In the second-largest county in the state, there are dark clouds on the horizon for the GOP. Despite a midterm turnout that should favor Republicans, they’re on track to lose control of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. Republicans right now have four out of seven seats on the Commission, and all four of their incumbents are up for reelection. To maintain control of the Board, they can’t afford to lose a single seat.
But if the latest financial reports are any indication, they’re on track to lose all four of them. Despite having the advantage of incumbency, all four Republican commissioners trailed their Democratic challengers. In November, despite a GOP tide, we could see Democrats with all 7 seats, mirroring the situation on the county’s School Board, where there are 8 Democrats and 1 RINO. This, in a county where Mitt Romney still won about 45% of the vote.
What’s going on in Wake? With a map that should favor Republicans, the School Board situation is unacceptable. But the situation with the Commissioners is a bit more understandable. While the Commissioners technically are elected to represent certain districts, they’re actually elected at-large. In a 55-44 Obama county, that should naturally yield a strong Democratic advantage, and possibly a situation where they control all seven seats.
The only thing going for Republicans is that they’re running in a midterm year (the three Democratic incumbents are all elected in presidential years). Unfortunately, Wake is trending Democratic – slowly, but surely. Consider: in 2006, in a terrible Republican year, the four GOP candidates running for the Board of Commissioners averaged 51.89% of the vote. In 2010, a great Republican year, the GOP averaged 52.09% of the vote. That year, Republicans took back the Board by winning all four of the seats on the ballot, but they were all pretty close victories, and unless the environment is as good for the GOP as it was in 2010, Democrats are favored in Wake.
Remember, Republicans need a clean sweep to maintain control. Democrats only need to take back one, and they have recruited a very strong crop of candidates to do so. In part, the fundraising disparity reflects the belief that Democrats will indeed take back the Board.
What can Republicans do about this? It’s clear that continuing to have Commissioners elected at-large is an untenable situation for the GOP. It’s getting to the point where Republicans simply can’t win countywide in Wake, even in a midterm year. There’s a way around this: change to the district method of electing Commissioners, which could be argued from a good-government perspective. Different communities have different interests, and they deserve someone who will represent them and only them.
Also, no at-large seats. That would likely result in Democrats getting elected. Instead, draw a map with three strong urban Democratic seats and four Republican-leaning seats in the suburbs. Next, have the three Democratic seats on the ballot in presidential years, with the suburban seats voted on in midterm years. If they really want to make things interesting, they can hold the elections in May instead of November. Fortunately for Republicans, the General Assembly has the power to swoop in and do just that. They’ve already done something similar in Guilford County. Pretty soon, Wake County could be getting the same treatment.