- “We have a responsibility to our party, our members, and donors to ensure that our energy, efforts, and financial resources are being used to support the candidates with the best chance of winning,” said David Merrill.
For the first time since the city council races changed from non-partisan to partisan in 1975, there will be no GOP candidates running for the four at-large seats in Charlotte.
This news comes as Republicans in Charlotte rallied around a full slate of candidates last summer. Currently, Tariq Bokhari and Ed Driggs are the only two Republicans on the city council.
GOP candidates David Merrill, Kyle Luebke, Carrie Olinski, and Charlie Mulligan ran at-large as a slate in last year’s contest. All of them lost, with Luebke garnering the largest vote total of the four.
It remains an uphill battle for a Republican to win in the Queen City, where 320,823 registered voters are Democrat, 153,776 are Republican, and 289,693 are unaffiliated. Still, Republicans in Mecklenburg continue to be optimistic in making sure that GOP candidates have the best possible chance of winning.
“We made a first of its kind push last year to field a strong slate of Republican candidates for the Charlotte City Council races. It was something that hadn’t been done in over a decade here, and it was a massive effort,” Bokhari told the Carolina Journal via email. “While there are several factors I could point to for why we weren’t successful in the end – namely an unprecedented election in the middle of the summer with people out of town or not aware.”
The municipal election held on July 26, 2022 was originally scheduled for November 2021 but in June of 2021, the Charlotte City Council voted to delay it for district maps to be redrawn after COVID pandemic issues delayed results from the U.S. Census. A law recommended by the State Board of Elections passed the N.C. General Assembly in 2021 allowing N.C. cities to delay municipal elections.
“At the end of the day, the biggest factor remains that with the left lean of the electorate, people with an R next to their name can’t win at-large, and don’t even have a chance in our gerrymandered districts, unless Republican and unaffiliated voters decide they’ve had enough of the status quo and decide to turn out in record numbers,” he added. “You only need to look at the numbers to see: Republicans make up 20% of registered voters, and Dems/Unaffiliateds account for roughly 40% each. That means of the 11 City Council seats, 2 should be safe Republicans, 4-5 should be toss ups, and 4 should be safe democrat in a fair world of map drawing. The reality, though, is 9 seats are basically un-winnable unless you have a D next to your name on the ballot.”
Despite these concerns over the political demographics, Bokhari believes Republican fortunes will change for the better.
“Putting all those major headwinds aside, I do believe at some point the dynamics will change. It will take a mixture of the voters getting so frustrated by what’s happening here locally (from crime, to a standstill in transportation planning, to a city that is rapidly becoming anti-development), paired with good, business-minded candidates stepping up to run. I fear that many of our Republican up-and-coming leaders on the bench will lose heart in the period of waiting, so it’s crucial for us to find ways to keep them engaged in making our city a better place,” said Bokhari.
In addition to being a former city council candidate, Merrill also serves on the Mecklenburg County Republican Party executive board as Vice Chair. He told CJ in an interview that the main reasons no candidates were recruited for the at-large seats this cycle were vote dilution and allocation of resources.
“We didn’t go out of our way to recruit Charlotte city council at-large candidates this year for a couple of reasons; One is we didn’t want to run into a situation of vote dilution. We didn’t want to pull resources away from candidates with much higher chances of success,” he said. “Part of my job being affiliated with the Mecklenburg County GOP this year is to show the people of Mecklenburg County that conservatives in the county are not who [former CNN anchor] Don Lemon tells you they are. We’re not what you see on CNN. We’re the people who help you roll back your trash can because you’re out of town, we’re the people who pull over on the side of the road and help you change a flat tire. We’re not the mean, angry, misogynistic, rich white men who don’t care about anybody else. I think a big part of what we have to do is change that narrative in order for us to have an environment where an at-large candidate in the city of Charlotte or in Mecklenburg County has a solid chance to be successful in winning an election.”
Current Mecklenburg GOP chairwoman Lorena Castillo-Ritz reinforced Merrill’s views on the matter, saying in an email to CJ that the party’s goal moving forward is to devote all efforts toward candidates with the greatest opportunity for success.
“It is the MECKGOP’s responsibility to ensure that our energy, financial resources and efforts are being used for candidates that have the best chances of winning,” she said. “Right now, we are focusing on fighting the battles where we can win today, therefore creating scenarios where we can have big wins in the future.”