In a year where Democrats are smiling across the country, North Carolina looks like a black hole. Pat McCrory became the first Republican governor in twenty years. Congress went from a 7-6 Democratic advantage to a 9-4 Republican one. The GOP added to their super majorities in both the state House and Senate. Finally, North Carolina was the only battleground state that Obama lost.
However, a close look at the numbers shows a state that is more evenly divided than the results reveal. Of the almost 4.4 million votes cast for Congress, over half were for Democrats. In state legislative races, Democrats picked up almost half the votes (47% in the Senate, 48% in the House) even though Republicans control about 65% of the seats. Despite what Republicans are saying, this victory was more of a triumph of redistricting than a mandate for their agenda.
In the race for governor, Walter Dalton faced an uphill battle from the beginning. Perdue’s late exit from the race and a competitive primary gave him little time to put together the resources needed to be competitive. Dalton’s campaign was never able to develop a clear or compelling message and he never put much daylight between himself and the scandal-scarred administrations of the last two Democratic governors. In contrast, McCrory had been running for four years with the full weight of the Republican Governors Association behind him. He successfully defined Dalton as part of the Old Guard and used his large financial advantage to run up the score.
The outcomes of the presidential and Council of State races were probably most reflective of voters’ attitudes in the state. Romney won by a narrow 2%, illustrating North Carolina’s center-right tilt. All eight of the COS incumbents, six Democrats and two Republicans, held their seats with comfortable margins. The open lieutenant governor’s race essentially ended in a tie.
Republicans would be wise to pay attention to these numbers. Democrats held the governor’s office for 20 consecutive years, in part, by keeping their party’s most ideological tendencies at bay. They were brought down by ten years of petty scandals and a global economic crisis, not out-of-sync social or economic policies.
Hubris is the Republicans’ greatest threat. With control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the legislature for the first time in over a century, their victory was historic. Overreaching during the upcoming session of the legislature could make it a short-lived occasion.