Seven additional seats in the General Assembly (three in the House, four in the Senate) have recently come open either through members retiring mid-term, or announcing they would not be seeking re-election or running for higher office. So once again, let’s take a look inside the numbers to see if any of these could be in play in 2010.
For much of the analysis, we will use the Civitas N.C. Partisan Index (NCPI), which compares the political leanings of voters in each state House and Senate district with the partisan voting tendencies of the state as a whole. The end result is a letter D or R (Democratic or Republican) followed by a number, indicating the extent to which each district leans one way or the other. For the full rankings, please visit the NCPI section of the Civitas Web site.
The most competitive seat to open up came with the announcement on Nov. 19 that Sen. Julia Boseman (D) will not seek re-election to her New Hanover County seat, which NCPI rates as an R+3 district. Despite its Republican leanings, Boseman has held on to it due in no small part to a tremendous fundraising operation – roughly $1.1 million was spent between Boseman and her Republican challenger Michael Lee in 2008, making it the most expensive Senate race in North Carolina.
The district is truly a swing district. Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) carried it 50.2 percent to President Barak Obama’s 48.8 percent, but Gov. Bev Perdue beat Republican candidate, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, in the district by 3 percent. On Council of State races, Democrats won 5, Republicans won 4.
Republican attorney Thom Goolsby has already announced his intentions to run and it is expected that 2008 candidate Michael Lee will run as well for the Republican nomination. However, there are rumors of other prominent Wilmington Republicans exploring a run now that Boseman is not running. On the Democratic side, it is widely expected that Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo will seek the Democratic nomination.
The other Senate seat open due to a retirement this month that could have some intrigue is the seat in District 19 (Cumberland and Bladen counties) being vacated by long serving Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand (D) as he moves on to chair the Parole Commission. This seat has been trending slightly Republican and has moved to a D+5 from a D+4 on the NCPI over the past couple of years with McCain carrying the district by 2 points last year.
With the loss of Rand’s name on the ballot (and his fundraising prowess to go with it), Republicans have an outside chance at picking up the seat if the stars align. First, the Republicans must recruit a top-tier candidate and second, the political climate must remain the same as it is today – with the tide trending Republican. If these factors bear out, this seat certainly could be one to watch.
Rand has recommended Rep. Margaret Dickson (D) replace him. She would start out with a strong base of support since her House district (44) overlaps a significant portion of the population base of the Senate district.
Two additional Senators announced their retirements over the past few weeks, but neither are in competitive districts. In District 13 (Robeson and Hoke counties), Sen. David Weinstein (D) resigned his seat to become head of Perdue’s Highway Safety Program. Robeson County businessman Michael Walters has been appointed to fill the remainder of Weinstein’s term in office. The district is a solid Democratic district (D+16) where Obama beat McCain by 15 percentage points and Perdue walloped McCrory by nearly 40 points.
On the other side of the state, Sen. Jim Jacumin (R) is retiring from his seat in District 44 (Burke and Caldwell counties). This seat is an R+9 district that McCrory won by 31 points and McCain beat Obama by 24 points. The only race in either of these districts is for the party’s nomination in the primary, as in whoever wins it will almost certainly be the next Senator in both cases.
Perhaps the biggest coup for the Republicans was the announcement by Rep. Ray Warren (D) that he would not seek re-election to the seat in House District (HD) 88 that consists of all of Alexander County and a portion of Catawba County. According to the NCPI, this seat is rated at R+11, or what would be normally considered a safe Republican seat. In fact, this is the most Republican-leaning seat in the General Assembly currently occupied by a Democrat. Warren, a former three-term sheriff of Alexander County, has won the past two elections by slim margins despite McCain carrying the district by 22 points. Barring the Democrats recruiting another candidate with as much crossover appeal as Warren, this seat should swing back to the Republicans in 2010. Former Republican Rep. Mark Hollo, who held the seat from 2004-2006, is widely expected to run again.
The other House retirement this month was Rep. Laura Wiley (R-Guilford) announcing she would not seek re-election to her Guilford county seat that encompasses much of the High Point area. While less Republican than the Warren seat discussed above, this seat should remain safely in Republican hands as an R+6 district. McCain carried it 53 to 46 and it went Republican in every Council of State race except Attorney General. As of this writing, three Republicans have announced their intentions to run: John Faircloth, a High Point City Council member and former police chief; Gerald Grubb, a 40-year district resident and owner of Southern Cross Mortgage Co.; and Paul Norcross, a high point businessman who works in logistics and is a co-founder of the Phoenix Academy Charter School.
Rep. Wil Neumann (R) of Gaston County announced on Nov. 20 that he would run for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. David Hoyle (D), who is vacating his House seat. Hoyle holds, by almost all accounts, a safe Republican seat that rates as R+10 on the NCPI, but Hoyle has been able to hold onto the seat due to his strong ties to the business community and his reputation as a conservative Democrat in the Senate. Neumann’s seat in House District 108 is a safe Republican seat, with an R+14 rating on the NCPI.