What to watch in 2020

by | Jan 1, 2020 | 2020 election, The Kovach Corner

Ever since 2016 at least, politics seems to pervade daily life more than ever before. Tweets and articles and updates on the news are inescapable. Unless you dedicate yourself to the task, it’s nearly impossible to go a day without seeing the current president or one of the myriad Democrats hoping to replace him as commander-in-chief.

If you aren’t a fan of politics, you may live in the wrong state. A number of contests this year will shape North Carolina, and the nation, for the decade to come. The last few years have been an appetizer to 2020.

First, and most clearly, the presidential election. Of the 270 electoral college votes needed, North Carolina has thirteen. The Tar Heel state has been decided by a tight margin consistently in the last few cycles; 2020 points toward more of the same. On its own, President Trump can afford to lose North Carolina assuming he carries some of the unexpected midwestern states once again. However, if the Democratic nominee wins in North Carolina, it’s likely indicative of similar states flipping. The eventual winner may not have to carry North Carolina, but most likely will.

The presidential contest has coattails that will affect every other race on the ballot. The reelection of Republican Senator Thom Tillis likely hinges on how successful President Trump is in carrying North Carolina. Tillis consistently polled as one of, if not the, least popular incumbent senators in the nation. Expect a bevy of outside spending to maintain Tillis’ seat; control of the United States Senate will hinge on whether or not Tillis holds on.

At the state level, Governor Roy Cooper will seek a second term. His tenure has been marked by conflict with the legislature and a nasty partisan environment: Republican leaders in the General Assembly stripped the governor of a number of powers before he even took office. 

Despite the strife between the executive and the legislature, Cooper’s polling numbers have him in a decent position and his most likely opponent, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, consistently falls behind him in head-to-head matchups. Cooper won in 2016 by some 10,000 votes, one of the closest statewide races in the nation. The gubernatorial contest is easier to divorce from national politics than the US Senate race, but that shouldn’t discount the effect the presidential election still has.

Finally, the General Assembly presents a clear opportunity for North Carolina Democrats in the House to regain control after a decade as the minority party. Court decisions prompting fairer districts made it possible for Democrats to compete in districts that were heretofore drawn exclusively to elect Republicans. Shifting demographics and a changing electorate have continued moving some of the formerly safe-Republican districts into competitive races.

In each of these races, from the US Senate down to the smallest North Carolina House district, the presidential contest will loom large. And while 2020 feels like it should be the denouement, after the rocky path since 2016, it’s just the beginning. The next decade will see North Carolina become more competitive, more expensive and more pivotal to American politics.


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