democrats this spring hoping to turn out voters and raise money.
Democrats need to win four state House or six state Senate seats to end Republicans’ veto-proof hold on the legislature. They’re banking on flipping some Mecklenburg County districts, especially those that have been redrawn since 2016 and don’t necessarily favor Republicans anymore. In fact, some of the redrawn districts, like the 41st District in the state Senate, would have voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 if the lines had been in place then.
State Sens. Jeff Tarte and Dan Bishop, Reps. Bill Brawley, Andy Dulin, John Bradford and Scott Stone are all being targeted by Democratic challengers. Democrats have outraised Republicans statewide this year, and some Mecklenburg candidates have piled up a big advantage.
Democrat Rachel Hunt, who’s the daughter of former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt, is running against Brawley in House District 103. She’s raised $1.3 million, while Brawley has raised $410,000. In north Mecklenburg, Democrat Christy Clark has raised $796,000 to Bradford’s $167,000. In south Charlotte, Democrat Brandon Lofton has raised $526,000 to Dulin’s $289,232.
If the Democrats are right, flipping some of those seats would go a long way to their goal of ending the GOP supermajority in Raleigh.
Amending the constitution
The legislature this year put six constitutional amendments on the ballot, which voters will weigh Tuesday. They cover a wide range of topics.
▪One would require voters to show ID at the polls.
▪ Another amendment would enshrine the right to hunt and fish in the constitution.
▪One creates more rights for crime victims to be notified of information about their case and the perpetrator, such as court and release dates.
▪Another amendment shifts power to the legislature and away from the governor to fill judicial vacancies.
▪An amendment would change the composition of the State Board of Elections and gives the legislature more power to choose members.
▪ And one would forever cap the state’s income tax at a maximum of 7 percent.
Democrats have come out with a “Nix all Six” campaign against all of the amendments, while some groups, like the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, support some (like the income tax cap) and oppose others (the judicial vacancy amendment).
If they drive some voters to the polls who might otherwise stay home, the amendments could provide an edge for one side or the other in a close race. And, if they pass, they could widely alter the state constitution and alter the state’s balance of power in favor of the legislature.
The city of Charlotte is asking for permission from voters to borrow $223 million. The bond issues include $50 million for affordable housing subsidies, $55 million for road and neighborhood improvements in areas such as SouthPark and the Sunset Road corridor, and $118 million for other transportation infrastructure projects.
Bond issues typically pass without controversy in Charlotte. In 2016, the bond issues passed with 70 percent or more “yes” votes. This year, there’s no organized campaign against the bonds. Charlotte Chamber CEO Bob Morgan has said, however, that since the bonds come after the constitutional amendments, and there are big campaigns to vote down the amendments, voters might get them mixed up.
If the bonds fail unexpectedly, or pass with a much lower level of support, it could signal voter dissatisfaction with the city’s plans to build more roads, bike lanes, other infrastructure and affordable housing. That would be a blow to the City Council’s plans — but, that outcome isn’t likely, based on past votes.
The NC Supreme Court
One of the key races this year is for a seat on the N.C. Supreme Court. Democrats think they can flip one of the seven seats, because Republican Barbara Jackson is up for re-election.
If Democratic challenger Anita Earls wins, the court will have a bigger 5-2 liberal majority. Earls has run a well-funded campaign, with TV ads backing her across the state. There’s a wild card in the race as well: Chris Anglin, who changed his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican shortly before filing to run. State Republican leaders have said he’s a Democratic plant trying to split Republican votes, which Anglin denies.
The N.C. Supreme Court is obviously lower profile than its national counterpart, but can still have a major impact on state law. Justices rule on whether controversial state laws should be struck down as unconstitutional. They also help to craft the rules governing everything from political power squabbles between the branches of government to criminal court and civil matters such as child custody battles.