Here are seven burning questions for North Carolina as this election year reaches its climax on Tuesday.
1 Will Pat McCrory have coattails?
Polls put the GOP candidate for governor ahead by double digits going into Election Day. If McCrory does win big, will he manage to carry down-ballot Republicans across the finish line with him? Namely, Dan Forest, who’s running for lieutenant governor, and other Council of State candidates.
Republicans now occupy only two of the 10 seats (secretaries of Labor and Agriculture) on the council. A Gov. McCrory would claim a third. And fishing for a fourth, he recently called on voters to give him a teammate by electing Forest – a tea party conservative who’s the son of retiring U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte.
Republicans who have served as lieutenant governor make up a tiny club. Except for Jim Gardner (1989-93), North Carolina hasn’t had a GOP lieutenant governor since Charles Reynolds at the dawn of the 20th century.
Unlike McCrory, Forest is in a close race, with Democrat Linda Coleman.
2 How many N.C. congressional pickups will GOP get?
The National Republican Congressional Committee is betting on three, and hoping for four.
The GOP-controlled legislature in Raleigh set the table for a rightward shift in the state’s congressional delegation by redrawing several districts to favor Republican candidates.
Two Democrat incumbents – Rep. Heath Shuler in the 11th and Brad Miller in the 13th – decided not to run again, with Republicans favored to take their seats. That leaves two vulnerable Blue Dog Dems: Rep. Larry Kissell in the 8th and Mike McIntyre in the 7th, each busy distancing themselves from Obama and highlighting their votes to repeal Obamacare.
If both lose – McIntyre has the better shot at survival – the delegation will go from 7-6 Democratic to 10-3 Republican.
3 Will Mecklenburg and Wake save Obama again?
Four years ago, voters in North Carolina’s urban counties gave Obama the kinds of victory margins he needed to counteract lopsided defeats in the state’s many rural counties.
Statewide, then-U.S. Sen. Obama won by just 14,177 votes. But he won Mecklenburg by 100,000-plus votes and Wake by almost 64,000.
With the state’s unemployment rate at 8.9 percent – still one of the highest in the country – now-President Obama faces another tight race. To have any chance of reclaiming North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes, he’ll need to run the numbers again in the 13 urban counties where 50 percent of the state’s voters live.
Especially in Charlotte and in the Triangle, where early voting totals will tell the tale – be it happy or sad for Obama – on Election Day .
4 Will Latino voters make the difference?
Obama’s 2008 victory margin in North Carolina was 0.3 percent. Translation: Every vote really does count. And if Obama wins the state by a whisker again, one reason will be North Carolina’s fastest-growing population: Latinos.
They still make up only about 3 percent of the state’s voters. And their turnout rate tends to be lower than other groups. Still, more than 100,000 Hispanics are now registered to vote here.
Both campaigns are wooing them in North Carolina. Like Latinos around the country, those here appear to favor Obama over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by a wide margin.
Much has been written about the president’s need this year for a repeat of big turnouts from African Americans and young people. But Hispanic voters could also claim some credit if he pulls off another win in Carolina del Norte.
5 Will the “banjo ad” work?
North Carolina judicial races are usually sleepy affairs. Not this year – at least not the one pitting N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby against Sam Ervin IV for a seat on the high court.
It’s officially a nonpartisan contest. But outside groups with big money and partisan agendas have entered the fray, sending out mailers and airing TV ads on behalf of Republican Newby and Democrat Ervin, who now sits on the N.C. Court of Appeals.
One TV spot, paid for by a super PAC called the N.C. Judicial Coalition, features a banjo-playing balladeer singing the praises of Newby as a “tough but fair” judge while two cartoonish criminals flee in fear. Another ad links Ervin to “convicted felon” Mike Easley, the former Democratic governor who re-appointed him to the N.C. Utilities Commission in 2007.
6 How will Watauga County vote?
The answer matters because Watauga – county seat: Boone – has become something of a bellwether in recent years for North Carolina and maybe the country.
It’s home to students at Appalachian State University, retirees in Blowing Rock and rural folks in places like Deep Gap. In voter registration, Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliateds each account for about a third.
In 2008, Watauga went for Obama – as did the state and country. Then in 2010, the year of the tea party in North Carolina and nationally, Republicans unseated Democrats to take over the board of county commissioners.
7 Will the legislature get even redder?
Republicans took over the N.C. General Assembly in 2010. Two years later, they’re trying to swell their numbers, pouring money from the GOP and allied groups into a dozen House districts they dramatically redrew to increase their chances of winning.
Among their targets: Democratic Rep. Martha Alexander. Her redrawn district has lost its six African American precincts. And her GOP opponent, attorney Rob Bryan, has raised $287,000 to Alexander’s $35,000.
By unseating just four Democratic House members, Republicans in the House – presided over by Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius – would have a supermajority able to override vetoes by the next governor.