It was a good night to be a Republican. But there are bright spots for the left-leaning North Carolinian.
[Editor’s Note: A version of this post ran in the Cardinal & Pine newsletter Wednesday. Know what that means? It means you can get our award-winning news, analysis, and culture coverage sooner by signing up for our free newsletter.]
This was no presidential election.
But it still feels like all of the air is out of the room today, right?
In the aftermath of one whopper of a midterm, let’s try to make some sense of it.
Pundits called this election all but over across the country, pronouncing time and again that Republicans would stampede over Democrats.
So if the pollsters and pundits are so confused, what’s the takeaway?
Predictions don’t win elections. Getting people to vote does. And across the country, we think more people — regardless of party affiliation — were engaged and fired up about reproductive freedom, voting rights, and the economy.
But let’s focus on North Carolina, where the N.C. GOP had a good night but fell short on a few fronts. They swept the court races, got a gerrymandered boost (again) in the state legislature, and took home the US Senate race between Ted Budd and Cheri Beasley.
Here are the 4 biggest things we think about a big, confusing, bruising midterm election night in the state:
1. Gerrymandering is like gravity.
You can campaign and organize like hell but gerrymandering is usually going to get you.
Yet again, it looks like about half of this purple state is going to vote for Democrats in this election, but Republicans will hold the lion’s share of power in the state legislature, where lawmakers set our state budget, control the schools, and craft most of the laws that impact your life most directly.
Why is that? Because more than a decade of well-documented, publicly acknowledged gerrymandering by the state Republican Party will make them prohibitive favorites to control the legislature, regardless of the political climate.
Gerrymandering allows politicians to stack the deck in their favor by packing their opponents’ supporters into a few voting districts or spreading them out over multiple districts to render them inert.
In doing so, these Republicans have made themselves democracy-proof.
Court-ordered maps in the state’s Congressional races yielded a 7-7 split in who was elected Tuesday night, which makes a lot of sense in this divided state. Expect the GOP to redraw those maps now to ensure most of the districts in future elections deliver Republicans.
And it will take judges in the courts — which will soon be under almost-total GOP control after Election Day — to show some backbone and end it.
Yes, these judges are Republicans. But imagine the damage to our democracy if judges, supposedly impartial arbiters of justice, allow such an obvious injustice to endure.
2. Decisions surrounding reproductive freedom in North Carolina will be down to 1 or 2 votes.
If you’re a left-leaning voter looking for some encouraging news in North Carolina, the GOP fell a single vote short of a supermajority in the state House.
This means Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto remains an important check on Republicans’ worst impulses.
Case in point: Republicans have made no secret about their goal of banishing reproductive freedom, despite overwhelming public support for abortion rights.
Defending abortion will come down to Democrats upholding Cooper’s veto when and if they pass an abortion bill. It means Democrats can’t miss surprise votes, which is just the sort of thing Speaker Tim Moore is into.
And it magnifies the votes of socially conservative Democrats in the House like Rep. Garland Pierce, a Baptist minister representing Hoke and Scotland counties who has supported abortion restrictions before.
Be certain we will be watching this at Cardinal & Pine.
3. Lawmakers need to find a way to make people’s lives easier.
Republicans like Ted Budd ran and ran again on combatting inflation. They blamed it solely on President Biden, which isn’t fair given it’s a global problem, but it sure looks good on a bumper sticker.
Now if they heard anything from winning on Election Day they should hear that North Carolinians are worried about how much everything costs.
It’s time for action, and state legislative leaders will take this to mean cut taxes, again.
But instead of a tax cut that will inevitably shrink the state budget and hurt things like public education, they should look to the cost of prescription medicine, to Medicaid expansion, and things like the child tax credit, a tax advance for lower- and middle-class parents which helped to raise millions of American children out of poverty in the pandemic.
It’s time to call these candidates’ bluff.
If these GOP candidates are concerned about the cost of living for their constituents (and we’re skeptical, they’ve all but told us their agenda and it’s not friendly to anyone living on a budget), they will do something about those costs.
4. There is always hope.
Progressive voters might be feeling an old frustration today after another pitched Senate race ends in defeat.
But whether Republicans like it or not, people are moving into this attractive state and they are left-leaning.
A new crop of Gen Z voters is coming online and making a difference in states across the nation.
And the GOP red wave fizzled on the big state in America.
Take that to mean something. You aren’t alone. There are victories ahead.