With primary canvass complete, legislative leaders eye veto-proof majorities

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  • 1.4 million voters cast ballots in N.C. May 17, a 20% turnout.
  • More than 40 Republicans are running unopposed, 25 Democrats.
  • Three members of the General Assembly advanced to Congressional races.

The N.C. State Board of Elections officially certified primary elections on Thursday, June 9. According to the NCSBE, about 1.4 million people cast ballots, a 20% voter turnout for the May 17 primary. Karen Brinson Bell, NCSBE executive director, presented the results to board members for certification.

“I think our voters can have tremendous amounts of confidence that you are doing your job before during and after the election process to ensure that our elections are secure and accurate,” said NCSBE Chairman Damon Circosta told Bell during the board meeting Thursday.

The official canvass finalizes the primary. Now with five months to go until Election Day and all 170 seats in the N.C. General Assembly up for re-election, state lawmakers see this short session as their last work in the chambers before ballots are cast. Some lawmakers now working on the floor are already out for November, having lost their primary race.

Overall, seven incumbent legislators — five Republicans and two Democrats — lost their primary for re-election. Four Republicans were “double-bunked” with party colleagues, meaning their district in the new maps overlapped with another incumbent.

Turnout was historically high for a primary. At 20%, the only higher-turnout primary in more than 30 years was the one just after 9/11; In 2002, 21% of North Carolinians voted. This time, however, the growth in unaffiliated voters is a wild card.  There are now more registered unaffiliated voters in North Carolina than Democrats or Republicans.  They have the option to vote in either party’s primary. In the May contest, twice as many unaffiliated voters took a Republican ballot than took a Democrat ballot. It could mean they plan to vote Republican in the fall, or they want to influence who their preferred Democrat candidate opposes.

For now, state legislative Democrats say they anticipate holding the line in November and winning back a few seats. Republicans, on the other hand, see a chance to regain veto-proof supermajorities to withstand vetoes from the governor’s mansion. Republicans hold a 69-51 majority in the House and 28-22 in the Senate. They would need to gain three seats in the House and two in the Senate to secure supermajorities.

Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed more bills than all other N.C. governors combined with 71 vetoes since taking office in 2017. Forty-three have been sustained since the GOP lost supermajorities in 2020, because legislative Democrats have remained in lockstep behind the governor, with several being absent during key override votes to avoid crossing the aisle and bucking Cooper.

Cooper eliminates Democrat deViere

Sen. Kirk deViere, D-Cumberland, learned that lesson the hard way; he lost his high-profile primary in May for the seat he’s had since 2018.  Cooper targeted deViere after the senator crossed the aisle and voted with Republicans on some issues including the legislative vote to re-open schools during COVID shutdowns, which Cooper opposed. DeViere also worked with Republicans to negotiate the state budget.  As a result, Cooper threw his weight behind deViere’s opponent in the Democrat primary, Val Applewhite, a former Fayetteville City Council member. Cooper even appeared in a TV ad supporting her. She won 56% of the primary vote, compared to deViere’s 36%.

“I need legislators who will help me expand Medicaid, pay teachers more, and give everyone an opportunity,” Cooper posted on Twitter, to explain his turn on deViere.

In the November general election, Applewhite will face former Sen. Wesley Meredith, who won his primary by 72%. DeViere defeated then-incumbent Meredith in 2018 to win the seat.

On election night, deViere reflected on the campaign season and said that politics lately “are about winners and losers, but when that happens what gets lost are ideas and values.”

Sen. Ernestine Bazemore, D-Bertie, also lost her primary in Senate District 3 to Valerie Jordan of Warren County.

Double-bunking claims incumbents

Double bunking also took out a few leading members of the N.C. General Assembly. Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, lost her primary to Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, in District 47.  Hise and Ballard came within one percentage point, 50.6% to 49.3%, or about 400 votes. Ballard chairs the Senate Education Committee and played a pivotal role in getting schools reopened during the pandemic shutdowns. Hise now runs unopposed in November.

Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, will also run unopposed in November after defeating fellow incumbent, Sen. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan. Senate Republicans have a total of 14 caucus members running unopposed in November, including the Senate Rules Chairman Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.  Senate Democrats have one member running unopposed in November, Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, D-Mecklenburg.

On the House side, long-time Representative Jamie Boles, R-Moore, lost his primary to Rep. Ben Moss, R-Richmond, and Rep. Jake Johnson, R-Polk, defeated Rep. David Rogers, R-Rutherford. Moss will run unopposed in November, along with House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne, and 27 other Republican members. House Democrats have six members running unopposed in the general election.

State lawmakers advance to congressional races

Three legislative members are advancing to congressional general elections in November, as Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, beat Trump-endorsed Congressman Madison Cawthorn in the District 11 Republican primary. N.C. Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Henderson, will run for Edwards’ state Senate seat in November.

N.C. Sen. Wiley Nickel, D-Wake, won the CD-13 Democrat primary. Now he will face Republican Trump-endorsed candidate Bo Hines in November. Current N.C. Rep. Gale Adcock, D-Wake, is running for Nickel’s state Senate seat. Sen. Valerie Foushee, D-Orange, beat Nida Allam to run in the CD-04 general election for Congress, and current state Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, is running to fill Foushee’s seat.

Some well-known former N.C. lawmakers are returning to the ballot this November after the primary. State Sen. Toby Fitch, D-Wilson, will face former Republican state Sen. Buck Newton to represent District 4, while incumbent Rep. Diane Wheatley, R-Cumberland, will be challenged by former Democratic Rep. Elmer Floyd.

North Carolina’s general election will be held Nov. 8.