An Intro to the 2020 State House Competition

The filing period for candidates to get their names on the ballot for the 2020 election cycle is now open in North Carolina, and both parties have goals they want to accomplish. For the Republicans this is a chance for them to reclaim the super-majority that they lost in the General Assembly, allowing them to move forward legislative priorities without fear of a veto from Governor Roy Cooper. Likewise, the Democrats are hoping to gain control of at least one chamber in the Assembly and help ease some of the isolation the governor has faced in the capital.

For the Republicans to realize their goal in the State House of Representatives they will have to gain 7 seats, increasing their current 65 seats to 72. The Democrats will need to gain 6, going from 55 to 61. For the Republicans this could mean flipping seats in districts that were won by Trump in 2016, but are currently held by Democrats. A perfect example of this is House District 66 which is home to incumbent Democrat Scott Brewer, and contains Richmond and Montgomery Counties in the southeastern portion of the Carolina Piedmont. Richmond County had historically been a Democratic stronghold, but in recent years has begun oscillating. In 2016 it was won by Trump, then in 2018 it voted for Democrat Dan McCready in the U.S. House race before turning around and voting for Republican Dan Bishop in the 2019 special election. Even in 2016 Richmond voted for Democrats in down ballot races, with the Democrats running away with the county in the Commissioner of Insurance race. Montgomery, the county that shares the district with Richmond, has been more consistent in voting Republican, but not overwhelmingly so. Mike Causey—the Republican who ultimately won the Commissioner of Insurance race—only carried 53% of the vote in Montgomery. While neither of these counties are likely to hand Republicans a slam dunk in this district, this should be a seat where the Republicans perform well, provided they find a candidate who resonates in Richmond County.

Another seat currently held by a Democrat, but was won by Trump in 2016, is District 93 that covers Watauga and Ashe Counties in the northwest mountains. It is currently held by Representative Ray Russell; he was able to take this seat from Republican Jonathan Jordan in an extremely close race in which Russell received 18,787 votes to Jordan’s 17,196. If Republicans manage to flip those two races they will have five remaining in order to achieve their goal of regaining the super-majority. Those seats could come at the expense of incumbent Democrats Elmer Floyd and Sydney Batch. In Floyd’s case his safe Democrat seat in Fayetteville was redrawn to include large swathes of Republican leaning eastern Cumberland County. Representative Batch only narrowly won her seat in southern Wake County from Republican John Adcock in 2018, and with the redistricting she saw some heavily Republican precincts moved into her district from the seat formerly held by Nelson Dollar. 

Another possible weak spot for the Democrats in Wake County is the seat currently held by Terence Everitt. Located on the northern side of the county, this is also a district where Trump performed well in 2016 and which was only narrowly taken by the Democrats in 2018. If the Republicans flipped all of these seats they would be at six of the seven that they need. A potential candidate for the final pick up could be District 98, located on the northern tip of Mecklenburg County, this seat is held by Christy Clark who won it in a close election in 2018.

The Democrats goal of gaining the majority may have been rendered more complicated by their success in 2018. There are few seats remaining in districts that were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, but are still held by Republicans. Most of the low hanging fruit is now gone, but the Democrats still have several districts in their sights. The website FlipNC.org has a map outlining the seats that they feel are either at risk of being lost, or that they hope to flip.

The two Republicans who top FlipNC’s list of targets are Stephen Ross in the northeast portion of Alamance County, and Perrin Jones on the eastern half of Pitt County. Ross’ district was redrawn to cut out some of the more Republican precincts, and the remaining precincts that went for Trump have shown a volatility that makes them unreliable for a Republican candidate. Perrin Jones earns a high spot on the list primarily because of two factors: firstly, while his district maintained many of it’s red precincts, it did gain some solid blue ones located within Greenville, and secondly Republican victory gaps have a history of contracting in even the reddest precincts of this district. Jones—a medical doctor—occupies the seat vacated by Greg Murphy when he won election to the United States Congress earlier this year. Murphy won the seat easily in 2018 but it has yet to be seen how the district will be impacted by the addition of bluer precincts.. It is possible that the Democrats are encouraged by how much tighter the race was in the presidential election year of 2016, hoping for a similarly enthusiastic Democratic turnout in 2020.. In 2018 Murphy won 17,234 to 11,510 against Democrat Kris Rixon. In the 2016 presidential year the gap shrunk to 22,869 for Murphy and 17,007 for his Democratic opponent Brian Farkas. A wave for the Democrats combined with  a diminished Republican turnout could flip this seat.

The next seat the Democrats will need to pick up is District 82, which stretches across most of the northern portion of Cabarrus County, and is held by Linda Johnson. This seat, along with its fellow Cabarrus District 83—held by Larry Pittman—were both very close races in 2018, and Democrats are hoping that a surge will sweep them both up.

The final two necessary to reach the goal of six are Debra Conrad’s District 74 in Forsyth County and Jon Hardister’s District 59 in Guilford County. Conrad’s district was completely flipped from it’s position on the northern end of Forsyth to encompassing almost the entire western third of the county. It will still consist of many red precincts but will now reach into some of the blue parts of Winston Salem. What makes this one a little unpredictable is that Trump performed unexpectedly well in most of those blue precincts, and it that were to happen again in 2020 it could result for a very close race in District 74. If there is a wave in 2020 that moves in the Democrats favor then this could be the sixth and final seat they need to flip in order to claim the majority in the House of Representatives.

 There are other seats that could have been discussed here but these are the ones we will be following the closest in 2020. If the Republicans hope to take the super-majority in the State House, they will have to ensure they correctly allocate resources to take seats that have already shown a propensity for voting Republican. For the Democrats to gain control of a chamber of the Assembly they will likely be  heavily reliant on the political climate and the ability of national events to create a wave that brings a higher volume of Democratic voters in key precincts.

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