Down ballot, Republicans NCGA super-majority hangs in the balance

Holding a small margin to override vetoes, urban Republican incumbents are in focus as unaffiliated early-voters surge

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
The floor of theHouse of Representatives in the N.C. General Assembly. (file photo)

RALEIGH — The difference between a super-majority and a simple majority is the legislative power to override a governor’s veto. With a gubernatorial race still polling neck-and-neck between incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) less than a week from election day, that difference could carry significant consequences for Republicans looking to extend their policy reforms unimpeded by the potential of Cooper moving in to Blount Street.The N.C. House of Representatives contains 120 seats, making 72 the magic number for veto overrides. Republicans currently hold 74 of those seats. In the N.C. Senate, there are 50 seats, 30 of them representing the three-fifths majority required to push past a gubernatorial veto. Republicans occupy 34 state senate seats currently.As the heavily litigated redistricting efforts of recent years took hold, many districts became more politically homogeneous. As a result many local legislative elections will contain only one choice on the ballot. Republicans have 40 uncontested races in 2016, Democrats have 35, through out the North Carolina House and Senate field.Despite the easy road to victory for many, though, urban Republicans in particular are feeling the pressure with close races that threaten to undermine the super-majority status. The most at-risk races for the majority reside in urban counties of Wake and Mecklenburg, as growing population and urbanization continues to widen the ideological gap between urban and rural parts of the Old North State.The net loss of three House seats or five Senate seats would effectively end the veto-proof super-majority for the Republicans.Some incumbent Republicans under threat in Wake County include, Representatives Chris Malone, six-term incumbent Nelson Dollar, five-term incumbent Marilyn Avila, and Gary Pendleton. The significance of their challenges are revealed in campaign finance reports that show Republicans spending considerably more money to protect these seats than last cycle.In the Charlotte area, a region at the center of the bathroom ordinance saga that begot House Bill 2 and thrust North Carolina into the national spotlight regarding political gender definitions, several incumbent Republicans in the House and Senate are feeling the heat.The House District 92 seat of Rep. Charles Jeter in Mecklenburg, who resigned earlier this year, represents a tough race for Republicans in a district that leans slightly Democrat. Danae Caulfield has replaced Jeter on the ballot and will face Democrat Chaz Beasley in the General Election.Similarly, the Wake County senate races of incumbents John Alexander, Tamara Barringer, and Chad Barefoot have the Republican leadership holding their collective breath. The pressures of running for office as a Republican in the urban, increasingly Democratic districts of Wake County have led to some incumbents like Barringer to flip-flop nearing the election on the controversial issue of H.B. 2.However, not all minority occupied seats are a lock for the Democrats, which adds to the complexity of the Republican super-majority equation.Rep. Paul Tine (U-Dare) chose not to seek reelection to the District 6 seat, making the open contest between Republican primary winner Beverly Boswell and Democrat Warren Judge a race to watch.Correspondingly, incumbent Democrat House members Gale Adcock (Wake), Brad Salmon (Harnett), John Ager (Buncombe), and Joe Sam Queen (Haywood) face very close races in districts that lean Republican.Obviously, only final vote counts will reveal where all the chips fall, but according to early voting data published by the State Board of Elections things may be trending in their favor.Compared to the last presidential election year, so far 2016 early votes cast by Democrats trail 2012 numbers by hundreds of thousands when compared to same period. Black voters, who overwhelmingly support Democrats, also trail 2012 early vote trends so far, needing to make up a deficit nearing 200,000 votes. Republicans, by contrast, are on pace to slightly eclipse 2012 turn out numbers.The real story though, could be the accelerated pace of early unaffiliated voter turnout. While Democrat early-vote turn out has fallen around five percentage points compared to 2012, and the Republicans holding steady, unaffiliated voters have surged approximately 25 percent versus the same period in 2012.Naturally, it is more difficult to decipher who these independent voters are pulling the lever for in state legislative races. Adding to the mystery, differences in voting patterns between rural and urban unaffiliated voters may offer a stark contrast.Nevertheless, those who have cut ties with the two major parties just may decide enough close races to deny or affirm a Republican super-majority in the N.C. General Assembly.