State Sen. Krawiec announces retirement, endorsement
Longtime State Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, announced on Monday that she will not seek re-election and is retiring at the end of her current term.
Republicans across the country have voiced concerns that Donald Trump’s likely presidential nomination could harm down-ballot Republican candidates’ electoral fortunes. But some political analysts say time and Trump’s unpredictable pivots to soften his image may ease some of those concerns as the general election approaches.
In contrast, Democrats believe the combination of Trump’s brashness, his historically high negative ratings at this stage of a presidential campaign, along with a backlash against North Carolina’s Republican-led passage of House Bill 2 could boost opposition votes in November, possibly handing Democrats the governor’s seat, and more legislative wins than previously expected.
Earl Phillip, North Carolina state director for Trump, who won the state primary with a 40.2 percent plurality, declined to comment for this story.
North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse dismissed any notion that Trump would be an albatross for state Republicans.
“Not at all. We think we’re going to do well,” Woodhouse said on Friday from the Republicans’ state convention in Greensboro. U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who has been working with Trump on foreign policy issues, spoke on Saturday at the convention.
“I think people are excited,” Woodhouse said. “Our patrons, our activists are fired up, and ready to go hard this weekend to send a delegation to [the nominating convention in] Cleveland and get ready for this fall.”
Woodhouse noted that Republicans turned out 1,139,282 primary voters, 10,000 more than Democrats. He compared that to 2008, when Democratic primary voters outnumbered Republicans 1,580,726 to 517,583 and favored Barack Obama.
Many unaffiliated voters voted Republican in the primary, “So all those things bode well for us, and we look forward to working to elect our entire Republican ticket,” Woodhouse said.
“Mr. Trump is obviously keyed in on something about the need to make America great again, and we would also say that our governor, working with legislators on tax reform, and other economic policy, already is making North Carolina even greater. So I think those two elements will fit in well with each other,” Woodhouse said.
Jim Burton, the state House of Representatives Republican Caucus director, agreed that Trump resonated with primary voters on issues such as the closure of textile mills, lost jobs, and NAFTA, but sounded a more cautionary note last week at a Raleigh event.
“A lot of people are concerned about Donald Trump,” and worry whether national polls consistently showing him trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will translate into difficulties in their North Carolina races, Burton said last Monday.
“If his numbers with certain groups like women, and Latinos, and African Americans were to hold where they are now, that could potentially cause problems down ballot” for North Carolina Republicans, said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College.
However, he cautioned, “Everything about the Trump candidacy has gone against the conventional wisdom,” and his approval ratings could rise.
“We’re looking at everything through the lens of today when we’ve got five months of campaigning circumstances and everything else. Things may change dramatically for Donald Trump,” McLennan said. “I can’t say he’s going to be this big anchor” on other Republican candidates.
Unless state legislative candidates “literally adopt some of Trump’s positions, voters are smart enough to differentiate between local politicians and statewide issues, and what goes on in the presidential election,” McLennan said.
Congressional races “may be more of a different animal” because federal issues align more closely with presidential politics, he said.
“I think if I was a Richard Burr I might be a little bit more concerned right now,” McLennan said of North Carolina’s senior Republican U.S. senator, who supports Trump. “If his positions on foreign policy start shifting towards Trump’s positions, people might see a vote for one as a vote for the other.”
McLennan doesn’t envision voters casting ballots for or against Trump and then splitting their ticket on down-ballot races. But it is likely some dispirited voters might stay home rather than vote for the New York billionaire.
“Time has a way of healing a lot of wounds, and we’re going to be looking at a lot of time, a lot of campaign promises … between now and election day,” McLennan said. Both Trump’s negatives, and the Never Trump disdain, could diminish by then.
“I don’t think it can really have too many positive down-ballot effects,” N.C. State University political science professor Andy Taylor said of a Trump-led GOP presidential ticket. “Just in the head-to-head with Clinton, Trump is down 10 to 15 points, so that can’t be good.”
But, like McLennan, Taylor said, “Things can change between now and then.”
One “saving grace” for other Republican candidates is that anti-Trump donors and party activists “may concentrate their efforts on keeping the Congress, and maybe even the gubernatorial seats like the one in North Carolina,” rather than devote time and resources to Trump, Taylor said.
Some election observers say Trump may veer away from some of his more incendiary primary tactics and positions for the general election.
“This question of him pivoting back to the middle, I don’t know what that means for Trump,” Taylor said. “Trump’s ideologically ambiguous. He’s not clearly conservative, and there are a lot of conservatives who say he’s not conservative.” He views Trump’s candidacy as a Rorschach test for voters — many see in him what they want to see.
Any talk about Trump “reinventing himself” may be limited to softening his demeanor and toning down his destructive personal attacks on opponents, while still exerting his strong personality on key issues, Taylor said.
“I think it will be difficult, very difficult” to coalesce the party around Trump, Taylor said. “There’s no doubt that there will be Republican figures, prominent ones, across the country who will say, ‘I just can’t vote for Trump,’” a phenomenon not seen in American presidential races for decades.
“With Trump at the top of the ticket it certainly doesn’t get any easier for down-ballot candidates on the GOP side. A lot of Democrats are going to come out and vote against Trump” because they are energized “more so than usual” by a Trump candidacy, said North Carolina Democratic Party spokesman Dave Miranda.
“He’s attacked nearly every group you can think of — veterans, disabled people, African-Americans, Latinos, women — repeatedly. It’s that kind of divisive rhetoric that’s really caused a lot of people to not like him,” Miranda said.
“Elections have become so nationalized, and in a presidential year what happens at the top of the ticket will be felt all the way down,” said Democratic strategist Gary Pearce, who publishes the blog “Talking About Politics” with Republican campaign strategist Carter Wrenn.
“My Republican friends tell me they’re really worried about it, and I think that’s what the polling right now is showing,” Pearce said, citing the most recent Civitas Institute poll showing Gov. Pat McCrory well behind his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper, and Trump trailing Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“It’s a little hard to separate things because you’ve also got the House Bill 2 effect here. I think it’s a double whammy for Republicans,” Pearce said. Polling indicates Wake County’s swing districts will favor the Democratic candidates, he said, though he hasn’t seen enough data to know whether it’s H.B. 2 or Trump driving that momentum.
While Trump claims he has attracted “millions and millions” of new voters including Democrats and independents to his camp, Pearce is not convinced.
“I think that’s a myth. Trump has acquired an image now of being sexist, and racist, and reckless. Those are disqualifying things with Democrats, and they are very worrisome things for independents,” Pearce said.
Voters don’t cast split tickets as much as they used to, Pearce said, so if Clinton is leading in the state at the time of the election, he said it is probable most votes down ballot also will be for Democrats.