News: CJ Exclusives

Republican leaders celebrate wins but say there’s a lot to do

N.C. GOP Chairman Michael Whatley. (web screenshot)
N.C. GOP Chairman Michael Whatley. (web screenshot)

Republicans celebrated wins in North Carolina while remaining focused on future priorities, especially redistricting, school choice, and economic revival.

Party leaders shared their thoughts and plans during a news conference at state GOP headquarters in Raleigh, Wed., Nov. 4. 

November’s election continued a decade of Republican legislative control. Republicans kept their majorities in the General Assembly and the Council of State. They won most statewide judicial elections and held most of their congressional seats. 

But Republicans will have to contend with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. 

Democrats only chipped one seat away from Republicans’ majority in the Senate, leaving the party with 28-22 control. Republicans also strengthened their hold on the state House. They netted another four seats for a majority of 69-51. 

“Voters made a clear choice,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. “Our record for the last decade is clear: a booming economy that we intend to rebuild, lower taxes, and giving parents, even parents from lower income households, the same opportunities for their children’s education that the wealthy enjoy.” 

Berger said he hoped to achieve more Republican policy priorities after this election than in the past two years. But Republicans didn’t gain a supermajority. They remain vulnerable to gubernatorial vetoes and another budget stalemate. 

Cooper sank the last state budget over a dispute about Medicaid expansion. He has since shattered records with his frequent vetoes. Both legislative leaders argued that November’s election showed no “overwhelming mandate” for Medicaid expansion. 

Both Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, congratulated Cooper on his win. But Moore also blamed out-of-state money for Cooper’s ability to defeat his Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. 

North Carolina hosted the most expensive U.S. Senate race in history, with $282 million spent on the contest between U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Tillis maintained a slender lead on Wednesday morning.

“There’s never been this much money brought from outside of North Carolina to try and flip a state legislature,” Moore said. “But the fact that we maintained a majority proves that you can’t buy elections on these legislative races.”

Republicans said they were comfortable with their margins of victory, and they praised the elections process. But they also slammed the State Board of Elections for changing the original elections law passed by the General Assembly. 

Berger immediately targeted redistricting, saying that Republicans won in districts drawn by Democratic judges. Berger said he “hopes this puts an end to the decade-long redistricting lawsuits.”

The Republican majority will control the legislature as it redraws the state’s electoral districts after the 2020 census. Berger said he expects to see more urban districts form, but stressed that legislators would be working with a “blank slate.”

Any lawsuits against new electoral districts will go before a changed judicial branch. 

Republicans succeeded in reshaping the partisan makeup of courts. They trimmed the Democrat’s 6-1 majority on the state Supreme Court and stormed all five races for the N.C. Court of Appeals.

Republicans should hold either two or three seats on the seven-member Supreme Court. Republican challenger Paul Newby held a slender lead over Incumbent Chief Justice Cheri Beasley on Wednesday morning. More than 100,000 ballots remain uncounted. In other contests, Republicans Phil Berger Jr. and Tamara Barringer beat Democrats by more comfortable margins.

“We’ve got three very important wins coming for us on the Supreme Court,” North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley said, anticipating Newby would prevail. “We could not be happier with what we’ve seen in the judicial races.”

Republicans lauded their victories amid historic turnout, and Whatley credited the presence of the Trump campaign.