For years, areas on the outskirts of North Carolina’s largest counties reliably went red.
These parts of Mecklenburg and Wake counties — towns like Huntersville, Matthews, Holly Springs and Wake Forest, and certain wedges inside city limits like south Charlotte — are more suburban, more affluent, more white, and more likely to vote Republican.
Or at least, they used to be.
In the 2018 midterm elections, suburban Wake and Mecklenburg counties were a bloodbath for the GOP.
- More than a half-dozen incumbent Republican General Assembly members lost, including House appropriations chairman Rep. Nelson Dollar. All were in traditionally conservative districts.
- All three of Mecklenburg’s Republican county commissioners lost their re-election bids, giving Democrats complete control of the board. In Wake County, the county commission remained in unanimous Democratic control.
- Lawmakers drew the 9th Congressional District to include parts of suburban Mecklenburg County in part to help shore up Republican candidates. Instead, they almost propelled Dan McCready to victory.
We knew going into the midterms that the suburbs would dictate the outcome of the election. Democrats dominated.
What does this mean for North Carolina going forward? Here are 4 thoughts.
No district within 15 miles of a downtown is safe. Nearly a decade ago, the General Assembly drew districts to give Republicans a few footholds in an overwhelmingly blue area. But cities are growing more Democratic, and blue precincts are expanding farther from the center city. You have to get into the peripheral counties before you start getting to reliable GOP areas (but this might not hold true forever).
The urban/rural divide is growing deeper. There’s a decent chance that after next year’s municipal elections, there won’t be any Republicans serving in local government from North Carolina’s biggest cities. And if the GOP isn’t careful, they’ll lose the last remaining suburban representatives in the General Assembly in 2020. When people work together, the relationship is better. If cities continue with one-party rule, it will further exacerbate the already wide gulf between cities and the country.
The GOP needs an updated message to win unaffiliated voters. North Carolina Republicans, in general, have done a terrible job telling their story. They rely too heavily on numbers and charts, and don’t spend enough time capturing voters’ hearts. The overall sentiment toward North Carolina’s GOP has rarely been lower among urban and suburban voters, and this election proved it.
Republicans will have to get tougher in campaigning. Perhaps lulled by reliably red districts, too many metro-area Republicans tried to run a traditional, positive campaign in 2018. This didn’t work. Several General Assembly candidates, in particular, pulled their punches and didn’t hit their opponents where it would have hurt. You know who survived in Mecklenburg County? The two candidates who went super negative — Sen. Dan Bishop and Rep. Bill Brawley.