Republicans made historic gains in the North Carolina legislature during Tuesday’s midterm election, gaining control of both chambers of the General Assembly by comfortable margins for the first time since the 19th century.
By 11 p.m., Republicans had won at least a 30-20 majority in the state Senate, a flip of the current ratio. A number of races in the House were too close to call, but the GOP had picked up at least a dozen seats, more than enough to secure a governing majority.
In federal races, North Carolina truly was an outlier, with every incumbent but one winning re-election. As of 11 p.m., GOP Sen. Richard Burr was 12 points ahead of Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.
The three Democratic House members who were perceived to be vulnerable survived, while one who was expected to be safe may have lost. In House District 2, Rep. Bob Etheridge trailed nurse Renee Ellmers by about 2,000 votes of 185,000 votes cast with mail ballots still to be counted. If the margin give Ellmers a margin of less than 1 percent, a recount will follow. Etheridge gained notoriety from his “who are you?” incident this summer, but he had won his past two elections with at least 65 percent of the vote.
Meantime, In House District 8, freshman Larry Kissell withstood a strong challenge from former Charlotte sportscaster Harold Johnson. Seventh District Rep. Mike McIntyre won an eighth term, beating Ilario Pantano.
And 11th District Rep. Heath Shuler, who suggested he might challenge Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House, will now have to decide if he wants to become a leader in the new House minority after defeating Jeff Miller.
Tuesday night, Democratic consultant Doug Schoen called the Tar Heel State unique. With Republicans turning out Democrats from Virginia through Florida, Schoen said on Fox News, “The Democratic Party in the South is dead. Except for North Carolina.”
Below, Carolina Journal has listed the GOP’s gains in the state House and Senate.
House 3: Norman Sanderson (R) beats Alice Graham Underhill (D) 64-34 percent
House 4: Jimmy Dixon (R) beats Mott Blair (D) 51-49 percent
House 6: Bill Cook (R) beats Arthur Williams (D) 54-46 percent
House 10: Stephen LaRoque (R) beats Van Braxton (D) 57-43 percent
House 25: Jeff Collins (R) beats Randy Stewart (D) 58-42 percent
House 41: Tom Murry (R) beats Chris Heagarty (D) 54-46 percent
House 49: Glen Bradley (R) beats John May (D) 52-48 percent
House 51: Mike Stone (R) beats Jimmy Love (D) 54-46 percent
House 77: Harry Warren (R) beats Lorene Coates (D) 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent
House 81: Rayne Brown (R) beats Hugh Holliman (D) 58-42 percent
House 88: Mark Hollo (R) beats David Munday (D) 64-36 percent
House 93: Jonathan Jordan (R) beats Cullie Tartleton 51-49 percent
House 112: Mike Hager (R) beats Jim Proctor (D) 65-35 percent
House 116: Tim Moffitt (R) beats Jane Whilden (D) 56-44 percent
Senate 5: Louis Pate (R) beats Don Davis (D) 55-45 percent
Senate 8: Bill Rabon (R) beats David Redwine 64-37 percent
Senate 9: Thom Goolsby (R) beats Jim Leutze (D) 57-43 percent
Senate 10: Brent Jackson (R) beats Dewey Hudson (D) 53-47 percent
Senate 11: Buck Newton (R) beats A.B. Swindell (D) 53-47 percent
Senate 19: Wesley Meredith (R) beats Margaret Dickson (D) 51-49 percent
Senate 24: Rick Gunn (R) beats Tony Foriest (D) 53-42 percent
Senate 43: Kathy Harrington (R) beats Jim Long (D) 70-30 percent
Senate 45: Dan Soucek (R) beats Steve Goss (D) 60-40 percent
Senate 47: Ralph Hise (R) beats Joe Sam Queen (D) 56-44 percent
Senate 50: Jim Davis (R) beats John Snow (D) 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent
Local tax votes
In addition to state and federal races, voters in 14 counties had a chance to tell their county commissioners whether they would accept a 0.25-cent increase in the local sales-tax rate.
All 14 sales-tax referendums headed toward defeat. In most cases, the “no” vote percentage topped 60 percent.
Guilford County held the closest contest. The “no” vote made up 51 percent of the total in Guilford. In Orange County, the final vote tally showed 52 percent of voters rejecting the sales-tax hike. Among the other 12 counties, only Bladen (57 percent) had a “no” vote lower than 60 percent.
Since the General Assembly gave counties permission in 2007 to seek this one-time tax rate increase, voters had rejected the idea 45 times in 62 previous referendums.
Until today’s balloting, though, local sales-tax votes had fared better in 2010 than in any previous year. Seven counties had adopted the 0.25-cent increase in votes earlier this year, while two had rejected it.
Judge Barbara Jackson leads Judge Bob Hunter with 52 percent of the vote and nearly 2 million votes counted in the race for the one open seat on the N.C. Supreme Court. The winner replaces retiring Associate Justice Edward Brady, a Fayetteville Republican.
Since Jackson is also a registered Republican, Republicans will continue to outnumber Democrats 4-3 on the state’s highest court. While Supreme Court races are officially nonpartisan, political observers have been monitoring the court’s partisan makeup closely in recent years.
With a legal fight over the state’s new legislative and congressional redistricting plans likely in 2011, pundits have theorized that Supreme Court party affiliations could influence how justices respond to those plans. Democrats who ran the General Assembly in 2001 and 2002 contended that a Republican-dominated N.C. Supreme Court played partisan politics in rejecting Democrat-drawn legislative district maps.
Meanwhile, voters also faced four contests for open seats on the state’s second-highest court, the N.C. Court of Appeals.
Incumbents Ann Marie Calabria, Rick Elmore, and Martha Geer all won re-election bids. Each captured at least 54 percent of the vote. Incumbent Judge Sanford Steelman ran unopposed.
We’ll have to wait to learn who wins the fourth contested seat. For the first time in state history, North Carolina is employing instant runoff voting to settle a 13-candidate contest for the seat once held by Judge James Wynn.
Appointed incumbent Judge Cressie Thigpen of Raleigh and former appellate Judge Doug McCullough of Atlantic Beach finished 1-2 in the balloting for the vacated seat.
Since Thigpen’s 20 percent of the total vote fell far short of the majority needed to win the race, elections officials will tally the rest of the ballots cast to determine how many voters named Thigpen and McCullough as second and third choices in instant runoff voting. Once their first-, second-, and third-choice votes are totaled, the candidate with the largest vote count will win.
Thigpen has held the seat since August. Gov. Beverly Perdue appointed Thigpen to fill the vacancy created this summer when Wynn left the N.C. Court of Appeals to join the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal. Associate Editor Mitch Kokai and Managing Editor Rick Henderson provided additional reporting for this story.