The last two weeks have highlighted exactly how competitive North Carolina will be in November. For those of us who have lived and breathed politics, it’s no surprise. Still, we’re in for unprecedented attention in the fall.
Last week, Cook Political Report moved North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District from Solid Republican to Likely Republican. The district is held by Republican Congressman Richard Hudson but was redrawn in December, shifting it significantly more Democratic. Former Supreme Court Justice Pat Timmons-Goodson is challenging Hudson and has built excitement among Democrats in the district and donors across the state. In 2018, Democrats picked up seats in districts that were far more conservative than NC-08 is today.
Yesterday, The Hill reported that North Carolina has become the bellwether state in the fight for control of the US Senate. Independent expenditure groups have already purchased almost $50 million in television advertising. The buys are reminiscent of the Kay Hagan-Thom Tillis race in 2014 when the two campaigns and their advocates spent about $125 million in the state. Tillis has proven to be a remarkably weak candidate with high negative ratings and a tin ear politically. In contrast, Democratic nominee Cal Cunningham has proven to be a resilient candidate with a strong fundraising program and a broad, statewide organization. Most prognosticators rate the race a toss-up.
Today, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved the state from lean Republican to toss-up in the presidential contest. Trump has struggled to get his favorability rating into positive territory over the past few months despite winning the state by about 3% in 2016. The apparent nomination of Joe Biden on the Democratic side offers a contrast that appeals to the state’s moderate voters who usually determine elections.
The fight for the redistricting pen will animate legislative races across the state. Democrats picked up a bunch of seats in 2018 and courts forced fairer districts that will play out this year. The state is a key target of national groups who want redistricting reform and they’ll likely put millions of dollars into the Democratic efforts to control at least one house of the legislature.
Finally, Governor Roy Cooper is considered the Republicans’ number one target. Without a lot of gubernatorial races this year, they will focus on trying to unseat Cooper. Fortunately for Cooper, Holly Grange never mounted a credible challenge to Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest in the primary. Forest is a strong social conservative who believes the state is far more conservative than it is. He’s proven to be a clumsy politician at best while Cooper is getting high marks for handling the current crisis and has had positive ratings throughout his tenure.
North Carolina will stay in the national spotlight again. Control of the Senate may hinge on the outcome here. We’ve got an exciting Congressional race that pits two political veterans against each other. And the fight over control of the General Assembly will spread across the state. So prepare to turn off your television this fall but get ready to vote.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >