Filing ended last week and North Carolina filled up the ballots for legislative races. Every seat is contested. For political junkies, 2018 should be a field day. With so many contested races, expect some surprises. Seemingly safe seats will suddenly be endangered. Challengers given little chance to win will emerge as highly competitive. Most of that, though, won’t become clear until next fall.
The North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation run by Jonathan Kappler has put together an early look at races to watch. According to NCFREE, the state house has 27 seats that could go either way. There are 14 seats they consider truly competitive, five that lean Democratic and eight that lean Republican. The other 94 are consider strong Republican or Democratic. There are enough competitive races in this mix for Democrats to flip the house. They need to win 16 races to control the chamber.
On the Senate side, NCFREE finds seven competitive seats, one lean Democratic and eight lean Republican. Again , there appears to be enough races to flip the chamber. Democrats need to win ten races to do that.
For Democrats to win either body, they need a wave election in November. The last time that many seats flipped was 24 years ago when the wave of 1994 gave the GOP 26 state house seats, handing them control of the body for the first time in a century, and 13 state senate seats, leaving them just two seats shy of a majority. Even a moderately good year for Democrats, though, could break the veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
The most important thing to watch over the next eight months is the national political environment. Right now, it’s not good for Republicans. Donald Trump’s approval ratings continue to lag below 40% and the generic Congressional ballot favors Democrats by about nine points right now, enough to give Democrats control of the U.S. House. These are wave numbers and have led to Democrats outperforming in special elections for over a year. Democrats hope they can replicate these results in November.
Also watch what’s happening with women , particularly young ones, in this country. They’re moving quickly towards Democrats around a host of issues. Republicans seem to be less responsive to The #MeToo movement than Democrats. Democrats accused of sexual harassment have been forced to resign. Republicans get the endorsement of the president. On guns, the GOP’s inaction alienates mothers with kids in school. If those women stay motivated and vote in large numbers, Republicans could be in trouble.
Republicans need the economy to stay strong. If people are feeling good about their financial situations, they tend to vote for the party in power. However, most middle class families are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession and many, if not most, will never fully recover what they lost, leaving people feeling less than satisfied.
The GOP was hoping to run on their tax bill but, if the special election in Pennsylvania is any indication, that’s not working out. Republican groups have backed off on the tax plan because it’s not resonating with the working class voters in the district. Support might get stronger after April 15, but Republicans passed a tax bill that disproportionally benefits the wealthy, blows holes in the debt and deficit and was not the political priority of anybody but the GOP’s donor base.
Democrats have struggled in recent midterm elections because their coalition depends on younger voters who are less reliable. The Republican base is more stable, made up of older white voters. As noted in the Elon University poll last month, those GOP voters are more tuned into local issues so they vote more reliably. If the election is nationalized, Democrats will benefit because young people will be more engaged. Watch for the GOP to try to localize their races.
Finally, the 2018 election is a Blue Moon election in North Carolina, meaning we have no high profile statewide races on the ballot. The last two Blue Moon elections, 1994 and 2006, were wave elections with turnout below 40%. If turnout gets much above that in November, expect Democrats to have a very good night because it probably means those young people are turning out. If it gets much below 40%, Republicans will probably fare well.
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 >