Monday, October 25, 2010

Is North Carolina Micro-America?

So here's the political landscape: a widely-unpopular chief executive who has a unified party control of the legislature. A moody electorate where the opposition political party is energized, the middle is irritated, and the controlling political party is apathetic and perhaps demoralized. A number of legislative seats are up for grabs, and political analysts (like me) are saying that one of the legislative chambers will flip to control by the opposition.

Sound familiar? No, I’m not talking about national politics—it’s North Carolina politics, and the situation that the Democrats find themselves in at the national level is just as evident at the state level of government as well.

First, some basic facts about Tar Heel state government: Democrats control the Governor’s Mansion and the General Assembly—in the NC House of Representatives, it’s a 68-52 majority, while in the NC Senate, it’s a 30-20 split. So Democrats have the most to loose, and Bev Perdue’s lack of popularity (only 35% approve, according to a PPP Poll) is akin to President Obama’s favorability (or lack thereof) rating. So there’s one similarity between Raleigh and Washington.

Second, like in the U.S. Congress, the vast majority of seats are “safe” for one party or the other—meaning that right now, I could safely predict that 20 Democrats and 19 Republican NC Senate candidates will return to Raleigh. That’s pretty close, figuring you need 26 for the majority (maybe a few more might help). Factor in three Senate seats that will most likely flip from Democratic to Republican control (one of them is David Hoyle’s seat in Gastonia, the other two are in the mountains), and you’ve got Republicans close to the magic number to control the NC Senate.

Out of eight “toss-up” seats that are left, two are Republican control (count those in the Republican column this year), and the other six Democratic-controlled seats have 3 “open” seats. These are critical, because even in a year like this, it’s better to have an incumbent in swing districts than someone the voters don’t know very well.

So, if you were to bet on a potential Republican take-over this year in the legislature, look to the NC Senate—it would be the first time Republicans controlled the upper chamber since the end of the nineteenth century.

For the NC House, it’s again a matter of “safe” seats dominating (Democrats controlling 55 seats, Republicans controlling 52 seats out of the 120 total) and a handful of “swing” seats that will determine who controls the lower chamber. Right now, Democrats have more “swing” districts to defend, with two of those seats being open. There is a possibility that when Nov. 2nd’s dust settles, we could see a potential 60-60 tie again (see 2002 for what happens next), or one party has a bare 61-59 control of the House.

Third, the “generic” ballot indicates that Republicans are up over Democrats, much like on the national scene. The GOP is benefiting from solid support from its base and the favor of independents, even though Democrats make up 48 percent of registered voters in the state.

Overall, the state-level political scene is a lot like the national scene—and it’s only going to result in more gridlock leading up to 2012.