As Democrats eagerly anticipate flipping the U.S. House of Representatives, don’t look for North Carolina to boost those numbers.

Consensus has been for many months that the 9th, 13th, and more recently, the 2nd districts are tossups. There’s no question they’re close races. But on election night, I will be surprised to see even one of them flip.

This leads me to revisit the 2010 Congressional elections in North Carolina. The Tea Party was in full swing that year, producing surprise winners in primaries and ratcheting up interest in countering the Obama presidency.

Today, the left feels they are in a similar position against the Trump administration.

In 2010, voters nationwide swung hard to the GOP. I was in the middle of one of these races, fully convinced my candidate was going to Washington to join what would be a historic freshman class.

Throughout the fall campaign, polls fluctuated, and every negative piece of mail or misleading TV ad earned an overreaction at the campaign office.

Sometimes, polls showed we were ahead. Others, just behind.

In our race, top House leadership – John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy – all came to do events and fundraisers. For an idealistic college grad working on his first Congressional campaign, it was as good as it gets1.

Our eventual loss on election night was hard to get over.

What happened? The energy was there – just not where we needed it.

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr captured 55% of the vote and defeated Secretary of State Elaine Marshall by 12 points. Other Republican candidates were successful statewide. Yet, the results in many Congressional districts stayed blue – and saved all but one of the Democratic incumbents being targeted.

NC 07: 54% to 45% for Democrat Mike McIntyre over Ilario Pantano.
NC 08: 53% to 44% for Democrat Larry Kissell over Harold Johnson.
NC 11: 54% to 46% for Democrat Heath Shuler over Jeff Miller.
NC 13: 56% to 45% for Democrat Brad Miller over Bill Randall.

The outlier? NC 02, where Renee Ellmers pulled off an upset. Much of this race centered around the infamous “Who Are You” video in which Congressman Bob Etheridge assaulted a campaign tracker. The result in that race was even delayed due to a recount. The final results? A difference of 1,500 votes.

The results in 2010 were indeed historic.

Senator Burr earned re-election, Republicans finally broke through to win legislative majorities in the state House and Senate, and a host of new Republicans won up and down the ballot. Nationwide, it was a 63-seat flip as Republicans took control of the U.S. House.

We performed an autopsy of what happened, wondering if we could have done anything different.

Was our race too competitive, with our campaign taking arrows for other campaigns elsewhere? Maybe. Outside groups spent well seven figures against our campaign.

Did Democratic gerrymandering help? Yes, it was a factor.

Ultimately, I think about it like this: When a wave crashes, it doesn’t hit evenly.

Democrats are likely going to win the U.S. House and they don’t need North Carolina seats to do it. The GOP incumbents have not suffered self-inflicted wounds, and with all due respect to Dan McCready’s Washington consultants, attacking a pastor’s sermons is not a winning strategy.

I think North Carolina’s results are going to be more ripple than wave on November 6.

Cover image of a Charlotte tea party protest from 2009 by John Ashley via Flickr (Creative Commons).


  1. NC may be a “ripple” instead of a “wave” as you contend it will be. If so, it will be a testament to the computer software and gerrymandering that has overtaken the GOP. Hopefully, the results of this election will give ample ammunition for change in the redistricting process. I fully expect that even though the GOP is very unpopular, they will still win a large majority of all elected seats. In the Congressionals, over 50% of the votes will be cast for Democrats and yet they will be lucky to win 30% of the seats. GOP politicians will smugly claim victory for retaining their control over legislative branches and lack of Democratic victories in the Congressionals. Maybe people will finally wake up to the fact that the GOP no longer wins because they are the party of better ideas. They win because they draw the lines. They don’t win elections. They engineer them.

    The same GOP leaders that complained for decades about Democratic gerrymandering now have the power to change it. They’ve had the power since 2010. What they lack is any resemblance of integrity.


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