The future for our state and the nation will be determined by the 2016 elections and North Carolina voters will have a big voice on both levels.
Democrats believe any chance they have to regain control of the U.S. Senate requires a victory in our state. The recent NBC/Marist College poll indicates incumbent Richard Burr has a narrow lead over Deborah Ross. June 30 campaign finance reports show Ross raised more money in the latest period but Burr has the larger cash-on-hand balance, with $9 million in the bank.
North Carolina is also pivotal in the presidential election. Donald Trump must win North Carolina to garner the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win. Hillary Clinton can likely win without our state but with so much at stake you can expect to see both candidates and their surrogates frequently between now and November.
What makes the Presidential and Senatorial outcomes so critical is that the next president will nominate at least one and possibly three Supreme Court Justices; nominees that must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The party controlling the nominating and confirming will shape our future because the political leanings of those justices often determines their decisions.
That same NBC/Marist poll shows Clinton with a slight lead in North Carolina. Large numbers of voters don’t like or trust either Trump or Clinton; the ultimate outcome might boil down to whom voters dislike least and who turns out to vote. Political analysts are trying to determine how unaffiliated voters will swing and also whether either Clinton or Trump can provide help to candidates down the ballot.
Pat McCrory would probably be ending his second term as governor had it not been for the 2008 Obama phenomenon, when large numbers of young and minority voters assured Obama’s victory in North Carolina, helping elect Democrats Beverly Perdue as Governor and Kay Hagan as Senator. Recent polls show Democrat Roy Cooper with a slight lead over the incumbent McCrory. It isn’t often you see a challenger outraise a sitting governor, but campaign finance reports put Cooper ahead in dollars. Those same fundraising reports show Democrats outraising Republicans for most Council of State offices, with the exception of the Lt. Governor’s race, where recent poll shows that race tied.
Equally important are the supposedly nonpartisan North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals elections. Informed voters know which parties the candidates represent, understanding that appellate court decisions frequently mirror which party has the plurality. All 170 seats in our General Assembly are up for grabs and while it is unlikely Democrats can regain control over either house, they might nibble away enough seats to have more influence over legislation and eliminate the veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
It is too early to put much stock in either polling data or fundraising reports but North Carolina is clearly in play. Expect many prominent partisan appearances and huge sums invested in TV, especially by the mysterious independent expenditure groups. Voters are likely to become weary early on, making grassroots, door-to-door campaigns extremely important.
The bottom line is that North Carolina will have a large and important voice on both the national and state stages, a fact that will hopefully motivate large numbers to vote come Nov. 8.
Tom Campbell is the Executive Producer and Moderator of NC Spin.