Pardon Our Dust
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This week, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper issued an Executive Order to “evaluate the current governance structure of the University of North Carolina System and of each constituent institution.” The order creates the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina and directs its 15 future members to recommend changes to the ways the UNC Board of Governors and individual university Boards of Trustees are currently appointed. Governor Cooper was joined by former UNC Presidents Tom Ross and Margaret Spellings during his announcement of the executive order. The Republican-controlled General Assembly currently selects all 24 members of the UNC Board of Governors, which then elects the President of the UNC System. In his statement, the Governor rebuked the process Republicans have used to appoint members to the board, saying, “unfortunately, a spate of controversies over the last few years has led to concerns that boards plagued by undue political influence and bureaucratic meddling hinder effective university governance.” In a statement provided to reporters, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger said the Governor’s commission is an attempt to “obtain partisan appointments to university boards.” The order requires the commission to provide their recommendations to the General Assembly within eight months.
One Stop Early Voting in North Carolina ends this weekend, Saturday, November 5. Voters can visit any early voting location in the county in which they are registered to cast their ballot. Voters who are not registered, or who need to change their registration, can do so during early voting, but not on Election Day. For more information on locations and times to vote early, click here.
There are just four days to go before voters across North Carolina cast their ballots for who they would like to represent them in the US Senate and the US House, as well as in the state legislature and in judicial offices. For more information on how to register or how to vote in North Carolina, click here.
To catch up on all the races happening in North Carolina, you can check out the latest edition of Week in Review. For an overview of the legislative races taking place in the Eastern part of the state, click here. For an overview of the legislative races taking place in the Western part of the state, click here. For an overview of the races taking place in the Piedmont region of the state, click here. For an overview of the US Senate and Congressional races, click here. And finally, for an overview of the most competitive North Carolina House of Representatives races to watch, click here.
Top NC Senate Races to Watch
In North Carolina’s 50-member Senate, Republicans hold a majority with 28 seats, compared to Democrats’ 22 seats. This election year, Republicans are attempting to expand their majority to a supermajority with at least 30 seats, which would allow them to override vetoes by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.
Earlier this year, the legislature redrew district lines, which will inevitably change the partisan makeup of several districts. According to the Civitas Partisan Index, as a result of redistricting, Republicans are going into the 2022 midterm elections with a baseline of 22 “safe” or “likely” Republican seats and Democrats have a baseline of 17 “safe” or “likely” Democratic seats. There are a handful of seats this year that both political parties are seriously investing in to either pick up or hold.
Much of the northeastern corner of North Carolina has been represented by a Democrat in the State Senate for decades. This year, Republicans are hoping to change that. Republicans hope to flip Senate District 3, which includes many of the counties that the late longtime Democratic leader, Senator Marc Basnight, represented for 25 years. The district was redrawn this year and became more competitive as two Republican-voting counties were added. Former state House Representative Bobby Hanig was appointed to the Senate following the resignation of Senator Bob Steinburg, who lost the Republican Primary. Senator Hanig, of Currituck County, is challenged by Democrat Valerie Jordan, who won the Democratic Primary against incumbent Senator Ernestine Bazemore (D-Bertie). The district is rated as “Lean Democratic,” but Republicans see this seat as a pick up opportunity due to a declining population in the district in addition to many rural Democratic voters switching their party affiliation.
Incumbent Democratic Senator Milton (Toby) Fitch, of Wilson County, has served in the legislature for decades. He was the first African American Majority Leader in the House of Representatives during the 1990’s. He has typically had a reliable Democratic-voting minority-majority district. However, that is not the case this year. During redistricting, Fitch’s district took in Republican voting counties. Republican Buck Newton, a former state Senator, also from Wilson County, is challenging Fitch this year. The district has voted for Republicans for President, Governor, and US Senate in the last few elections, but Democrats feel optimistic that minority voters, who make up 35% of the district’s population, will turn out in large numbers for Fitch this year. The district is rated as a “toss up.”
New Hanover County, which includes the City of Wilmington, has been the battleground of competitive state Senate races for the past several election cycles. This year, Incumbent Republican Senator Michael Lee, of New Hanover County, is facing his third campaign in a row for one of the most competitive seats in the state. He faces Democrat Marcia Morgan, a retired Army Colonel and educator, who lost a narrow race for the state House in 2020. Both parties have spent upwards of $1-2 million to win the seat. District 7 is rated as a “toss up.”
The suburbs of Wake County have grown rapidly over the last ten years, which shifted the boundaries of neighboring Senate districts during the most recent round of redistricting. Incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Stone Barnes, of Nash County, saw her district change slightly to drop Johnston County, which has a large Republican-voting population, and take in two more competitive counties. Barnes’ Democratic opponent, Mark Speed, is a county commissioner in the newly added Franklin County. Barnes has significantly outraised Speed for her own campaign. The Democratic Party has spent around $300,000 to flip the seat, but that is not as much as they have invested in other Wake County suburb seats. District 11 is rated “lean Democratic.”
Incumbent Democratic Senator Sydney Batch, of Wake County, is no stranger to competitive elections. She was first elected to the state House in 2018 by fewer than 1,000 votes. She lost that House seat in 2020 but was appointed to the Senate in 2021. This year, she is facing another tight race which has been one of the most expensive in the state. Batch and Senate Democrats have spent nearly $2 million to fend off Republican challenger Mark Cavaliero, a Marine veteran and business owner. In 2020, District 17 voted for Democratic President Biden by nearly six points, however, in 2014, the district voted for Republican Tom Tillis for US Senate by 10-points. Because of its unpredictability, District 17 is rated “lean Democratic.”
On the north side of Wake County is another fiercely competitive race. Due to redistricting, Wake County gained a seat in the state Senate, and created this new district that includes Granville County, a competitive county that votes for both Democrats and Republicans each election. Democrat Mary Wills Bode, a former nonprofit executive director and attorney, faces Republican E.C. Sykes, a local business owner. Both candidates and their respective parties have spent upwards of $2 million to win the seat. The district’s electorate has shifted towards Democrats in recent election years, but Republicans feel they can take the seat during a favorable political environment. District 18 is rated “lean Democratic.”
During redistricting, incumbent Republican Senator Tom McInnis, of Moore County, saw his Sandhills district shift significantly. He lost three counties in his current district, only keeping Moore County, and brought in a large part of the heavily Democratic voting parts of Cumberland County, including the City of Fayetteville. McInnis is challenged by Democrat Frank McNeill, a business owner and former Aberdeen Mayor. Republicans have invested nearly $1 million to hold the seat. Democrats have not been as committed, spending only around $200,000. The district voted for Republican Donald Trump in 2020 by just over 1,500 votes and for Democrat Roy Cooper by 5,000 votes the same year. District 21 is rated as a “toss up.”
Another Sandhills region district to shift during redistricting was District 24. Incumbent Republican Senator Danny Earl Britt currently represents Robeson and Columbus Counties, but his district will soon drop Columbus in favor of Democratic-voting Hoke and Scotland Counties. Britt is challenged by Democrat Darrell (BJ) Gibson, Jr., a Scotland County Commissioner. Although Democrats hold an advantage in voter registration (so far during early vote only 17% of the voters have been registered Republicans as opposed to 59% being Democrats), but Britt has won over registered Democrats in past elections. Robeson County, which has more registered Democrats, has shifted towards Republicans more rapidly than any other county in the state. District 24 is rated as a “toss up.”
Representative Rachel Hunt, a Democrat representing southern Mecklenburg County and the Charlotte suburbs, is running for the state Senate this year. Hunt is no stranger to competitive elections. Her father, former Governor Jim Hunt, had several of them and Hunt herself won one of the closest elections for the state House in 2018. Republicans see an opportunity to flip the seat with their candidate, Cheryl Russo, a Charlotte cardiologist. Russo defeated former state Senator Scott Stone in the Republican Primary earlier this year. It could be a tough race for Republicans this year though, as the district has shifted strongly towards Democrats in recent elections. Voters in the district voted for Democrat Joe Biden for President by nearly 15-points in 2020, although it also voted for Republicans for US Senate in 2016 and 2014. The district is rated “lean Democratic.”
Upcoming Legislative Meetings
Thursday, November 10