News: CJ Exclusives

House GOP Official: Presidential Race Will Drive Turnout

State House Republican caucus director Jim Burton says GOP candidates will have to tread lightly if Trump tops national ticket

Jim Burton, director of the state House of Representatives Republican caucus, discusses 2016 election prospects at a Monday luncheon hosted by the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation. Foundation president Joe Stewart is at left. (CJ photo by Dan Way)
Jim Burton, director of the state House of Representatives Republican caucus, discusses 2016 election prospects at a Monday luncheon hosted by the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation. Foundation president Joe Stewart is at left. (CJ photo by Dan Way)

Donald Trump is likely to win the Republican presidential nomination at or before the Cleveland nominating convention, and even though voters have soured on the candidates, the presidential race will drive turnout, a state Republican official says.

“The mood is negative nationally. The mood is negative in the state,” Jim Burton, director of the state House of Representatives Republican Caucus, told a luncheon gathering on Monday sponsored by the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation. A luncheon with the Democratic House Caucus director will be scheduled later.

“Voters are pretty upset, and it’s not just at the federal level. It’s coming out at the state level. I think it has some application at the local level,” Burton said. “If you’re a politician, that’s not one of the best job descriptions right now,” especially for incumbents in the incumbent party.

“A lot of people are concerned about Donald Trump,” Burton acknowledged.

In North Carolina, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton would beat Trump 49 percent to 40 percent, according to the most recent Civitas Institute poll released last week. That same poll shows Clinton beating GOP candidate Ted Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, 48 percent to 44 percent.

Clinton has her own baggage, with her unfavorable rating 9 percentage points higher than her favorable rating, Burton said. But Trump is 35 percent more Americans having an unfavorable rather than a favorable view of him.

“You can win with a negative image, but your opponent’s has to be worse,” Burton said.

“That’s a big concern” if Trump wins the nomination, Burton said, because it will affect not only the governor’s race, which already is “the most competitive gubernatorial race in the country,” but other down-ballot races as well.

“It is going to be a challenge for our Republican candidates to state their position [on Trump] and be comfortable with it,” Burton said.

According to one national survey, voter said they would be 40 percent less likely to vote for a candidate who supports Donald Trump, and 20 percent less likely to vote for a candidate not supporting Trump, he said.

“It is going to be a difficult thing in our competitive races. I think it will be a challenge for our candidates,” Burton said. “You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

Recognizing the dilemma, Democrats and liberal media organizations “were trying to get the governor to say something about Trump … then H.B. 2 came along,” Burton said of the law passed by the General Assembly in special session nullifying a Charlotte City Council ordinance that would have allowed transgendered people to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers of the gender they identify with.

Before the parties have selected their presidential nominees, roughly 5 percent of voters already are saying they will not vote for any presidential candidate, Burton said. Still, he expects the presidential race to be the biggest draw for voters.

While state and national media have provided saturation coverage of House Bill 2, Burton said media outlets, and the politicians who are targeted with the high-profile pressure campaigns, are more concerned about that issue than “real voters.”

“They care about jobs and the economy, and they care about education” as the top three priorities, he said. They are more focused on getting children to school and soccer practice, paying the mortgage and car note than following the daily H.B. 2 blasts. But he does not discount the probability that the controversy will carry over into the fall campaign.

He said he believes Clinton “deserves” to be indicted for her handling of classified emails “but it’s just not going to happen,” and that “I just don’t see” a contested convention if Trump gets very close to the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination, even if he doesn’t cross that threshold.

“We’re still going to have an election. We’re still going to talk about [issues]” even if the GOP nomination is contested, he said, rejecting doomsday scenarios of a party meltdown should a multiple ballot convention occur.

Regarding the divisions between the state House’s leadership and some of that body’s members, Burton said, “There obviously are differences of opinion” in the House GOP caucus, and “rightly or wrongly it’s no different from what’s happening in Washington, D.C. It’s a microcosm of that.” But he said such differences are to be expected.

While no one forecasts massive GOP losses in state House races this year, Burton did cite a host of district races that are likely to be competitive. They are:

DISTRICT 1— Republican incumbent Bob Steinburg versus Democrat Sam Davis.

DISTRICT 2—Republican incumbent Larry Yarborough versus Democrat Joe Parrish.

DISTRICT 6—Republican candidate Beverly Boswell versus Democrat Warren Justice.

DISTRICT 8—Republican incumbent Susan Martin versus Democrat Charlie Patt Farris.

DISTRICT 9—Republican Greg Murphy versus Democrat Brian Farkas.

DISTRICT  26—Republican Donna White versus Democrat Richard Nixon.

DISTRICT 28—Republican Larry Strickland versus Democrat Patricia Oliver.

DISTRICT 35—Republican incumbent Chris Malone versus Democrat Terence Everitt.

DISTRICT 36—Republican incumbent Nelson Dollar versus Democrat Jennifer Ferrell.

DISTRICT 40—Republican incumbent Marilyn Avila versus Democrat Joe John.

DISTRICT 41—Republican challenger Chris Shoffner versus incumbent Democrat Gale Adcock.

DISTRICT 44—Republican challenger Jim Arp versus incumbent Democrat Billy Richardson.

DISTRICT  46—Republican Brenden Jones versus Democrat Tim Benton.

DISTRICT 49—Republican incumbent Gary Pendleton versus Democrat Cynthia Ball and Libertarian David Ulmer.

DISTRICT  51—Republican ex-House member John Sauls versus incumbent Democrat Brad Salmon.

DISTRICT 88—Incumbent Republican Rob Bryan versus Democrat Mary Belk.

DISTRICT 92—Republican incumbent Charles Jeter versus Democrat Chaz Beasley.

DISTRICT  93—Incumbent Republican Jonathan Jordan versus Democrat Sue Counts in a 2014 rematch.

DISTRICT 103—Republican incumbent Bill Brawley versus Democrat Rochelle Rivas.

DISTRICT 115—Republican challenger Frank Moretz versus incumbent Democrat John Ager.

DISTRICT  116—Republican Kay Olsen versus incumbent Democrat Brian Turner.

DISTRICT  118—Republican incumbent Michele Presnell versus Democrat Rhonda Schandevel.

DISTRICT 119—Republican challenger Mike Clampett versus incumbent Democrat Joe Sam Queen.