The year 2010 started the shift, but the 2012 election marks the beginning of an unprecedented re-alignment in North Carolina politics. For the first time since the late 1800s, the modern Republican Party will control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly.
Like much of the rest of the South since the 1970s, North Carolina has generally elected Republicans on the presidential level (we elected former President George W. Bush by double-digit margins) while also putting moderate pro-business Democrats in charge of state government.
Democrats have held the governorship for the last 20 years and — until 2010 — controlled the General Assembly almost uninterrupted since the end of the 19th century.
Historical context matters in this rapidly shifting playing field for everyone — including the UNC system. And it’s important to look at how this happened.
Democratic fundraising has collapsed since 2010. Campaign finance reports show that the N.C. Democratic Party was outspent by the N.C. Republican Party during the 2012 cycle more than two to one through mid-October. Republican leaders have gained a decisive edge, and it’s still unclear how Democrats plan to become competitive again without the ‘access money’ that greased the wheels when they were in power.
The strategic timing of Republicans winning the legislature in 2010 gave them control over the state’s redistricting process. The state’s new political maps helped create veto-proof majorities for Republicans in both the state House of Representatives and Senate for the next two years, which will make it difficult for Democrats to regain control of either chamber for the foreseeable future.
But veteran GOP strategist Carter Wrenn says it would be a mistake to assume this political shift in 2012 is a new normal for a closely divided swing state like North Carolina.
Strong Democratic candidates such as former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt or a national wave election could change the political dynamic all over again. When one out every four registered voters is unaffiliated, neither party can guarantee long-term electoral dominance.
Notably, while Governor-elect Pat McCrory cruised to victory, former Gov. Mitt Romney barely won the state by fewer than 100,000 votes. The lieutenant governor’s race might be too close to call, and Democrats won plenty of important Council of State races.