Nothing turns out voters like climbing inflation and $5 a gallon gas. This year a 20% primary turnout represents the highest rate in the last 30 years of N.C. primary elections. The only higher turnout was 2002, the year after 9/11. 

In a new twist, unaffiliated voters are now N.C.’s single largest voting population and, in early voting, took a Republican ballot nearly twice as often as a Democrat ballot. That should be encouraging news for Republicans, but the turnout also tells Democrats that “voter suppression” is an increasingly difficult case to make.

The 2022 primaries in North Carolina also showed that extremism failed. With a possible recession on the horizon, candidates with plans for big government spending and far-left endorsements were sent packing, as in the case of candidate Nida Allam in NC-04 Democrat primary. Similarly, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-NC, with his myriad of scandals, lost to a Republican Chuck Edwards, with a less-conspicuous persona but solid legislative skill set, even if he doesn’t have Cawthorn’s back story and Trump endorsement. N.C. voters on both sides of the aisle think for themselves. They are paying attention to policy, they care about the economy, education, and candidates’ voting history.

North Carolina is a prize for either party, and both have their eyes on us. It won’t be cheap. The race between the GOP’s nominee Congressman Ted Budd and Democrat’s Cheri Beasley is expected to be one of the most expensive Senate race ever. Gov. Roy Cooper is calling for financial support for Beasley to flood into the state, but not only to win a U.S. Senate seat for the Democrats after 14 years of losses; he needs it for Democrats in the General Assembly too.

“I know what it takes to win in North Carolina and Cheri Beasley can do it. With everything on the line this year, we need to leave it all on the field for her from the national party on down to the local level,” Cooper recently told Politico.

If the national Democrats pour money into N.C. to drive turnout for Beasley, it helps Democrats running for the state legislature and could prevent Republicans from regaining a super-majority. However, with an anti-Biden Republican wave predicted, Democrats at the national level could be in triage mode, focused on protecting their incumbents but leaving newcomers like Beasley short-changed.

Money talks, but it doesn’t say everything. The lesson of May 17 is that policy matters too. Issues like college debt forgiveness are proving to be a dud for Democrats, especially as inflation soars. Just 13% of Americans have college debt. One quarter of those people went to graduate school, but they account for half of the outstanding student loan debt. Democrats’ focus on this issue not only draws few voters, but it also reinforces the reputation that Paul Begala, a former advisor to President Bill Clinton, described; in one generation, the Democratic Party has migrated from the factory floor to the faculty lounge.

With misguided policy focus, surging inflation, widespread shortages, foreign policy crises, and runaway spending, Republicans should be in the proverbial catbird seat.  However, there could be trouble ahead. 

N.C. Republicans are considering massively expanding government-run healthcare in North Carolina by adding more than 600,000 people to an already-overburdened and understaffed state Medicaid system. There are provisions in the bill that they say will remove or update regulations to increase access, a huge obstacle for anyone on a government entitlement program. Unless the number of providers and the number of people they can serve grows, a Medicaid card is only worth the paper it’s printed on. People will simply not be able to get an appointment, and not be able to get care.

Republicans must decide if they going to be problem solvers, or problem creators. Are they truly the party of smaller government, healthy competition in industry, and free-market principles? The stakes are high; they risk snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in 2022 and 2024.