Die-hard politicos, pundits and partisans waited into early morning hours before getting real clarity on election winners and losers. We should have expected this, given that we experienced the Blood Moon lunar eclipse in the pre-dawn hours before election day.
In summary, our state remains a shade of purple. Republicans had a good night but came up short of it being a great night. Democrats were disappointed but came up short of the “shellacking” former President Obama described in his first midterm vote.
Unspoken, but always just below the surface, was Donald Trump. He wanted to be the kingmaker wielding great power over Republicans and our state. Trump endorsed a slew of candidates, but two things became apparent. Some of Trump’s candidates were weak and voters weren’t buying what he was trying to sell them. His influence appears to have waned, both nationally and in our state. Record turnouts in mail-in and early voting, coupled with long lines on election day gave Democrats hope for a small “blue wave,” like they enjoyed in 2018, but that never materialized
The main event was the U.S. Senate race and Democrats were hopeful our state might flip our traditional Republican representation and send a Democrat this time. The outcome had statewide importance, but also could have been significant in determining who controlled the U.S. Senate. Cheri Beasley, former Supreme Court Chief Justice, appeared to be a strong candidate and had statewide name recognition.
Her opponent, Ted Budd, embraced the former president. Trump even appeared at a rally in Wilmington to support him, but we think the deciding factor was money. The independent expenditure groups, Club for Growth was one, dumped millions in our state in support of Budd.
Beasley didn’t have the big-name surrogates stumping for her and even thought federal campaign finance reports show her campaign outraised Budd, the outside expenditures spent on Budd’s behalf were much greater. Some Democrats were quick to criticize their party for not putting more money into support for Beasley. The party chose to allocate funds to other states, perhaps believing that even with their full support Beasley would likely come up short. We’ll never know, but what we do know is that the race wasn’t as close as had been predicted.
As disappointing as was the Senate race, the real heartbreak for Democrats had to be the judicial elections. We said repeatedly in the runup to the election that the two Supreme Court races were the most important on the ballot. Republicans won both, changing the makeup of our highest court from the current 4-3 majority for Democrats to 5-2 in favor of Republicans. Republicans also swept all four Court of Appeals races. We will understand just how significant these elections are when issues like abortion, voting laws, education, balance of power and redistricting reach the new court. Court decisions increasingly follow party lines.
Perhaps the brightest spot for Democrats was in congressional contests. Prior to Tuesday Republicans held an 8-5 majority in our delegation. The census gave us a 14th seat and most pundits predicted we would end up with an 8-6 outcome, but voters demonstrated their independence, essentially saying that candidates were more important than party line voting. Come January, we will send seven Republicans and seven Democrats to Washington. At this writing we don’t know how that might impact House control. But don’t get too comfortable with these outcomes because new districts will be drawn before the 2024 elections. You might remember our courts struck down the congressional districts drawn by the legislature and had three “special masters” draw new maps, the ones used this year. Since all this happened so near to the election, the court also dictated that new congressional maps be drawn before the 2024 contests, and here is where we might see how the new Republican majority on appellate courts comes into play.
Democrats can also express some joy that they didn’t lose the veto-proof majorities in both houses of our legislature, even though they suffered losses. Republicans captured 30 or the 50 Senate seats, enough for a supermajority in the upper chamber. But it appears Republicans will be one seat short of having that veto-proof margin in the House, giving Gov. Roy Cooper some solace that Republicans won’t be able to pass whatever they want carte blanche without his having some say-so.
Republicans weren’t celebrating as much on the national level. Democrats are claiming victory nationally because even should they lose control over the U.S. House, their losses were nowhere near as great as had been expected. Postmortems are already trying to understand why voters chose as they did, and we will be interested in their evaluations.
For now, it appears Republicans can celebrate on the state level while bemoaning national outcomes. For Democrats, the opposite is true.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.