• 70°

GOP’s urban election failures and Democrats’ rural losses could hurt NC

By Colin Campbell

RALEIGH – North Carolina’s urban-rural divide became a chasm in this month’s election – at least in the state legislature.

Republicans suffered huge losses in urban counties, likely leaving the party with only two or three representatives from the two biggest counties: Wake and Mecklenburg. But Democrats fared poorly in many rural legislative districts, despite spending big money in races considered competitive. Outside of the urban areas, the expected “blue wave” was just a tiny ripple.

This shift has big policy implications for our state. Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte will have diminished clout in the new legislature with hardly any members of the majority party there to represent urban interests. The House will have a new top budget writer after Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, was defeated.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto can stop major legislation that’s opposed in the cities, but he doesn’t have veto power over “local bills” that affect only a few counties. That tool will give the legislature authority to overturn local government ordinances if Republicans object to actions by liberal city councils and county commissions.

But rural communities should be equally concerned about the state’s political polarization along geographic lines. Democrats could eventually take the majority in the legislature, and then you’d have a state led almost exclusively by urban lawmakers.

Rural North Carolina could fall farther behind if its legislators lacked power to direct money and resources toward agricultural needs, broadband internet expansion and underfunded schools.

Some of this divide is driven by population trends, but the political parties deserve the blame too. Past election trends show that some suburban districts in Wake and Mecklenburg were winnable for Republicans, while Democrats had a shot in some of the more moderate rural districts.

But many of this year’s legislative campaigns featured cookie-cutter ads dreamed up by young staffers sitting in a Raleigh office. The GOP tried to nationalize some legislative races by focusing on immigration (even though it’s an issue for Congress and the president). The immigration message may have helped Bob Steinburg win a rural Senate district by motivating Trump supporters to vote, but it likely turned off the suburban moderates that Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, needed to keep her seat.

Ads for Democrats, meanwhile, largely had the same message across the state: We need to do more for education and healthcare. No one’s likely to disagree with that, but skeptical undecided voters might have wanted more specifics.

The successful candidates who bucked the overall urban-rural trends made their campaigns more local. Along the South Carolina border, Rep. Ken Goodman – one of the last moderate Democrats – won another term with ads calling for more lottery revenue going to public schools. That’s not a common topic in Raleigh, but it’s apparently a concern in his district. He also appealed to moderates by pledging to avoid partisan politics.

In Mecklenburg, the only House Republican incumbent left standing (at least as I write this: a recount is possible) is Rep. Bill Brawley. Brawley’s best known in his suburban district for a controversial proposal to let towns run charter schools. He’s made enemies on the county’s school board, but he’s popular among local families who think their kids are being bused to too-distant schools.

Brawley and Goodman offer good examples for the political parties as they gear up for 2020. Democrats won’t be able to win a majority in the House or Senate unless they do better in rural districts. And Republicans won’t regain a foothold in urban districts unless they can find local issues that matter to moderates instead of simply parroting President Donald Trump.

If the parties can’t correct their mistakes, look for the canyon between urban and rural in North Carolina to widen even more in future elections.

Colin Campbell is editor of the Insider State Government News Service. Follow him at NCInsider.com or @RaleighReporter. Write to him at ccampbell@ncinsider.com.

MORE FROM COLIN CAMPBELL:

Spellings’ troubling departure should prompt reset for UNC leaders

Charting NC’s future under three election possibilities

News

Columbia officials issue reminder about what goes down drains

News

Veterans’ tax exemption expanded in bill clearing North Carolina House

News

Child of North Carolina police officer dies in shooting

Crime

North Carolina man faces multiple charges after hitting police cars, sparking chase

Currituck

Currituck approves 2021-22 budget, wild horse management agreement

Crime

Two Virginia men arrested after vehicle pursuit from Nags Head to Roanoke Island

Business

Donation supports this year’s Inshore Slam

News

North Carolina election bills unlikely to become laws after Senate votes

Crime

North Carolina man sentenced to over 28 years in prison for drug and firearm charges

News

Several speak out against mask requirements at Dare County Schools

News

Federal appeals court refuses to reinstate North Carolina abortion ban

Crime

North Carolina man accused of firing at police substation charged in deaths of family members

News

North Carolina tax revenue soars, $6.5 billion windfall predicted by mid-2023

Currituck

Currituck County wreck results in injuries

Crime

North Carolina man sentenced to 18 months in prison for firearm charge

Crime

North Carolina man already jailed for other offense charged in fatal crash

Crime

Man with guns in car on campus of UNC-Chapel Hill arrested

Crime

Virginia man arrested for drug charges after Kill Devil Hills traffic stop

Lifestyles

Outer Banks Community Foundation prepares for 2021 hurricane season, seeks donations

Crime

North Carolina man sentenced to over 17 years in prison for cocaine distribution

News

Bill expanding access to North Carolina government worker information clears Senate

News

‘Poolside Pests’ program encourages pool owners to look for, report nonnative insects

News

Kitty Hawk moves closer to new police, fire/EMS substation

Crime

North Carolina man sentenced to 30 years in prison for producing child pornography