Before the forum began, Rick Henderson, managing editor of Carolina Journal, said the purpose of the forum was to inform the audience of the politics in the 2016 election.
“How the states redistricting battle may affect some of the races that are going on, what’s happening with the congressional delegation — we may even talk some national politics, too,” he said.
Yet national politics dominated the discussion.
Peter Hans, senior policy adviser at the law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, said Bernie Sanders has motivated Hillary Clinton to move leftward. And while some voters have expressed concern over her trustworthiness, Han said she will likely win the nomination.
Audience members and panelists found the Republican primary more vexing — with Donald Trump becoming the center of discussion.
Audience member James Coley came to the forum hoping to find some clarity in understanding Trump’s recent successes.
“The success of Donald Trump, who is clearly unqualified to be president of the United States, is surprising, shocking and dismaying, even to established Republicans — so a liberal Democrat like me is perhaps even more disoriented by it,” he said.
UNC political science professor Sarah Treul Roberts said senators competing in tough electoral contests are separating themselves from the extreme Republican contenders — and received permission from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to do so.
“And that’s amazing — the separation of party and the breaking apart of that top ticket and what that disarray of political parties means for races down the ballot,” she said.
Hodding Carter III, chairperson of the UNC Press Development Council, even argued there is nothing left of the conservative Republican Party anymore.
“We are now busy talking about a circumstance in the Republican Party as if we understood for one moment what we are talking about,” he said.
Theodore Shaw, law professor and director of the Center for Civil Rights at UNC’s School of Law, said the United States is in unchartered territory with this election because of how far right the Republican Party has moved with its frontrunner candidates.
“Even for some of us who are registered Democrats, we’ve been waiting for Republicans to show up and say that things have gone too far and to reclaim their party,” he said.