The Wake County Board of Elections now has results from November 4th broken down by precinct. These numbers contain early voting totals. With early vote numbers now in, we can finally examine what happened in Wake. Democrats did very, very well there last month. Hagan won it by 13, the Democrats swept the Board of Commissioners races, and in HD-41 Tom Murry was defeated by Gale Adcock. Democrats nearly picked off an extra State Senate seat (SD-15) and a House seat (HD-49).
What happened? We’ll know more when the state releases turnout numbers by party. But from the looks of it, Democrats got the turnout they needed from their progressive base in the suburbs. Hagan outperformed Obama in all but a handful of majority-white, suburban precincts. Are these areas trending Democratic, did Hagan just have an exceptional ground game this year, or did the moderates revolt against the state legislature?
Perhaps it’s a combination of all three. In quite a few of these precincts, Tillis actually did worse than Elizabeth Dole. While the rest of the country and the state was submerged by a Republican tidal wave, in Wake County and the Triangle area generally, white suburbanites voted like it was 2008. There had to have been a lot of Romney/Hagan voters – interestingly, the biggest Obama-Hagan swing occurred in the ITB area. In one precinct (Hayes Barton) Romney won by 11 but Tillis lost by 9. A 20-point swing in a heavily white, high-information, affluent and educated precinct.
Generally, the areas where Tillis did better than Romney were in precincts with a strong minority presence. They turned out for Obama in 2012 but many of them stayed home in 2014. That’s not to say that African American turnout was bad, but we’ll know more soon.
Interestingly, another area where Tillis outperformed Romney was in Southern Wake, the area roughly encompassing the House district of Paul Stam, who ran unopposed this year. Did the lack of competition here reduce Democratic turnout? I don’t see why it would, but the overlap with his district is just too uncanny.
Overall, why the GOP did so poorly in the Triangle this time around is still an unanswered question. Was it backlash against the state legislature, which created an anti-GOP environment in a strong GOP year? If so, what issues in particular resonated with these voters that caused independents in Wake to opt for Hagan? And, can these issues be seized upon by Democrats to use against McCrory in 2016?
The loss of the County Commission is easy to explain. With all of the Commissioners being elected at-large, and because of the very high correlation between performance at the top of the ticket and the performance of the individual Commissioners’ races, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate probably needed to win Wake County or come close for there to be a chance of continued Republican rule in Wake. And even just one weak link in the chain – a loss of one seat of four – would mean a Democratic majority. In other words, the GOP needed a banner year in Wake and instead they got the opposite.
Why was Wake such a blue bloodbath? My guess is that the perception of the legislative GOP as anti-education was especially harmful to Republicans in the Triangle and the party is going to have to do a better job of portraying themselves as friendly to education in the future. Recent developments in the GOP over the last month seem to indicate that the party is aware of the problem and is making moves to address it. Failure to do so could mean the loss of the governor’s mansion and the GOP’s veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.