It’s time to look ahead to 2016 and make my annual predictions for what will happen in North Carolina politics.
Last year, I correctly predicted that the North Carolina legislature would not expand Medicaid despite talk by Gov. Pat McCrory at the time that he was thinking about it.
As I anticipated, the legalization of shale gas exploration – better known as fracking – resulted in pretty much nothing. The economics for fracking are now bad and North Carolina’s likely reserve is tiny.
Despite all the talk of a conservative primary challenge to McCrory, I predicted correctly that no major opposition would materialize. I also correctly predicted that Sen. Richard Burr, happy with his new roost as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, would decide to seek re-election rather than hanging out a lobbying shingle with his buddy, then-House Speaker John Boehner, who, in fact, did resign.
I also predicted that former Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan would decide not to run for the Senate again in 2016, having gone through a difficult campaign. I also correctly predicted that North Carolina would emerge in 2015 as a political hot spot with a parade of presidential candidates passing through.
Here is what I got wrong. I predicted that either U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx or former Congressman Mike McIntyre would emerge as the Democratic opponent for Burr. Neither is running.
I also incorrectly predicted that the legislature would reduce the capital gains tax, meaning that there would be little left over for raises for teachers or state employees.
So here are my predictions for 2016.
1. North Carolina moved the primaries from May to March 15 so it could help decide the presidential nominee. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will easily defeat Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary in this state. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will win the North Carolina Republican primary, edging out hotel developer Donald Trump.
2. The $2.85 billion bond referendum that will be on the March 15 ballot will go down to defeat. The primary driver in the primaries will be the Republican presidential contest. Do you really think all of those Trump, Cruz and Ben Carson voters are going to be anxious to borrow a lot of money for new government projects?
3. Attorney General Roy Cooper will easily win the Democratic primary for governor, defeating former state Rep. Ken Spaulding. The Democrats are desperate for a political comeback and Cooper looks like their best bet.
4. Former state Rep. Deborah Ross of Raleigh will emerge as the winner of the Democratic Senate primary, defeating Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey, among others. This is a weak field after Hagan, Foxx, former Congressman Heath Shuler and other better-known candidates passed on the race. But Ross at least knows the players.
5. With primaries behind them and the fall elections ahead of them, the legislature will return this spring determined to fund the largest teacher raises of the past few years.
6. The Republicans retain control of the legislature but lose a few seats. They still retain a veto-proof majority.
7. All 13 members of Congress from North Carolina — 10 Republicans and three Democrats — are re-elected, in part because the seats have been so gerrymandered that they are no longer competitive.
8. In the November general election, Burr defeats Ross. Burr’s polling numbers are mediocre, but he is a proven vote-getter and his chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee gives him some visibility on an important issue. Ross starts out little-known across the state and there is a question of how much the national party and other Democratic-leaning groups will plow into the race. Ross’ best hope is a Republican meltdown in the presidential race.
9. McCrory is widely regarded as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country. Still, never bet against an incumbent in an improving economy. McCrory is not highly respected in Raleigh, even among Republicans. But that is inside baseball to the average voter. Cooper is a strong candidate who can pull off an upset, especially if the GOP national ticket tanks.
10. Clinton is not a particularly strong candidate. There is definitely Clinton fatigue. If the Republicans nominate one of their governors, they probably win the state. If they nominate Florida Sen. Marco Rubio they probably win the state. But that is not where things are heading. They will likely nominate Cruz or Trump. If that happens, Clinton carries the state against either one.