RALEIGH — After all the votes were counted and dollars spent, the results in North Carolina’s state legislative races were a disappointment to Democrats, who had hoped to flip at least one of the two General Assembly chambers, both of which have been held by Republicans for a decade.
Republicans now hold a 27-22 advantage in the Senate and 69-51 advantage in the House. Democrats did gain one seat in the Senate, which had been a 29-21 Republican majority, but they actually lost four net seats in the House, which had been a 65-55 Republican majority. One Senate race is a 2018 rematch featuring Republican Michael Lee, who leads Democratic state Sen. Harper Peterson by less than 1,500 votes. Absentee by-mail votes have the potential of swaying the race in either direction.
“Every excuse for the Democratic Party’s failure to secure the state legislature, from maps to money to false and offensive charges of ‘voter suppression,’ has been dispelled by tonight’s clear result amid record-breaking turnout,” said Senate Rules Chair Bill Rabon, the chamber’s second in command, in a press release after the results.
Senate Leader Phil Berger struck a more conciliatory tone, signaling to Democrats that Republicans wanted to set aside partisanship in a state that will continue to have executive and legislative leadership from opposing parties: “Congratulations to tonight’s other North Carolina victors, including Gov. Roy Cooper and Mark Robinson. I consider my relationship with Minority Leader Dan Blue to be among the most cordial and productive between opposing leaders in any state in the country. I look forward to continuing that warm relationship in spite of our political differences.”
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) had tweeted Nov. 2. “Make no mistake, @NCSenateDems are poised to take the majority and to give North Carolina the kind of leadership that it deserves.” But as results came in the next evening, many N.C. Democratic social media accounts were noticeably quiet.
The Senate had a number of competitive races, but the Democrats were only able to pick up two seats, SD-18 in Wake County and SD-39 in Mecklenburg County. Both districts were recently redrawn and were expected to flip to Democrats.
“@NCSenateDems gained two new seats in a tough election cycle, proving our staying power in what was a more challenging election for Democrats nationally,” tweeted former Obama staffer N.C. Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake), in a statement also posted on the official N.C. Senate Democrat account. “We need to move forward with patience, grace, and courage.”
This disappointing result in the Senate was surpassed by Democrats’ showing in the N.C. House, where they lost four total seats.
“Voters returning a strong Republican majority to the North Carolina House of Representatives tonight reflects the powerful momentum behind policies that promote economic prosperity, educational achievement, and safety for families, which were put in place by the General Assembly over the last decade,” N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) said. “We will continue to keep these promises to the people of North Carolina and work in a bipartisan way to maintain this new era of success for our great state.”
The Democrats lost six seats in the House, but gained two, for a net loss of four. The six they lost include HD-43, the Fayetteville area seat of Rep. Elmer Floyd (D-Cumberland), who lost his primary to Kimberly Hardy, who then lost the seat 52% to 48% to Republican Dianne Wheatley; HD-66, the rural, central N.C. district that drifted right so quickly it was lost by around 20 points despite Democrats winning the race in 2018; HD-37 in Wake County and HD-98 in Mecklenburg County, two suburban districts that were flipped by Democrats in 2018; and NC-93 and NC-119, two mountain districts that were also taken by Democrats in 2018 and retaken by Republicans.
Only two Republicans lost seats: Rep. Perrin Jones of HD-9 in the Greenville area and Rep. Steve Ross of Alamance County, a suburban county sandwiched between the Piedmont Triad to its west and the Research Triangle to its east.
With control over both chambers, Republicans are in a strong negotiating position for the once-a-decade redistricting process that is expected to give North Carolina another congressional seat, future state budgets and policy decisions in areas like education and health care.
The Democrats having control over the governor’s mansion for another four year gives them veto power over the legislature though, especially since Republicans no longer have the supermajorities that allowed them to override Cooper’s vetoes in the beginning of his first term.