In our state’s two biggest counties, the months of October and November will see voters go to the polls to cast their ballots in local elections. It’s possible they could be used to gauge how NC citizens are reacting to the legislature – or not. Local elections are, after all, local.
In Mecklenburg County, the marquee race is the Charlotte mayoral election. Two weeks ago, the parties held primaries. Republicans nominated a strong candidate in the form of Edwin Peacock, who also served on the City Council. If anyone can win a mayoral contest in Charlotte, it’s Peacock.
But nowadays, nominating a stellar candidate like Peacock isn’t enough. The Republican nominee will have to have a little bit of luck. Unfortunately for them, Democrats also nominated their strongest candidate, Patrick Cannon, who defeated his opponent James Mitchell by almost 20 points. Peacock would have been an underdog even against Mitchell; Cannon’s nomination just makes his road to the mayoralty that much harder.
The bottom line is that Charlotte is becoming very hostile to Republican candidates. Changing demographics, mostly from an influx of black voters from elsewhere, are making it harder and harder for them to win. It’s possible that Pat McCrory will be the last Republican mayor of Charlotte.
The timing might also be bad. Voters are angry with McCrory and the legislature, and since McCrory overperformed dramatically here in 2012, Charlotte could be Ground Zero for any anti-Republican backlash. Peacock probably hoped to campaign as a moderate Republican in the mold of Pat McCrory. Well, that’s out the window. Despite a moderate profile and a strong record, Peacock will probably be the victim of changing demographics and the political environment, which currently favors Democrats.
In Wake County, the school board races will be the biggest draw. But the elections aren’t likely to be contentious. Democrats are guaranteed a majority no matter what. The elections in 2016, under redrawn maps that are more favorable to Republicans, will be more heated. Because the Democratic majority is not in danger, donors haven’t been eager to open their wallets to either party, and turnout will see a dramatic drop from two years ago, when OFA used the school board races as a test run for their voter turnout machine.
In District 1, Tom Benton is seeking election for a full term after being appointed to fill the seat vacated by Chris Malone, who was elected to the legislature. Benton is a Democrat but has bipartisan support and should win here with little difficulty.
District 2 was held by polarizing conservative John Tedesco, but he’s leaving. It looks like a Democrat, Monika Johnson-Hostler, will replace him. Republicans are conserving their ammunition for 2016; from their perspective, Republicans could lose every seat on the board and be just as effective as with a 4-member minority.
In District 7, Democrats have a real opportunity to knock off Deborah Prickett, who was elected in the 2009 Tea Party wave. Her opponent is Zora Felton, a former social studies teacher. Prickett’s defeat would leave Democrats with an 8-1 majority, when as late as 2011 Republicans had a 5-4 majority.
District 9 is a contest between two Republicans, both of them with a reputation for being reaching across party lines. Bill Fletcher is the incumbent and also a recent appointee. Fletcher served on the School Board in the past and often angered Republicans, some of whom are supporting his opponent, Nancy Caggia. Indeed, Caggia has received the endorsement of the Wake County GOP. This will truly be a contest where party is irrelevant, as it should be in school board races. Fletcher is favored.
Finally, there’s the $810 million bond issue, a referendum which will probably have the most immediate consequences. Democrats support the bond, Republicans are non-committal but the bond is supported by all of their school board candidates. The bond is likely to pass by a significant margin. For a bond to fail, there needs to be an organized opposition, and there isn’t one.
Beyond that, there is the mayoral race in Raleigh, which won’t be competitive. Incumbent Nancy McFarlane, Democrat, will win in a landslide.
All in all, the local races in Wake and Mecklenburg are likely to be depressing for Republicans. When the dust settles, Democrats will probably win the mayoral race in Charlotte, and in Wake County, Republicans could be reduced to one member on the school board. It’s unlikely that these results can portend anything on the state level, but keep an eye on the election in Charlotte. If Cannon wins by a larger than expected margin, that could spell trouble for Republicans in urban counties. Party labels matter – and at this point in time, voters are souring on candidates who have an (R) next to their name.