What I will be watching on election night
U.S. Senate and State Supreme Court Races
Early voting totals
Midway through early voting, the percentage of voters that are registered Democrat and/or self-identify as black is down compared to 2018 and 2020. While Republicans have warmed up to early voting over the years, Democrats still dominate early voting, and Republicans dominate Election Day voting. If the mix of early voters is slightly less Democratic and slightly less African American than in 2018 and 2020, that is a bad sign for Democrats. We should know the night before the election how many overall voters need to vote on election day for Republicans to succeed.
Wake and Mecklenburg
Wake and Mecklenburg are the two largest Democratic counties. Republicans soundly get beat in these two counties. In 2020, both Donald Trump and Sen. Thom Tillis won their statewide races by roughly 1.5%.
Trump got 35.8% of the Wake vote. Tillis received 37.05.
In Mecklenburg, Trump got 31.6%. Tillis received 33.2% in his home county.
The goal for statewide GOP candidates is to earn 38-39% of the Wake vote and 32-34% of the Mecklenburg votes. Falling below those numbers makes it tougher to win. Exceeding those numbers would put statewide GOP candidates in the driver’s seat.
New Hanover, Nash, and Scotland
Biden narrowly won New Hanover and Nash counties after they went for Donald Trump in 2016. I have previously written about the importance of New Hanover, the largest swing county in the state.
Watching these two counties is critical. Biden won Nash by 0.23% or 120 votes out of 52,000 cast. Biden won New Hanover by 2% or 2800 out of 132,000 cast. Following these counties gives you an idea of how the electorate has moved since 2020. Any statewide candidate that wins one or both swing counties will have a nice feather in their cap.
Scotland County, which sits a half hour west of Lumberton and I-95, is one of only 15 counties in the nation and the only North Carolina County that voted for Clinton in 2016 and Trump in 2020. The change netted Trump about +1300 votes for the 2020 election. It’s a small county with not a lot of votes. Still, it will tell you something about the trends.
Here is a list of other counties that should be competitive on election night and how they performed in 2020 for the presidential election. Beasley needs to win some of these counties and reduce the margin of loss in others to succeed. Cooper won 28 of North Carolina’s 100 counties in 2016, a close victory over then incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory. So, in theory, Beasley can win statewide with 28-30 counties if she runs the score up big time in Wake and Meck. Yet she must trim her deficit down in these 2020 Trump counties with a history of stronger Democratic performance.
Bladen (Trump 56%)
Granville (Trump 52%)
Hyde (Trump 57%, but decided by less than 400 votes)
Jackson (Trump 53%) (Home to Western Carolina University)
Lenoir (Trump 51%)
Richmond (Trump 57%)
Robeson (Trump 59%)
Black voter turnout
The most significant factor in Democratic success in statewide elections in North Carolina is black voter turnout. State Republicans have made considerable inroads with Hispanics and Native Americans, but most black voters still select Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
With President Barack Obama running for a second term, 75% of North Carolina Black voters cast ballots in 2012. Obama lost the state by 2%.
Black turnout dropped to 66% when Hilary Clinton ran for president four years later. Clinton lost by 3.6%.
Specifically, 20.36% of registered voters are black. In 2020, when Republicans again delivered electors for Trump, they narrowly re-elected Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis and swept all eight statewide court races, blacks made up 22.1% of actual voters. With the current political environment slightly favoring Republicans, Beasley and court Democrats need black voters to OVER-PREFORM their percentage of registered voters as a percentage of actual voters. Beasley and court Democrats need black voters to make up 22.5% -24% of the voting electorate.
If black voters underperform, it will be a long, painful night for Democrats.
North Carolina State Supreme Court
Republicans are well positioned to pick up both Supreme Court seats this year, giving the GOP a 5-2 majority on the court. The most significant factor in partisan judicial races is the “generic” ballot and top-of-the-ticket performance. Trump won NC in 2020 by 1.3% In this case, every poll conducted by the John Locke Foundation this year has shown the two GOP candidates, Trey Allen and Justice Rick Dietz, consistently polling higher than U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd.
The last Locke poll taken in late October showed N.C. Democrats on the ropes, and Budd leading Beasley 47-43. Republican State Supreme Court Candidates Trey Allen (+7.4%) and Rich Dietz (+6.4) were pulling away in these two critical races. But there are many different things to watch in these two State Supreme Court races.
N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Lucy Inman, a registered Democrat, is the daughter of author Lucy Daniels, the granddaughter of former White House Press Secretary Jonathan W. Daniels, and the great-granddaughter of Josephus Daniels, a longtime editor/publisher of the News and Observer. He was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson to serve as Secretary of the Navy during World War I. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, later appointed Daniels as his U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, serving from 1933 to 1941. Because Daniels was a fervent white supremacist and segregationist, a statue of him was recently removed from downtown Raleigh, and a middle school on Raleigh’s Oberlin, once named in his honor was renamed. Later generations of the Daniels family have worked to repair and atone for his legacy. However, the Daniels name is still Raleigh royalty, opening doors for some impressive fundraising for Inman. Will her superior fundraising and slight advantage as a female candidate be enough? Not if Republicans perform well at the top of the ticket. Inman will have to crush Dietz in Wake County to have a chance.
There is a reason James “Jimmy” Ervin appears on the ballot as Sam J Ervin IV. He is jogging older North Carolinians who affectionately remember his grandfather U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin. (1954-1974)
Senator Ervin, a native of Burke County, 75 miles northwest of Charlotte, called himself a “country lawyer.” While Ervin was a staunch defender of the Jim Crow laws and racial segregation, he is fondly regarded for his investigations that brought down Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954 and for his investigation of the Watergate scandal in 1972 that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon.
Justice Ervin has greatly benefited from his family name, but there is a catch. Ervin has never run in a partisan judicial race. He will appear on the ballot as a Democrat for the first time in a weak year for Democrats. Over the last eight years, many of the voters who remembered Sen. Ervin, have died off. Current voters who were also of voting age when Sen. Ervin last served would be 70 years of age or higher.
Watch Ervin’s home county of Burke. When Ervin last ran in 2014, his home county selected Republican Thom Tillis over Democrat Kay Hagan 67% to 29%, earning + 15,000 votes. But as a non-partisan candidate, Ervin also won the county, netting +5,500 votes. Ervin also overperformed Democratic-identified candidates in nearby solid red McDowell and Caldwell Counties. Will Ervin’s name mean much to voters once he is identified as a Democrat? Vote totals in his home area will be key.
The John Locke Foundation has identified the critical legislative races based on the partisan leanings in each district. Our researchers selected 19 State House races and nine state Senate races. All these are important to watch on election night. The GOP Senate currently sits at 28 members and needs to add two seats to obtain a veto-proof supermajority. The path in the state Senate is easier than in the state House, which sits at 69 members and needs to pick up three seats to hit the magic supermajority number of 72.
Democrats are playing defense with no practical chance to take majorities in either chamber. They are simply trying to block GOP supermajorities.
To me, there are two critical State Senate races for the GOP.
Senate 9 in New Hanover pits incumbent GOP State Senator Michael Lee vs. Democrat challenger Marica Morgan. In 2020, New Hanover County flipped Democratic after voting Republican in the previous five presidential elections. In total, 66,138 people in New Hanover voted for Biden, with 63,331 voting for Trump.
In New Hanover County, 50.2% voted Democrat in the 2020 presidential election, 48.0% voted for the Republican Party, and the remaining 1.8% voted for another candidate.
Not only was New Hanover one of two counties that flipped from red to blue from 2016 to 2020, but it is also one of two North Carolina counties that was red in 2008, Obama’s successful run in North Carolina, and blue in 2020. New Hanover will again see one of the most competitive state Senate elections in 2022. Republican incumbent Michael Lee won the New Hanover Senate seat in 2014 and 2016. Lee lost the race to former Wilmington Mayor Harper Peterson, a Democrat, by 231 votes in 2018. Lee reclaimed the seat in 2020 by 1,268 votes. New Hanover had the closest state Senate race in North Carolina in 2018 and 2020.
Senate 3 includes 10 counties in northeast North Carolina. It leans Democrat, but GOP Sen. Bobby Hanig is running a great race and is close.
Should the GOP win these two districts, they will capture the supermajority. Senate 18 includes all of Granville and northeast Wake County, and Senate 17, southern Wake, is also important to watch.
North Carolina House
Jarrod Lowery is likely to help the GOP pick up a seat in Robeson County, which is evenly divided. Ken Fontenot has an excellent chance for a GOP pickup with all of Wilson and a smidge of Nash. Stephen Ross can reclaim a seat he previously held in the Democratic-leaning part of Alamance. Republicans will need to pick up a seat or two from Wake/Meck to get where they are. Keep an eye on House 32. Incumbent Democrat Terry Garrison, in a usually safe Democrat seat covering Granville and Vance, is struggling. The GOP could pull a huge surprise here.
In 2018, Republicans gained in elected sheriffs based on GOP strength in rural areas. However, the GOP lost some of the state’s biggest counties, including Guilford and Wake. Republicans have a good shot at reinstalling former Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison and perhaps picking up others. Despite being a solid Democratic County, crime is on the minds of all voters, giving the GOP a chance in some metro counties.
Election day polling sites are open until 7:30 p.m. in North Carolina. If you are in line at 7:30 p.m., you are permitted to vote. However, polls in New Hampshire close at 7:00 p.m.
If underdog Republican Don Bolduc is doing well against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in the Granite state, that could be an omen of things to come.