Democrats took a Wake County N.C. House seat and scored a few upsets elsewhere in the state, but the victories weren’t enough to change Republican control of the General Assembly.
In the House, Democrat and Cary Town Council member Gale Adcock unseated incumbent Republican Tom Murry, a Morrisville pharmacist who has served two terms. The seat was among four Republican districts that Democrats managed to flip statewide.
Wake County Senate contests, however, favored Republicans by narrow margins. Republican John Alexander had a 700-vote lead for the District 15 Senate seat that had been held by Republican Sen. Neal Hunt. Hunt announced earlier this year that he was retiring.
Alexander said he was “very, very pleased” and declared victory, but Democrat Tom Bradshaw, a former Raleigh mayor, is entitled to request a recount. His campaign said they’ll make that decision on Wednesday.
“I wasn’t at all surprised at how tight it was,” Alexander said. “We’re very similar in the civic contributions we’ve made.”
In District 18, incumbent Republican Chad Barefoot led with 52 percent of the vote, but 18 precincts still hadn’t reported as midnight approached. Barefoot, who has served one term in the state Senate, faced a strong challenge from Democrat Sarah Crawford.
Both Senate races saw more than $1 million in spending, including the kind of slick television commercials not often seen in legislative races. State party organizations poured funding into the two races, which were among the most expensive Senate races in the state.
Another Wake Republican victory came in the House, with Gary Pendleton – the Republican appointed to fill the late Rep. Jim Fulghum’s seat – defeating Democrat Kim Hanchette in District 49. The final tally was close, with Pendleton winning by about 1,200 votes.
Just to the south of the Triangle, Democrat Brad Salmon beat Republican Rep. Mike Stone, who received 45.99 percent of the vote in his district. Stone has served two terms in the state House.
The legislative races likely won’t have a major effect on the power dynamic on Jones Street. Both the House and Senate have had veto-proof Republican majorities for the past two years. Republicans entered the elections with 77 seats in the 120-member House and 33 seats in the 50-member Senate.
“Maybe the Democrats take some solace from (the victories in some races), but it’s not really going to affect things,” said Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University.
Democrats needed to pick up five seats in the House and four in the Senate to end the GOP supermajority. In the House, results indicated the party would take three, in part because Republicans were poised to pick up two seats held by Democrats. One was the District 2 seat held by longtime Democratic Rep. Winkie Wilkins, who’s retiring this year.
In the Senate, Democrats weren’t able to get any Republican-held seats. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Gene McLaurin of Rockingham lost to his challenger, Republican Tom McInnis.
While all legislators were up for re-election this year, 78 seats didn’t even draw a challenger – likely a result of legislative districts drawn to favor a particular party. Only 20 House seats and 12 Senate seats were even considered competitive races.
In dozens of other districts, two candidates were on the ballot, but voter registration numbers so heavily favored one party or the other that the districts weren’t considered up for grabs – and the early results followed those predictions.
The supermajority has allowed Republicans in the legislature to override several vetoes from Gov. Pat McCrory during his first two years in office. With results indicating the supermajority will remain, the governor could struggle to wield influence in the legislative branch.
Taylor said that the next legislature will still have an incentive to work with McCrory: helping the governor win over voters in 2016. “My suspicion is that the Republicans will work very hard to make sure McCrory is reelected,” he said. “You don’t want to force him into vetoes or put him in tough spots.”
Democrats had hoped that ending the supermajorities would help moderate Republican lawmakers, who are more likely to compromise.
Upsets in Asheville
Democrats did, however, get good news from the Asheville area.
On the western side of the state, Democrat Brian Turner pulled off an upset over incumbent Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt. Moffitt had been named as a possible successor to Thom Tillis as House speaker, but he received only 48.11 percent of the vote Tuesday.
Near Moffitt’s district, Republican Rep. Nathan Ramsey lost his seat to Democrat John Ager by a margin of about 500 votes.
Overall, though, Tuesday’s legislative election results mean Republicans will likely dominate for the next few election cycles. The conservative shift in North Carolina politics hasn’t generated enough backlash to bite Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger and his allies.
“That’s largely a function of the redistricting, and with that, the inability particularly for Democrats to recruit talented and experienced candidates,” Taylor said.