Democratic hopes in the last two elections had a ring of wistfulness. The district lines were all but impenetrable; fundamentals favored Republicans. But still, Democrats told themselves, legislative radicalism would hit the GOP like a razor-edged boomerang. While Democrats made some progress, they fell short of their ambitions. They could not triumph over entrenched structural obstacles.
Recent Democratic efforts were greatly inhibited by the national environment. The first time they sought vengeance against NC Republicans, they had to contend with the “Six Year Itch.” Then, they had to run on the ballot of a Clinton, a family which has always repelled straight-laced NC voters. It is a testament to Republican extremism that the GOP lost seats anyway; however, the NCDP was playing an away game.
This time things may finally be different. The 2018 midterms will provide an environment in which the wind is at Democrats’ backs, not blowing at gale force in their faces. Fundamentals will favor the challengers, and they just may change the course of government in the state.
First, they will have a structural leg-up. As FiveThirtyEight noted, the president’s party has lost ground in all but two midterms since 1926. Voters seek balance. This dynamic applies in all fifty states, regardless of local conditions. That’s a big part of why, in 2010, NCGOPers were able to knock of Blue Dogs who were very good fits for their districts. There is no reason to think Republicans will defy gravity in the state.
Second, the Democrats have a strong edge in enthusiasm. PPP has found evidence of this in polling. Anecdotally, county parties are seeing more robust turnout at their meetings than they have in many years. Further, the Republicans are making HB2-style self-inflicted errors. The attempted “Right-to-Work” amendment will fire up labor; “Constitutional Carry” will alarm crime-conscious suburbanites. Nothing is guaranteed, but Democrats should expect their base to turn out.
Third, the mood is shifting. Republicans just suffered a devastating defeat in court. Pollsters are finding stunningly strong numbers for Democrats, which should hearten the Party. Even skeptical analysts like Stephen Wolf are contemplating a Democratic win. These intangibles should invigorate Democratic spirits and encourage turnout.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself. The districts as a whole are very tough, and Republicans have only the slightest regard for democracy. Expect NCGA to do anything in its power to rig the election. But the fundamentals indicate a sea change.