By Abby Hammond
Elections in North Carolina this year are tight, the races will hinge on turnout, and — do not be mistaken — North Carolina will remain a purple state in the coming years.
Jackson is a co-founder of Nexus Strategies and a veteran of a number of high-profile political and public policy efforts. Shumaker is the founder and president of the political consulting firm Capitol Communications, Inc.
While they stand on opposite sides of the political divide, Jackson and Shumaker agree about many things regarding the state’s political future: North Carolina will continue to be a pivotal state in national elections and continue to be tight on in-state elections over the next eight-year period, at a minimum. Campaign efforts will continue to remain visible and high-spending in North Carolina.
Jackson and Shumaker spent time talking about the state’s demographics, which have changed dramatically over recent years as the population of the state has grown. In addition to population growth, voters are changing their affiliations. Presently, North Carolina is almost one-third registered Republican, one-third registered Democrat, and one-third unaffiliated. How that one-third unaffiliated votes can swing an election. Jackson emphasized that the party that wins control of the NCGA next month should expect to keep it only until the next cycle in 2022. Independent, unaffiliated voters have a greater tendency to swing between cycles and are likely to vote out those in power, even if they just voted that party in a few years previous. So legislators shouldn’t get too comfy in their new seats.
In addition to party divide, there are several reoccurring issues that move voters: the economy, healthcare, moral issues, foreign affairs and urban communities. This led into a discussion of the rural/urban divide, which Jackson and Shumaker said has become more focused on whether a voter is a college-educated or not.
Regarding this year’s election, Jackson and Shumaker predicted that voter turnout in North Carolina will likely be greater than 72% or even 75%. The U.S. Senate race between Sen. Thom Tillis and Cal Cunningham remains tight. Gov. Roy Cooper is likely to prevail in his campaign against Dan Forest. At the Council of State level, we will likely see strong performances by incumbents, predominately in the Secretary of State, Commissioner of Agriculture, State Auditor and Attorney General races. The remaining Council of State offices are all toss-ups, they agreed. Jackson and Shumaker also classified the judicial appellate races as toss-ups and said a significant factor will be how a voter starts at the top of their ballot.
Rounding out the discussion with a look at the General Assembly, Jackson and Shumaker talked about the likelihood of chambers flipping in leadership and highlighted a few key races. Still over 10 days out, and a week of early voting left, it is too early to predict the outcome for the legislative races. Several are rematches from 2018, where an incumbent is facing a challenge from the 2018 loser, as we see in the Senate races between Michael Lee and Sen. Harper Peterson or Helen Probst Mills and Sen. Tom McInnis. In the House, we see a rematch of Rep. Christy Clark versus John Bradford. The Senate has a short path to flipping and may transition this year, with Democrats having a 26-24 margin or a tie-breaking vote, should Yvonne Lewis Holley be successful in her bid for Lieutenant Governor.
Jackson predicted that “North Carolina will be the purpliest of purple states and one of the most hotly contested states for the next four to eight years. Looking at 2020, voter turnout will be determinative.”
After the program, NCAJ President David Henson thanked the pair for their civility and for a balanced discussion.
“North Carolina will be on the razor’s edge to the very end,” Henson said.
Recent numbers from the State Board of Elections show that approximately 2.4 million North Carolinians had voted by Oct. 22. In 2018, President Trump won North Carolina with 2.3 million votes, while Hillary Clinton collected 2.1 million votes. Many strategists believe that the road to the White House and control of Congress runs directly through our great state. We strongly encourage all members and friends to make a plan to safely vote absentee, early in-person or in-person on Nov. 3. Your voice and your vote matter.
A closing thought from Jackson and Shumaker: Over the next few years, as North Carolina continues to be purple and a major swing state, “The party that drives looking through the windshield instead of the rearview mirror wins.”