RALEIGH — Two aspects of the 2014 U.S. Senate election in North Carolina — an infusion of cash from independent groups and a groundswell of grass-roots organizing —are likely here to stay.
Joe Stewart, executive director of the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation, offered those predictions during a day-after analysis of the 2014 North Carolina elections held Wednesday.
“I think that level of spending and that level of advertisement is here to stay,” Stewart said.
“It was certainly an election year where we saw a tremendous amount of political advertisements [in] North Carolina, more political ads than any other state in the country,” Stewart said. “When it’s all said and done, the outside money in the U.S. Senate race will probably be close to $130 million. The thing to take away from that is that it’s probably going to be like that every election cycle at least in the near term.”
Stewart said Wednesday that since the state is so competitive, North Carolina is likely to see groups come in to lend support or provide opposition to individual candidates in future elections.
“Clearly it drove voter participation, such a high percentage of folks turning out to vote in this election,” Stewart said.
Stewart noted that since the first of the year, the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina was “more or less knotted,” and after $100 million had been spent on advertisements, the race was still close.
The final margin of victory for Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis over Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan in the U.S. Senate race was less than 2 percent, according to final unofficial returns posted at the State Board of Elections website.
“A lot of these outside groups also made significant investments in GOTV — get out the vote efforts, voter contact efforts,” Stewart said. “A number of groups did a significant amount of door-to-door work, making contact with individual voters. I think that will increasingly be a part of the landscape in North Carolina — outside groups supporting efforts to make actual direct contract with voters.”
Other takeaways from the 2014 election included:
• Libertarian Sean Haugh’s 4 percent of the vote was a high water mark for Libertarian candidates in Senate races. However, Haugh probably was not a spoiler in the Senate contest.
• The 6th Congressional District, considered a solid Republican district, could become less so as demographics change along counties that border Virginia.
• A candidate’s celebrity status may not deliver votes. “American Idol” runner-up-turned-politician Clay Aiken, a Democrat, was defeated handily by 2nd Distrist GOP incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers. Stewart noted that Aiken might be better suited to run in the 4th Congressional District seat if incumbent U.S. Rep. David Price — who in 2015 will begin serving his 14th term in Congress — decides to retire.
• Tuesday was a good night for legislative Republicans. With a pickup of one seat in the Senate, Republicans will have a 34-16 partisan advantage over Democrats. The GOP had a net loss of three seats in the House but will still have a 74-46 advantage in that chamber. The net loss of two seats is the smallest loss an incumbent governor’s party has experienced in a midterm election in four decades.
• Republicans outspent Democrats 2-to-1 in state House races, and 2.7-to-1 in state Senate races.
• Unlike two years ago, the state didn’t see much outside money spent in 2014 judicial races.
• The 7 percent increase in teacher pay passed this year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly did not translate into a significant benefit for the GOP this election cycle. “The Republican legislative leadership did not do as strong a job as they might have necessarily thought they needed to do to [communicate] that they had in fact increased teachers’ pay,” Stewart said. “Going forward, it will take a lot more time and energy to convince the voters that you’ve done something significant for them.”
Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.