The national narrative is that Republicans dodged several bullets in Tuesday’s primary. But in North Carolina, there are plenty of reasons for the party to be worried.
The results of the primary give plenty of indication that Democrats could pick up seats in North Carolina, both in the U.S. House and the General Assembly. That means our state will be the target of millions of dollars in voter targeting efforts on both sides.
It’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions based on the primary. With no statewide candidate or issue on the ballot for the first time in decades, the numbers could be skewed in all sorts of different ways.
At least at this point, it doesn’t look like there will be a nightmare scenario for the state GOP.
Here’s what we learned.
At least 3 Congressional seats are definitely up for grabs.
The Democrats went into 2018 targeting two, and potentially three Congressional seats: the 9th, 13th and 2nd Districts. All three showed signs they could be flipped in November.
2nd Congressional District
Linda Coleman ran away with the Democratic nomination for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. George Holding, a Republican.
Coleman earned 56% of a total of 32,751 votes, a 24-point victory against an extremely well-funded challenger in Ken Romley.
That turnout for Democrats compares with only 23,071 people who voted in the Republican primary, nominating Holding for another term. To be fair, the Republican primary was not nearly as contested. But that’s a big vote differential for a seat Holding won 57% to 43% in 2016.
9th Congressional District
This race provided arguably Tuesday’s biggest upset, with Charlotte pastor Mark Harris winning the Republican primary over sitting U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger by less than 1,000 votes.
Harris will face Dan McCready a former Marine and entrepreneur who has raked in millions in donations already.
McCready faced only nominal opposition in the primary, but won 83% of a total of 45,660 votes.
Harris won 48.5% of 35,494 total votes.
So Republicans had a more hotly contested primary, but drew fewer voters. I’m also pretty certain that Democrats are happy to be facing Harris than Pittenger.
13th Congressional District
This one is much murkier, but there are signs that Kathy Manning has a shot against U.S. Rep. Ted Budd in this Triad-area district.
Manning garnered 70 percent of 27,761 total votes.
There was no Republican primary, but in 2016, Budd earned 20 percent out of a total of 31,000 votes.
Remember, 2016 was a presidential year so turnout was significantly higher. Squinting hard at the numbers shows plenty of room for Manning to win this one.
Suburban North Carolina could swing a few seats the Democrats’ way.
Any path to power for N.C. Democrats starts in the suburban areas around Raleigh, Charlotte and to a lesser extent the Triad and Wilmington.
There were far fewer races where both Democrats and Republicans had a true primary this year, so it’s hard to draw many conclusions.
But N.C. House District 35 shows an example of a seat Democrats are targeting to flip that could go their way.
Democrat Terence Everitt earned a whopping 82% out of 4,780 votes in the Wake County district.
He’ll face Rep. Chris Malone, who got 54% out of just 3,030 votes.
But in general, Republicans should feel a little more secure in the General Assembly.
In N.C. Senate 39, Democrat Chad Stachowicz took roughly half of 10,433 votes (he won by 5 total ballots). He’ll challenge Sen. Dan Bishop, who won more than 70% of 12,275 votes. That’s a decent margin to make up.
Longer shot seats targeted by Democrats don’t show as many positive signs for that party. In N.C. House 98, Christy Clark earned 90% of just 3,258 votes. The winning number will be somewhere around 20,000 to 25,000.
My prediction: Republicans keep control of the General Assembly.
Again, all the race results you see above will only roughly correlate with what happens in November. Campaigns — and Longleaf Politics — will be scouring precinct-level data, PAC activity and other indicators in the coming months.
But in order to win an election, candidates have to first and foremost turn out voters. Being able to do so in signifiant numbers, even in a “blue moon” primary, is a big deal.
I would expect Democrats to flip at least one, and possibly two of the three Congressional seats.
They’ll likely win some General Assembly seats, too. But overall, I think the wheels of government will stay in Republican hands, and they’ll likely even keep the veto-proof majority.
4 other things we learned in Tuesday’s primary
1) If your party establishment turns against you, you’re in big trouble. There isn’t much room in North Carolina just yet to run a rogue campaign. Rep. Duane Hall was crushed by 42 points in his race against Allison Dahle. The Democratic Party, including Gov. Roy Cooper, had called on Hall to resign after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced.
In Charlotte, two long-serving assembly members lost after losing the support of the powerful Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Both Sen. Joel Ford and Rep. Rodney Moore handily lost their re-election bids in the primary.
2) Money isn’t everything. Well-funded challengers Ken Romley and Scott Dacey lost big time in their bids for Congress. Romley’s 24-point loss to Linda Coleman was even more striking since he wasn’t facing an incumbent.
3) Polling can be super wrong. Mark Harris’s upset of Rep. Pittenger wasn’t a shock, but it was at least surprising given the polling that came out in March. N.C. Civitas had Pittenger up 32 points in the primary matchup. Public Policy Polling had already started polling a Pittenger/McCready matchup.
4) Tax reform is popular. Rep. John Hardister had no trouble winning his primary against a former legislator who made taxes his single issue.