For the first time in anyone’s memory, nearly all 170 state legislative races in North Carolina will feature both a Republican and Democratic candidate.
Candidate filing ended at noon Wednesday, leaving just one uncontested race for state House or state Senate after a heavy recruiting push from both the N.C. Democratic Party and the N.C. Republican Party. And state Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse tweeted that he expects “an unaffiliated candidate with some @NCGOP support” in that Eastern North Carolina state House race.
In past election cycles, districts drawn to strongly favor one party often failed to draw more than one candidate. The 2016 general election included 73 districts in which just one of the major parties fielded a candidate. Republicans didn’t have a candidate in 30 House races and four Senate races; Democrats didn’t have a candidate in 28 House races and 11 Senate races.
This year though, Democrats announced early on that they intended to find candidates in all districts. “This is a historic day,” Robert Howard, the state Democratic Party’s spokesman, said on Twitter. “Our party is the strongest it’s ever been and NC is fired up to break the supermajority.”
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Republicans hold so many seats in the House and Senate that they can override the vetoes of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
Republicans had similar success in recruiting. Woodhouse issued what appeared to be an automated call to GOP voters in districts lacking a candidate – even offering to pay candidate filing fees.
In a Facebook video, Woodhouse said it was a “a record number of legislative candidates like we’ve never seen.” He says Wednesday’s news “will forever put to rest the idea that Republican-drawn legislative maps keep people from running for office.”
Before Woodhouse said one district lacked a Republican candidate, Gerry Cohen, a retired legislative staffer and the unofficial General Assembly historian, tweeted that it “might be first time EVER all seats are contested,” although he said it’s difficult to make comparisons with elections held prior to 1925.
With candidate filing complete, Democrats and Republicans now face the challenge of how to allocate campaign money and resources across 170 districts. Party leaders will have to make strategic decisions about which races offer the best chances of victory – and even under newly drawn maps, many districts still favor one party by 60 to 80 percent of the vote based on past election results.
“The hard work starts now,” House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson said on Twitter. “We heard you when you demanded a #120DistrictStrategy. Now we have 120+ candidates that need support. They need $, they need advice. They need volunteers. They need managers and kitchen cabinet advisers. Now is everyone else’s turn to step up.”
With the general election still months away, attention in the short term will likely turn to the May primaries, where an unusually high number of legislative races have multiple candidates from the same party.
Some are “double-bunked” incumbents placed in the same district, such as the two pairs of Republican senators facing off: Sens. Deanna Ballard and Shirley Randleman in the counties around Wilkesboro and Sens. Dan Barrett and Joyce Krawiec in the Winston-Salem area. Some primaries will feature as many as four or five candidates.