By David Bass
Conventional wisdom is that the upcoming midterms will be a wave election in favor of Republicans, potentially rivaling the GOP’s success in 2010. But is it in the cards for Republicans to retake a supermajority in the North Carolina General Assembly?
Republicans need 72 seats in the House and 30 in the Senate to secure a supermajority. That means the GOP needs a net pickup of three seats in the House and two seats in the Senate.
A supermajority is important because it means lawmakers could pass legislation and ostensibly override the veto pen of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Lawmakers and Cooper have been at a stalemate over a variety of issues since 2019 due to the governor’s veto.
“The context for this year’s election is similar to that of 2010, when Democrats lost over 1,000 legislative seats across the nation,” said Dr. David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh. “The president is unpopular and a large percentage of people see the country moving in the wrong direction.”
That being said, McLennan emphasized that the five months until election day is a long stretch and anything could happen.
“The higher profile races, such as the U.S. Senate and N.C. Supreme Court races, will have some spillover effects down ballot,” he said. “Races for those three positions are expected to be well financed and highly negative. Depending on how these races go over the next five months, they may affect turnout and voting patterns of other races, like those for the legislature.”
“As to the electoral fundamentals and dynamics we’re seeing, it’s lining up as a Republican advantage year,” added Dr. Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College in Salisbury. “Historically, the president’s party usually suffers in mid-terms; presidential approval usually indicates whether the president can buffer that historical trend; economic issues, such as real personal income or, in this year’s case, inflation; and certainly party enthusiasm and interest heading into November. And in North Carolina, registered Republican turnout rates are always higher than registered Democratic rates, and both are higher than Unaffiliated.”
Locke political experts Dr. Andy Jackson and Jim Stirling have identified 18 legislative districts that will be key to a supermajority in both chambers. Jackson and Stirling underscore that the districts to watch heading into November are the “lean Democratic” ones on the Civitas Partisan Index. Republicans are likely to sweep all the “toss up” districts, but the difference between a majority and a supermajority lies in these marginally Democratic districts, they say.
“Republicans will need to win two of the five lean Democratic districts to retake a supermajority in the Senate, and eight of 13 lean Democratic districts in the House,” said Stirling. “A supermajority in the Senate is the more likely outcomes, while the pathway on the House side is more challenging.”
Jackson and Stirling also caution that North Carolina could be in for some surprises in November, with districts that were once thought comfortably in the Republican or Democratic camps switching up.
Significant swings in the number of seats held by either party are not uncommon in the General Assembly. In the 2010 wave election, for example, Republicans netted 10 seats in the Senate and 15 seats in the House. On the flip side, Democrats netted 10 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate in 2018 to break Republicans’ six-year supermajority reign.
“The other big factor this year is buyers’ remorse by moderate Biden voters, especially in the suburbs,” noted Jackson. “Some of those voters will stay home in the general election but others are going to switch over to vote Republican. The combination of a small but real enthusiasm gap and the defection of moderate Biden voters to the Republicans will put a lot of Democratic-leaning districts into play.”
“Potential Democratic candidates saw this red wave coming months ago, resulting in no Democratic candidates in 41 of the state’s 170 House and Senate districts. Republicans failed to recruit candidates in only 10 districts,” Stirling said.