This story appeared as part of the 2010 Year In Review issue. The Daily Tar Heel resumes publication Jan. 10.
This year’s elections belonged to Republicans — both in North Carolina and across the nation.
The party made big gains from the top of the ballot, where incumbent Sen. Richard Burr handily defeated Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, to the bottom, where Republicans gained the majority in both houses of the N.C. General Assembly for the first time since 1898.
The state’s elections mirrored those across the country, where Republicans took over the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and were only four seats shy of doing the same in the U.S. Senate.
North Carolina is historically a Democratic state with elections that are typically isolated from national ones.
But the economy forced voters’ hands this year, said David Young, chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party.
“We haven’t seen a recession like we’re having right now in most of our lifetimes, people had hope that Democrats in Washington and in North Carolina would solve those economic issues, so the backlash from that concern really hurt us,” Young said.
But the state of the economy was not the only reason for the Democrats’ downfall, said Leroy Towns, a political journalism professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The party was hurt by scandals that have plagued several state agencies and surrounded prominent lawmakers, such as former N.C. House speaker Jim Black and former Gov. Mike Easley, he said.
“It’s a combination of the bad economic situation and the inefficiency and scandals that have plagued Raleigh over the past few years,” Towns said.
“Those things kind of combined in a perfect storm and the Republicans were able to take advantage.”
Whatever the reason, the results paint a clear picture of voters’ directive to North Carolina lawmakers.
Before the election, Republicans held only 20 of the 50 N.C. Senate seats and 52 of the 120 N.C. House seats.
They now control 31 Senate seats and 67 House seats, enough for a veto-proof majority in the Senate and just four votes shy of it in the House.
In the state’s U.S. House races, most incumbents held onto their seats, including Rep. David Price, D-Orange, who defeated B.J. Lawson for the second consecutive election.
Eastern North Carolina was also the stage for the biggest upset of the elections, when nurse and political newcomer Renee Ellmers narrowly defeated veteran lawmaker Bob Etheridge to become the U.S. House representative for the 2nd district, which curls around Wake County, covering rural and suburban parts of 10 counties.
In the end, the state’s huge budget deficit and unemployment of more than 9.5 percent could not be ignored by voters, said Bill Knight, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, in September.
“In troubled times people always tend to go conservative,” Knight said.
“That is demonstrated both at the polls and in the money race, where (the N.C. Republican party is) as competitive it’s been in years.”
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