Rob Schofield, director of N.C. Policy Watch, argued that this election is marked by a potential “blue wave” of Democratic support.
“I think it was an intentional effort by Democrats to capitalize on the wave of enthusiasm that was out there for combatting Trump," Schofield said. "People were motivated and mobilized right from the start by the election of Donald Trump, and so people wanted to do something wherever they were, even if they lived in districts that were Trump-supporting or Trump-leaning districts."
He said that this phenomenon is not just the result of overoptimism on the part of Democrats; it was already manifesting itself. In gerrymandered districts, Republicans previously had an 8-12 point advantage, he said, while polling suggests that Democrats are leading Republicans by that amount across the state as a whole.
"Because Democrats are running about that much ahead now, they’re actually competitive in a lot of districts that haven’t traditionally been competitive," Schofield said.
He pointed to the 2nd, 9th and 13th congressional districts as races where Democrats have become competitive in traditionally Republican-leaning areas.
Kokai and Schofield pointed to another reason parties may field a candidate with little chance of winning.
By putting up at least a token challenge, an underdog candidate can force the sure candidate’s party to divert time and resources to campaigning in the district. As a result, they will have less time and money to put to use in more competitive races.
Gerry Cohen, former counsel for the N.C. General Assembly, lives in congressional District 4.
“I’ve seen no trace of a campaign for Von Loor the GOP candidate nor Libertarian candidate (Barbara) Howe,” he said in an email.
Kokai said some candidates want to make their opinions on an issue heard and will register as a candidate for a party without its endorsement, effectively paying for a platform to voice their positions.
Marcus Cooke is the Republican candidate for the District 56 General Assembly seat. As of the time of publication, Cooke and his campaign had not responded to requests for comment. But according to his campaign website, Cooke has worked as a scientist with the EPA for many years, and never before entered politics.
Kokai said no one with endorsements, reputation and resources would try to take on a Democrat in such a blue district. While the N.C. GOP website lists Marcus Cooke as a Republican candidate, it is unclear how many resources have been devoted to his campaign. Unlike other candidates, his website is not linked to.
Some Republicans are optimistic, however. Cody Johnson, of UNC College Republicans, said that talk of a blue wave is premature, and he expected the Republican base to turn out in large numbers, in North Carolina and around the country.