2020 and beyond in North Carolina

by | Nov 25, 2020 | 2020 elections, Editor's Blog | 3 comments

The 2020 election is going to take a long time to untangle. Donald Trump got soundly defeated by Joe Biden, losing the popular vote by more than 6 million votes and the Electoral College 306-232. However, Democrats lost nine House seats and need to sweep the two run-offs in Georgia to get to 50 Senate seats, leaving incoming vice-president Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker. Turnout broke records and yet voters seem divided in their loyalties. 

In total, the country seems to have shifted from the center-right nation of the 1980s and 1990s to center-left as we become younger and more diverse. When the votes are all counted, more people will have voted for a Democrat for Congress than a Republican. Most swing states saw movement toward the Democrat and away from Trump compared to 2016. Our federal system, though, gives power to individual states and the legislatures that control them. Republican-led state governments will ensure that Congressional districts in those states keep Republicans competitive. 

In North Carolina, the GOP not only held onto power in the legislature, they expanded their majority in the state house. While Republicans gave up two Congressional seats that the courts ordered redrawn, they maintained a 8-5 majority in the Congressional Delegation. They will draw the new legislative and Congressional districts for the coming decade that ensures their majorities at least for the next few election cycles. 

In 2022, North Carolina will likely have an open US Senate race and at least one new Congressional district. Speculation has already begun about who will run for US Senate. On the Republican side, retiring Congressman Mark Walker is expected to jump in the race. House Speaker Tim Moore seems likely to run, too. Congressman Richard Hudson might be eying the race. North Carolina native Lara Trump, Eric’s wife, is supposedly considering a bid. So is former Governor Pat McCrory. 

On the Democratic side, Erica Smith says she’s in. The Democratic establishment would like to see Josh Stein or former Charlotte mayor and Obama Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx jump in. 

In 2020, Democrats had to settle for Cal Cunningham after the top-tier contenders, led by Stein and Foxx, took a pass. The next cycle will be different. In 2018, a number of talented Democrats were elected to the state legislature. While they needed a bit more experience than a single term, several are battle tested now, having won twice in competitive districts. In addition, Pat Timmons-Goodson lost a tough battle for a Congressional district, but she outperformed the top of the ticket, raised a boatload of money, and built national recognition.

Again, we still don’t have enough information for a complete analysis of the election, but, to win in two years, Democrats will need the year to look more like 2018 than 2020. Record turnout this year helped Republicans more than Democrats. The voters who showed up in 2016 to give Trump a boost were joined by even more like-minded voters this year. Those Trump voters did not show up in 2018, though. Democrats will need them to stay home again in 2022 while motivating their off-year surge voters to come out again. 

The new Congressional District, and maybe two, will almost certainly be competitive. The population growth lies in the urban/suburban regions where Democrats are making gains. The exurban counties like Cabarrus, Johnston, and Union are trending Democratic but doing so at a slower rate than Democrats would like. Rural areas are losing population but white voters in those areas have become even more Republican. 

Expect primaries in the race for US Senate and Congress in 2022. At the legislative level, map drawers will need to be creative to keep the GOP majorities in the state house and senate. After 2010, we know that’s possible and probable. 

We need to wait for a full analysis of the impact of 2020 on politics but we have few takeaways for 2022. The state will be one of the most contested in the nation as the parties fight for control of the US Senate. A new Congressional district or two will add to the national attention the state gets with the Democrat’s House margin considerably narrowed after this year. Democrats need to stop the hemorrhaging in the rural areas, but Republicans will need to figure out how to reach out to younger, more diverse voters in suburbs and exurbs if they want to their coalition to grow. Without Trump at the top of the ticket, North Carolina might have looked a lot different this year and will almost certainly look different in 2022. 


  1. Jeffrey L Cashion

    I suspect Jeff Jackson would be the DEMS best chance for Senate. I suspect Josh Stein has his eye on the Governor mansion.

    • Pat Kelly

      Agreed that Jeff Jackson will be a top contender. Stein needs to stay focus on Governor. NC is moderate state and our candidates need to be as such as well.

    • j bengel

      In North Carolina, we say that AG actually stands for Aspiring Governor. The cycles just aren’t working in our favor in the Senate though. Roy Cooper would be the logical choice, but he won’t leave the governor’s mansion in the hands of a nut job to make a run for the Senate 2022, and we won’t have a senate race in 2024 unless Thom Tillis somehow vacates his seat triggering a special election. And by 2026, the momentum that Cooper would have in either of the preceding cycles will likely have waned, unless he makes a play for a congressional seat in 2024 to keep the fire burning.

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