- North Carolina’s political landscape is changing
- There are several intriguing NC House races, including one that features the fifth consecutive race between the same two candidates
- Interesting NC Senate races include a rematch of the 2018 race in perennial bellwether New Hanover County
While most of the attention in North Carolina politics is being paid to the presidential and major statewide races, there are several intriguing state legislative races that are worth a look.
The NC State House currently has 65 Republicans and 55 Democrats, and the NC State Senate has 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats, so a change of just six House seats and five Senate seats from Republican to Democrat would shift control of the General Assembly.
To be included in the tables below, the race must be projected to be close in the Civitas Partisan Index (CPI). There are two ways to satisfy that requirement: the district must either be rated as a “toss up” in the CPI or currently represented by an incumbent from the “wrong” party who is running for reelection in a district that leans towards the other party (for example, a Republican representing a district that the CPI rates as leaning towards the Democrat). While the CPI is not a predictive model, it does provide a baseline expected vote share.
In addition to shifting voting patterns, with urban areas and inner suburbs trending Democratic and rural areas and out suburbs trending Republican, the boundaries of many districts were also changed due to court-ordered redistricting last year. Those factors have potentially put more seats into question than in recent elections. The lists presented here do not represent all the races that might be competitive.
NC House: A host of potentially competitive races
There are 17 NC House races (14.2% of 120 seats) that will probably be close according to the CPI:
A few of the potentially more interesting House races include:
- House 119 (Western NC), Joe Sam Queen (D, incumbent) and Mike Clampitt (R) CPI: R+2 (lean Republican): One of the great rivalries in boxing was between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta. The pair faced each other six times, with Robinson’s 5-1 record in those matches belying how competitive the rivalry was. A similar electoral rivalry has developed in the far west of North Carolina. This is the fifth consecutive contest between Queen and Clampitt. Queen has won three of the previous four races, including the last one in 2018, but they have all been close. Something Clampitt has going for him is that his one victory was in 2016, when Donald Trump was at the top of the ticket.
- House 103 (south Mecklenburg County), Rachel Hunt (D, incumbent) and William Brawley (R), CPI: R+0 (Toss up): Jim Hunt’s daughter spent over $1.7 million for this seat in 2018. That comes to $90.02 per vote (by comparison, Hillary Clinton spent $9.46 and Donald Trump $5.32 per vote in 2016). Brawley spent a “meager” $450,000 in the same race. Despite the spending gap, and some claims of absentee ballot irregularities, Hunt only won by 68 votes in a midterm “blue wave” election. Brawley is running against Hunt again this year but may face a more difficult task; court-ordered redistricting changed the district from likely Republican to toss up in the CPI
- House 46 (Columbus & Robeson counties), Tim Heath (D) and Brenden Jones (R, incumbent), CPI: D+1 (Toss up): Court-ordered redistricting also impacted this rural district last year, changing from likely Republican (R+7) to toss up (D+1). This district had been held by a Democrat before Jones won in 2016. Jones won 63-37 in his first reelection campaign in 2018, a sign that he has a strong enough base of support to prevail in a less friendly map.
- House 43 (Cumberland County), Kimberly Hardy (D) and Diane Wheatley (R), CPI: D+1 (Toss up): This district was one of the most heavily affected by last year’s court-ordered redistricting, going from safe Democratic (D+23) to Toss up (D+1). The old district has been concentrated in Fayetteville, but now includes the rural eastern half of Cumberland County. That change was a factor in incumbent Democrat Elmer Floyd’s primary loss to Hardy since most of his supporters were removed from the district. That sets up a more competitive general election than if Floyd had been nominated again.
NC Senate: A handful of potentially competitive races
According to the CPI, there are five NC Senate races (10.0% of 50 seats) that will probably be competitive:
A couple of Senate races are worth a closer look:
- Senate 9 (most of New Hanover County) Harper Peterson (D, incumbent) and Michael Lee (R), CPI: D+0 (Toss up): This race is a rematch of the 2018 election when Peterson unseated the then-incumbent Lee. Peterson won that race 48.6-48.3 (or just 231 votes out of about 87,000 cast) while a Libertarian candidate got 3.5% of the vote. There is no Libertarian candidate this time. While the district has slightly shifted Democratic due to court-ordered redistricting (going from R+1 to D+0), New Hanover has long been highly competitive and is considered one of ten bellwether counties that “will decide the 2020 election” nationwide. The 2020 race could be just as close as the 2018 race here.
- Senate 13 (Columbus 5 Robeson counties) Barbara Yates-Lockamy (D) and Danny Earl Britt (R, incumbent) CPI: D+2 (Lean Democrat): With a population that is roughly 40% white, 27% black, and 30% Native American, this senate district is the most diverse in the state. While that would seem to be a recipe for Democrat dominance, Republicans can successfully compete for voters here (as evidenced by the 2019 9th Congressional District redo election in which Republican Dan Bishop’s successful competition for a share of the Lumbee vote helped him win). Britt has won here twice, including an easy reelection victory in 2018, although Democrats hope that Yates-Lockamy will make a better go of it this year.
While there are many other competitive races in North Carolina in 2020, the results of these races will go a long way towards determining which party will control the General Assembly next year.
What you can do: To learn more about the candidates in these and other races before you vote, you can check out their campaign web pages, see their candidate and legislative ratings, or look them up on Ballotpedia.