Opinion

Virginia turned blue this week. Is North Carolina next?

The Virginian Pilot via AP

Democrats had a very good night Tuesday in Virginia, gaining control of both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades. Add to that a Democratic governor and two Democratic U.S. senators, and it’s not a stretch to declare that Virginia is no longer a battleground state.

North Carolina used to share that status with our northern neighbor, along with some other similarities. We’re both mid-Atlantic states that saw once-Democratic legislatures turn Republican. We’ve both fought gerrymandering that favored the GOP, and Virginia’s new maps in this election show the promise of new legislative districts for N.C. Democrats in 2020.

But will that promise be realized? Is North Carolina poised to also turn blue?

First, a reality check: “It’s much more difficult to make the case that North Carolina has shifted toward Democrats over time,” Dave Wasserman, U.S. House editor for Cook Political Report and one of the nation’s leading election forecasters, told the Editorial Board this week. “North Carolina is a substantially more rural than Virginia. It doesn’t have the same federal workforce that has come to dominate Virginia.”

While the growth in North Carolina’s urban areas are a good thing for Democrats, Wasserman says that’s offset by Republican gains in small towns and rural areas. That includes cities in towns with textile legacies that once were Democratic hubs. Those, Wasserman says, are still “backsliding” toward Republicans.

That’s why political analysts are somewhat more reticent than some Democrats about their chances of flipping the N.C. House and Senate next year. One such expert, Sam Wang of Princeton University, concluded that a 50-50 statewide vote in 2020 could lead to a 27-23 GOP majority in the Senate and a 68-52 GOP majority in the House, the News & Observer reported in September.

Still, North Carolina remains a battleground state — “one of the most competitive states in the 2020 race, and that extends to the Senate race,” Wasserman says. And until Tuesday, the Tar Heel State shared at least one other important thing with Virginia: An arrogant Republican majority that regularly ignores voters, legislative protocol and political decorum. It’s the kind of wild card that can swing close elections.

In Virginia, that arrogance was on display this year when, in the wake of a mass shooting at Virginia Beach, Republicans snubbed the Democratic governor’s call for a special session on gun safety. The GOP ended the session in less than two hours without considering any legislation on what is a top issue for Virginians. It was a political diss that may have prompted exasperated voters to turn out come election time.

In North Carolina, Republicans have similarly ignored the public’s will on Medicaid expansion, and in September, they schemed to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s Medicaid-related budget veto by holding a House vote that Democrats had been told wouldn’t happen. It was a shameful breaking of faith, and worse yet, it was business as usual for Republicans. Could it come back to hurt the party in 2020?

N.C. voters have already delivered a strong warning to Republicans, eliminating the GOP’s supermajority in both the N.C. House and Senate in last year’s election. On Tuesday, Virginia voters delivered their own message — one loud enough to be heard across the border. Are Republicans here listening yet?

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