Christensen: Reflecting on the 2012 elections

rchristensen@newsobserver.comNovember 10, 2012 

Here are six takeaways from last week’s elections.

We’re becoming a mid-Atlantic state: In the last two presidential elections, North Carolina has been one of the country’s closest swing states. In 2008, it was the state that Democrat Barack Obama won by his smallest margin.

In 2012, it was the state that Republican Mitt Romney won by his smallest margin. National Journal analyst Charlie Cook said in September that North Carolina is “a transitional state. It was a Southern state. It is becoming a Mid Atlantic state with a very different voting pattern.” Virginia is already there, and North Carolina is close behind.

All of this suggests that North Carolina will be a presidential battlefield into the future.

Mayberry no more: Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory declared the “curse” against Charlotte mayors winning statewide office was now over. The Charlotte mayors who had won and lost include: Eddie Knox, Harvey Gantt, Sue Myrick and Richard Vinroot. But North Carolina is increasingly becoming an urban/suburban state.

McCrory defeated Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, who is from small-town Rutherfordton. Dalton trumpeted his small-town roots in his commercials, while McCrory showed the Charlotte skyline.

The Democrats had previously elected a series of small-town governors: Bev Perdue (New Bern) Mike Easley (Southport), Jim Hunt (Rock Ridge), Bob and Kerr Scott (Haw River) and Terry Sanford (Laurinburg.)

But we are long way from Mayberry. Today, more than half of North Carolina’s voters live in just 13 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

Redistricting matters: More North Carolinians (2.19 million) voted for Democratic congressional candidates than voted for Republican congressional candidates ( 2.12 million.) But because of the way district lines were drawn by the GOP legislature, the North Carolina congressional delegation will be either 9-4 Republican or 10-3 Republican, depending on the outcome of the 7th District race between Democrat Mike McIntyre and Republican David Rouzer.

The Republicans did not invent the fine art of gerrymandering, but they have taken it to a new level.

I am a perfect example. My Cary home sits in the district of U.S. Rep.-elect George Holding. But if I drive three blocks to leave my subdivision, I will enter the district of U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers. If I drive to most nearby shopping centers or go to the movies, I will be in the district of U.S. Rep. David Price.

Community of interest? Compact districts? Not so much.

Political parties have expiration dates: One political party can stay in power too long. The 20-year control of the governorship by the Democrats defied all logic in a closely divided state. Only Oregon and Washington have had a longer run of Democratic governors.

McCrory sounded like he had fresh ideas, while his Democratic opponent, Lt Gov. Walter Dalton, a decent man who is very knowledgeable about state government, sounded like a retread. In my view, it is unlikely that Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue would have been re-elected if she had sought a second term.

Some Democrats, such as consultant Thomas Mills, believe the Democrats are stuck in a 1990’s formula and need to find a new message. Jobs and education are fine. But there must be something more.

Maybe no Democratic message would have worked last week. The voters were simply ready for a change.

Polarization: A number of years ago, an acquaintance of mine complained when I wrote that the state was likely to vote for George W. Bush for president. Nobody she knew, she told me, was going to vote for Bush.

No matter who was elected president, about half of the country was bound to wake up shocked because just about nobody they know voted for the other guy. We increasingly live in a politically polarized environment where people form friendships, live in neighborhoods, join churches and other organizations based, in part, on like-minded people.

Redistricting, cable TV, the Internet, talk radio and the decline of civic life have all contributed to the decline in comity.

TV advertising works: Despite all the talk about the slow recovery, disappointment with President Barack Obama, a lack of enthusiasm about Mitt Romney, and a noncompetitive governor’s race, North Carolinians turned out to the polls in droves.

There were 4.5 million Tar Heels who voted in this election compared with 4.3 million in 2008, a historic election when there open seats for president and for governor, and a competitive U.S. Senate race. Because there are more voters, the percentage was actually down a bit from 69.9 percent to 67.6 percent this year.

Helping drive the turnout was a heavy TV advertising campaign – at least $69 million spent on presidential ads in this state, an additional $15 million in governor’s ads and millions more in ads in other races. It would not surprise me if political advertising across the state topped $100 million this year.

Hate them if you will, but they generated interest in the election, and helped drive voters to the polls.

And now that they are gone from your TV, don’t you miss them just a little bit? Well, maybe not.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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