Democrats succeeded in a statewide effort to end the Republican supermajority in the North Carolina House, but fell just short of it in the Senate in an effort that targeted Wake and Mecklenburg counties and selected districts around the state.
In a mirror of contests in much of the nation, many of the races came down to the wire, and some results are likely to be challenged.
Recounts are likely in at least three General Assembly races, including former Wilmington Mayor Harper Peterson’s 36-vote win over incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee in New Hanover County and Democrat Kirk DeVries’ 306-vote win over Sen. Wesley Meredith in Cumberland County. Both elections were driven in part over concerns about industrial contamination of local water supplies with GenX and other compounds and the state and local response to it.
On the other side of the state, the fallout of Interstate 77 toll lane controversy helped Democrat Natasha Marcus unseat incumbent Sen. Jeff Tarte in Mecklenburg County. Guilford County three-term Republican incumbent Trudy Wade also was defeated in a close race, losing to Democrat Michael Garrett by fewer than 800 votes. In Wake County, four-term incumbent Republican Tamara Barringer was defeated by challenger Sam Searcy.
Two mountain House districts changed with Democrat Joe Sam Queen of Waynesville returning to his former House seat after defeating incumbent Republican Mike Clampitt of Bryson City and Ray Russell, an Appalachian State University professor and founder of the Ray’s Weather Center blog, defeating four-term Republican incumbent Jonathan Jordan.
In Wake County, Democrats saw their biggest total gain, taking Barringer’s Senate seat and sweeping all 11 House seats.
Democratic Party chair Wayne Goodwin said he looked forward to a different day in Raleigh, now that General Assembly leaders no longer have the guarantee of overrides to bills vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper.
“North Carolina Democrats have had our eyes set on one goal — breaking the Republican supermajority and electing a legislature that will work with Gov. Cooper to invest more in education, expand access to affordable health care and support working families,” Goodwin said in a statement.
With the governor more able to sustain a veto, Cooper is expected to push for Medicaid expansion next year in his budget plan. He’ll have his largest support for the idea in the House, where a bill was proposed this year but did not advance.
Unofficial results show the House margin shifting from the current 75-45 alignment to 66-54. The GOP’s majority in the Senate would drop from 35-15 to 29-21.
In a joint statement released around 12:45 a.m., Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said Republicans would return to the legislature still holding substantial majorities.
“North Carolina voters issued a clear mandate to continue Republican policies that are benefiting the workforce, improving schools, and delivering a pro-jobs agenda for families,” Moore and Berger said. “We appreciate the strong support of our constituents and look forward to continuing our successful approach to making North Carolina the very best state in the nation.”
Four of six amendments pass
Berger and Moore lauded the approval of four of six proposed constitutional amendments that will give the General Assembly the authority to draft voter ID requirements and strengthen victims’ rights legislation.
Voters also approved a constitutional right to hunt and fish and capping the state income tax rate at 7 percent.
But they apparently took the advice of the state’s five living former governors who called two of the amendments a power grab by the legislature and joined in a bipartisan effort to defeat a judicial appointments proposal and an amendment restructuring the state elections and ethics oversight board.
Democrats also swept all five statewide judicial races, including Anita Earl’s defeat of incumbent Republican Justice Barbara Jackson in a three-way race for the state Supreme Court.
“An impartial judiciary that operates without fear or favor is the cornerstone of a healthy and thriving democracy,” Earls said in remarks to her supporters late Tuesday.
“I look forward to being a part of that work.”
The results seen in state races were not matched in federal congressional races. In a night in which at least 30 GOP congressional incumbents fell across the country, all of North Carolina’s GOP delegation won re-election.
The Rev. Mark Harris, who defeated incumbent Robert Pittenger in the May Republican primary, defeated Democrat Dan McCready in a 9th District race that filled the airwaves from Fayetteville to Charlotte.
The state congressional delegation remains at 10 Republicans and three Democrats.
North Carolina is due to pick up another congressional district after the 2020 census.
Despite the results in North Carolina, Republicans nationally failed to buck the trend of parties that hold the White House, losing seats in Congress. While results were still being determined in some close races across the country, Democrats appeared poised to take control of the House with California Democrat Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker.
North Carolina, which is currently represented in the U.S. Senate by Republicans Richard Burrand Tom Tillis, did not have any U.S. Senate seats on the ballot in 2018. Republicans nationally added to their advantage in the Senate, ensuring a partisan division in control of the two houses of Congress over the next two years.