Is it time for NC Republicans to panic yet?

The election of Democrat Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s special House election has made Republicans across the country uneasy.
The election of Democrat Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s special House election has made Republicans across the country uneasy. AP

From a post in Bitzer’s blog, OldNorthStatePolitics.com:

The Democratic wave crashed into Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district last week, and Republicans have begun the appropriate stage in a mid-term election year that’s moving against them: in a phrase, “batten down the hatches.”

In a leaked e-mail, the N.C. House GOP political director “predicted” that if North Carolina experienced a similar wave as the one that occurred in Pennsylvania, Democrats would not only capture the lower chamber of the General Assembly, but have super-majority status. Needless to say, Democrats are making hay of the e-mail.

I’m not surprised by the e-mail, because the Pennsylvania 18th congressional election should be a significant wake-up call to Republicans. A Democrat winning a district that gave Trump 58 percent of the vote just 18 months ago is no small feat. But I’m not sure the Democratic wave has turned into the kind of tsunami that may be causing the GOP significant heartburn in this state.

Michael Bitzer J. Michael Bitzer

While there are various dynamics, such as voter registration and turnout rates among Democrats, women, suburbs, younger voters, and college-educated voters that will be needed for a Democratic wave to happen, there is a close correlation to how President Trump performed in 2016 and N.C.’s congressional and state Senate races, and to a slightly lesser extent, in the state House races. In the congressional and state Senate contests, when you look at the relationship between the GOP candidate’s performance and Trump’s 2016 performance in the district, there’s a pretty strong relationship between the two votes (0.97 when a 1.0 means that the relationship is perfect between the two – one vote explains the other vote). At the state House level, however, that measure drops to 0.75.

So, what the GOP email may be signaling is that Republicans in similar districts as PA-18 shouldn’t expect a 58 percent win two years ago to be enough of a barrier against a wave that may be cresting in the fall.

While there is greater concern for Republicans after Pennsylvania, I think the e-mail was more focused on the need to develop sufficient war chests, since the fundamentals of this year’s mid-terms are definitely moving against the GOP. But even with the amount of money spent in PA-18 by the Republicans, no chest may be big enough this fall to counter what is looming on the horizon. While there’s a need for collective action to protect their majority in both chambers of the legislature, the fall campaign may come down to “every Republican for themselves.”

As far as Democrats are concerned, Pennsylvania’s contest shows that a suburban/rural kind of a district can be competitive, if Democrats have the right kind of local candidate. That, along with several other dynamics, will need to play out in the Old North State as well for a successful blue wave, but the one fundamental that Democrats seem to be lacking so far in this state is the “generic” ballot advantage. Both Meredith and High Point polls have the generic as a dead-even, unlike most national polls that give Democrats an advantage. That could change over the coming months.

At this point, a chamber flipping from Republican super-majority control to Democratic super-majority control requires a tsunami-sized wave that we’ve never seen before, and while Democrats certainly have the wind at their back, I’m not sure we’re ready to declare a complete washout of Republican majorities in the General Assembly just yet. But stay tuned for anything to happen; the winds are definitely blowing.

Bitzer is a professor of politics and history at Catawba College.