State policy returns to normal

RALEIGH — This year’s U.S. Senate race in North Carolina is shaping up to be a very competitive and expensive race — which should come as no surprise to anyone who has lived in our state or watched our politics for more than a moment.

The Civitas poll recently released by the John Locke Foundation has the Republican nominee, U.S. Representative Ted Budd, and the Democratic nominee, former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, tied at 42% each. Other polls show statistically insignificant leads for one or the other.

Consider recent history. Thom Tillis won his first Senate race in 2014, beating Kay Hagan by 1.5 percentage points, or less than 50,000 votes. Tillis was then re-elected in 2020 against Cal Cunningham by 1.8 points. As for Richard Burr, whose retirement set up this year’s Budd-Beasley race, he won just 51% of the vote in his last Senate victory in 2016.

North Carolina Senate races have long been competitive and expensive. Hagan, Elizabeth Dole, John Edwards, Lauch Faircloth, Jesse Helms – when they won their margins may have been more than just outbursts (although rarely hitting double digits), but each had to fight hard against credible and well-funded adversaries. Each raced in a state where ticket sharing could still prove decisive.

Earlier this year, there were indicators not just of a potential red wave, but of a red tsunami in North Carolina. As recently as June, the Civitas poll found double-digit leads for the GOP in generic voting questions on congressional and legislative races.

But longtime observers of North Carolina politics have expressed caution about those indicators, rightly pointing out that Republicans have never enjoyed such a big advantage in the polls — even in waves. of the 1994 and 2010 elections — and that a state where Democrats control the governorship, supreme state court, and many other offices is clearly not a place where Republicans can take electoral success for granted .

The latest Civitas poll, conducted in mid-August, shows the tightening highly predicted by these experts. Republicans still enjoy an advantage on generic ballots, five points for the General Assembly and three points for Congress. Their candidates are also leading their Democratic opponents in two critical races for the North Carolina Supreme Court. But those margins are all smaller than they were in June. They look more normal.

As for Budd, he continues to trail the generic Republican ticket by about four points while Beasley is much closer to the generic Democratic vote. As I observed a few months ago, Budd has yet to do what it will take to bring into the fold wayward Republicans who either strongly prefer other GOP candidates in the primary, dislike du any Budd’s close association with former President Donald Trump, or both.

Granted, that population of pro-GOP voters isn’t huge, but their reluctance could still send Cheri Beasley to the U.S. Senate. That’s my point here. In North Carolina, the electoral bases of the two main political parties are close to equality. This leaves little room for error. If a Senate candidate can’t attract soft supporters and genuine swing voters, focusing on building hardline supporters is a losing plan.

Roy Cooper is not governor due to overwhelming Democratic turnout. Tillis and Burr are not senators due to the massive Republican turnout. Each won their last election to their current position in an election cycle in which the opposing party also won key victories.

I still believe Republicans will generally fare better than Democrats in 2022. While the Roe vs. Wade ending may have energized pro-choice voters in the Democratic base more than it energized pro-life voters in the Republican base, I still think issues like inflation, lawlessness, and education are more salient to more voters. And while the GOP has done its best to lose winable races for Senate and governor across the country by naming a remarkable assortment of cranks, some will win, anyway. President Joe Biden and many of his policies are deeply unpopular.

Neither Budd nor Beasley are shoo-ins. Normal for the course.

John Hood is a board member of the John Locke Foundation. His latest books, Mountain Folk and Forest Folk, combine epic fantasy and ancient American history (FolkloreCycle.com).

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