North Carolina will punch above its weight in 2024 when it comes to political significance.
“From the race for president down the ticket to agriculture commissioner, a uniquely competitive political environment assures the state will be one of the centers of the political universe in 2024.
The 2024 election promises to feature several major battlegrounds, but for sheer breadth of competitive contests, North Carolina next year will be hard to beat.
It starts with the presidential race. Recent presidential contests in North Carolina have been close: In 2020, Donald Trump won North Carolina by about 74,000 votes out of more than 5.5 million cast. Experts expect a competitive race again in 2024.”
That much we know. There is much we don’t. But the answers to these key questions will go a long way to deciding the political outcomes in North Carolina in 2024:
- Will President Biden really compete for North Carolina?
Since President Obama won North Carolina in 2008, Democrats have constantly eyed North Carolina as a key prize in the race for the nation’s highest office. In 2024, North Carolina will have 16 electoral votes, up from 15 in 2020. Yet President Obama did not seriously contest the state in 2012, despite staging the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Mitt Romney defeated Obama by 2%, or 92,000 votes out of 4.5 million cast. Trump won NC twice: 2016 (3.6%) and 2020 (1.3%).
Those extremely close margins have given team Biden hope for NC in 2024. However, recent polls show Biden trailing significantly in a potential match-up with Trump. Biden’s current approval rating in North Carolina is significantly underwater. A Civitas poll of likely General Election voters puts the president’s approval rating at 36%, compared to 59% who disapprove. Even worse for Biden, of those who disapprove of his performance, 51% strongly do so.
These numbers bring into question how hard Biden will try for NC in 2024, a must-have state for the GOP but not one that Biden must carry to be re-elected. An active presidential campaign brings lots of resources and turnout efforts on the ground.
- What do Trump/Cooper voters do?
The most important voter in North Carolina is the Trump/Cooper voter. Trump won NC by 1.3% and Democrat Roy Cooper was re-elected as governor 51-47%. This means roughly 5-6% of voters split their tickets at the top, a common formula for Democrats dominance in races for the governor’s mansion over the last half century. Many of those voters cast ballots for Trump/Cooper and for Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. How these voters lean in the governor’s race and other statewide races is likely to be the deciding factor.
- Can Josh Stein change the Democrats winning formula?
Winning gubernatorial Democrats have come from eastern North Carolina:
- Jim Hunt: 1976-1984 & 1992-2000 (Wilson County)
- Mike Easley: 2000-2008 (Nash County)
- Bev Perdue: 2008-2012 (Craven County)
- Roy Cooper: 2016-2024 (Nash County)
The four recent times that Democrats have lost the NC governor’s race, Democrats nominated non-eastern-NC Democrats:
- “Skipper” Bowles: 1972 (Union/Guilford County)
- Rufus Edmisten: 1984 (Watauga County)
- Bob Jordan: 1988 (Montgomery County)
- Walter Dalton: 2012 (Rutherford County)
However, Democrats will likely nominate Attorney General Josh Stein from Orange/Wake County for governor, in a break from picking eastern North Carolina Democrats for governor. Will Stein change the winning formula for Democrats?
- Does the Hunt name still carry weight?
At 86, former four-term Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt is not quite the dominating force in North Carolina politics that he once was. Millions of new citizens have moved into North Carolina since Hunt last appeared on a ballot in 1996. However, a ton of NC voters remember Hunt fondly.
Governor Hunt is featured heavily in his daughter Rachel Hunt’s campaign for lieutenant governor. He is prominent on her website and her campaign videos. Her logo has a similar design to that of his from years ago. Rachel Hunt, a Democratic state senator from Mecklenburg County, is married with two children but maintains her maiden name.
Nobody runs for lieutenant governor without plans to run for the mansion someday. If the Hunt name still carries water, voters will install another Hunt into the lieutenant governor’s office, 52 years after Jim Hunts first of five winning statewide campaigns. Then at some point, voters might be voting on another Hunt for the state’s chief executive office. As of 2024, Republicans will have held the lieutenant governor’s office for 12 years.
- Can Republicans win the Attorney Generals race?
North Carolina last elected a Republican Attorney General in 1896. US Rep. Dan Bishop, who is also a former NC House and NC Senate member, does not have a GOP primary and is expected to face another Charlotte-area congressman, Jeff Jackson. Both are smart, seasoned politicians that will be well funded. Since 2000, two of four governors — Mike Easley and Roy Cooper — were former Attorney Generals.
- Will the GOP supermajority hold?
Since obtaining very narrow legislative supermajorities in 2023, the GOP General Assembly has worked its will over the objections of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Running under slightly more GOP-friendly maps in 2024, Republicans have a decent shot of maintaining their current position. However, nothing is guaranteed in an election year that may not be as GOP friendly as 2022.
- Can Dems close the gap on the courts?
North Carolina Democrats have not won a statewide judicial election since 2018. They are 3-20 in the last 23 partisan judicial elections and only 1-21 in races with a single Republican and a single Democrat in the race, as will be the case with all statewide judicial elections in 2024.
Democrat Allison Riggs hopes to defend her state Supreme Court seat, a position she was just appointed to in September by Cooper after Democrat Justice Mike Morgan stepped down early to run for the Democratic nomination for governor. Riggs faces a Democratic primary challenge from Guilford County Superior Court Judge Lora Cubbage. The Democrat winner will face Republican Court of Appeals Judge Jefferson Griffin for the eight-year Supreme Court term.
Republicans currently hold a 5-2 advantage on the court and could stretch that to a 6-1 majority if Griffin wins, putting a Democrat court majority out of reach until well into the next decade. Democrats can also close a large gap on the state Court of Appeals by winning the three races up in 2024.