We are finally in the homestretch of the 2018 midterm elections. The whole country is holding its breath to see the impact of this year’s election on the U.S. House of Representatives. North Carolina is no exception – three of the state’s 13 Congressional Districts could prove to be tight races (and we’ve got Civitas Polls to prove it).
But arguably just as important in North Carolina is the composition of the state legislature. Republicans currently enjoy veto-proof majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, but Democrats are hopeful that they can flip enough seats to break one or both of the supermajorities.
North Carolina’s current Governor, Roy Cooper, is a Democrat. But the Republican supermajorities have enough votes to override his vetoes without any Democratic allies. If Democrats can change that, they give the Governor a much more significant role in the policy-making process.
The threshold for overriding a veto is three-fifths of each chamber. Republicans currently hold 35 out of 50 seats in the state Senate and 75 out of 120 seats in the state House. In order to break the supermajorities, Democrats would have to pick up 4 seats in the House and 6 seats in the Senate.
This year’s elections are being held under newly-redrawn NCGA districts. The Civitas Partisan Index (CPI) rates the new districts using voting data from 2016 (Learn more about the process here). CPI ranks 31 of the new Senate districts as Republican and 19 Democrat, with 75 House districts as Republican and 45 Democrat.
Most of the districts across both chambers are ranked as “Safe” for their respective parties. Perhaps the key districts in determining the power dynamics of the state legislature are those that are rated as “Swing” districts – those with a CPI rating between zero and two.
House Swing Contests
There are nine swing districts in the House, with three of those having a slight Democrat advantage. One of the districts is an open district, five are held by Democrat incumbents, and three are held by Republican incumbents. Each of the eight incumbents are running for reelection. Three of the Democrat-held districts are ranked as “Swing Republican,” while one Republican-held district falls within a Democratic-leaning district. In that race, the Republican incumbent is not seeking reelection.
Interestingly, two of the House swing district contests include former House members that were defeated by their opponents in the 2016 election. Former Rep. Marilyn Avila (R) is challenging Rep. Joe John (D) in what is now the Swing Republican (R+1) District 40 and former Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D) will have a rematch with Rep. Mike Clampitt (R) in the R+2 Swing Republican District 119.
Three districts that swing Republican have third-party candidates in the race. There are two Libertarian candidates and one Green Party candidate. Two of the three-party races contain Democratic incumbents and one has a Republican incumbent.
Outside of the swing districts, another race that could change party control is House District 7. Currently held by Democratic Rep. Bobbie Richardson, the newly drawn district has a CPI score of R+4 and falls into the “Likely Republican” category.
Democrats need a net gain of 4 seats in order to break the supermajority in the House, and a net gain of 16 seats to win the majority.
Senate Swing Contests
There are five swing districts in the Senate; four swing Republican, while one swings Democrat. Of the five, four are held by Republican incumbents and one is open.
Outside of the “Swing District” category, the Senate has some other interesting races. Two Senate districts – 13 and 19 – are currently held by Republican incumbents but now fall into the “Likely Democrat” category. Those seats are held by Danny Earl Britt Jr (R) and Wesley Meredith (R).
Three swing districts have third-party candidates. Two Swing Republican districts have Libertarian candidates and a Swing Democrat district has a Constitution Party candidate. All three of those districts have Republican incumbents.
Democrats need a net gain of 6 seats to break the Republican supermajority in the Senate and a net gain of 11 seats to win the majority.
There may be little hope that Democrats regain a majority in either chamber of the General Assembly. Since Democrats only need to flip 4 seats in the House to break the supermajority, many people consider it as the most volatile chamber. However, the new districts may throw that into question.
The new House districts shift things around, but ultimately assign Republican advantages to 75 seats, matching the number of seats they currently hold. On the other hand, the new Senate districts place only 31 seats at a Republican advantage, whereas they currently have 35 seats. If the Democrats can pick up all seats that have a CPI Democrat leaning, they only need to gain two seats from the “Swing Republican” category to break the Republican supermajority in the Senate. One of those seats is open and another two contain Libertarian candidates, which could draw votes away from the Republican incumbents if they appeal to conservative voters.
The new districts seem to make the Senate more vulnerable to Democratic gains than may have previously been thought. But, even assuming that the Democrats gain each of the districts that lean in their favor, they may not be able to get the final two wins to make it over the threshold of breaking the supermajority. The latest Civitas flash polls of Swing Republican Senate Districts 7, 9, and 18 each found voters leaning towards the Republican incumbent.
In this Blue Moon election, turnout is the name of the game. CPI is based on 2016 voting patterns in state elections, but President Trump’s presence on the ballot certainly played a role in the composition of voters who turned out that year. The effects of this are yet to be seen; Trump won North Carolina in 2016, but he inspired both his supporters and critics to get out and vote. That same year, North Carolinians elected a Democratic Governor and a Republican Lieutenant Governor. There are a lot of factors influencing the most competitive General Assembly races, the effect of which we won’t know for sure until at least November 7th.
Check out our interactive CPI maps on our main Civitas Partisan Index page here.