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N.C. Republicans still have a suburban problem
But outside of Mecklenburg and Wake, blue outposts are drying up
In any other year, you’d call the 2022 election a great one for Republicans. The GOP comfortably won the two biggest prizes of the night — the U.S. Senate seat and control of the N.C. Supreme Court.
But with the national headwinds blowing firmly in the GOP’s favor, Democrats feared getting wiped out in North Carolina. That didn’t happen. Divided government will continue: Republicans narrowly picked up a supermajority in the state Senate, but failed to garner enough seats in the state House to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. Democrat Wiley Nickel also won the only true toss-up Congressional district.
The reason why: Suburban districts.
To win the 72 seats needed for a supermajority in the N.C. House, Republicans needed to win in suburban areas, small cities, and historically blue outposts in rural areas. They got two out of the three.
Republican Timothy Reeder defeated Democratic Rep. Brian Farkas in Pitt County, home to Greenville. This was a D+3 district.
Allen Chesser ousted Democratic Rep. James Galliard in Nash County, the Rocky Mount area (D+3).
Former Representative Stephen Ross took back his Alamance County seat against freshman Rep. Ricky Hurtado (D+3).
Ken Fontenot edged out Democratic Rep. Linda Cooper-Suggs in Wilson (D+3).
Bill Ward ousted Democratic Rep. Howard Hunter III in northeastern North Carolina (D+2).
That’s a lot of incumbents going down in small cities and rural areas. But the suburban districts remained out of reach.
Former Rep. Bill Brawley lost again in his bid to take back the Matthews-area seat in Mecklenburg County against Democrat Laura Budd.
Democratic Reps. Terence Everitt and Joe John held off Republican challengers Fred Von Canon and former Rep. Marilyn Avila in Wake County.
Brian Echevarria lost in Cabarrus County to Democrat Diamond Staton-Williams.
What does this mean?
You can’t separate what happened with North Carolina’s elections from the national picture. Republicans at all levels largely were content to point at the unpopular Biden administration, high inflation, and a looming recession as their case for election. This worked just fine in areas that already lean red, and North Carolina is still a red state.
But Democrats were able to point to something, too. Voting Republican was perceived in some quarters as an endorsement of Trumpism, and that’s simply toxic in suburban North Carolina. No amount of national tide is going to be enough to pull the GOP to victory in suburban districts while former President Donald Trump is in the picture.
Republicans also failed to make an affirmative case for why they should be elected to the General Assembly. I watch this stuff closely, and even I have no idea what the GOP agenda would have been should Republicans have taken the supermajority in the legislature. This opened the door for Gov. Roy Cooper’s money and message machine to boost Democrats running in suburban districts, where voters are wary of more conservative legislation on issues like abortion.
There is really just one way out of divided government.
That’s a Republican winning the 2024 governor’s race. It is going to take a candidate who can cast a compelling vision for the state and make the case for how conservative policies will create better schools, safer streets and more economic opportunity. That race starts today.
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