Barring some unforeseen economic happening or weather related event, politics will be North Carolina’s number one story in 2020.
It starts early, as lawmakers return to Raleigh Jan. 14th in hopes of finally resolving the months long budget standoff. North Carolinians are weary from the partisan political wrangling between the governor and legislature, understanding it has held up pay raises, Medicaid reforms and all manner of other appropriations.
Let’s hope it is resolved before the March 3rd primary elections. Candidate filing deadlines expired just before Christmas, so get ready for a barrage of TV and direct mail ads from presidential hopefuls very soon. State candidates will find it difficult to get much attention.
2020 election outcomes depend on two factors: Trump and who shows up to vote. Trump won North Carolina in 2016 by 3.6 percentage points, due to tepid support for Hillary. Four percent voted for third party candidates. Trump must win here to return to the While House, but this election takes on even more significance. If Trump wins, his second term outcomes will be dependent on Republicans holding the U.S. Senate. First term Sen. Thom Tillis is vulnerable and is fervently clinging to Trump’s coattails. Count on the national Democratic Party building a pipeline to funnel money into our state to win one or both contests.
It doesn’t help Democrats that they have so many candidates contesting the presidential nomination. The ultimate nominee won’t emerge until late spring or early summer and may yield serious schisms within a party that desperately needs unity. November’s ultimate winners will be determined by who votes. Unless millenials, minorities and women turn out in large numbers, it isn’t hard to see a path to a Trump victory again in our state. But how long are his coattails?
The new congressional districts are unlikely to see much turnover, with the exception of the 2nd and the 6th, where incumbent Republicans chose not to run. Analysts are likely correct in predicting our congressional delegation will have eight Republicans and five Democrats.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who has spent the last eight years running for governor, is counting heavily on Trump’s coattails. Gov. Roy Cooper won in 2016 by a mere 10,200 votes and he is making Medicaid expansion, teacher pay and more money for education major planks in his re-election platform. Again, turnout and Trump will likely determine who wins.
While the governor’s race will be a headliner, the contest for chief justice of the Supreme Court is worth watching. It will be expensive and highly partisan, brought about when Gov. Cooper appointed Cheri Beasley to be chief over Paul Newby, who had the longest tenure on our highest court. Democrats now have a 6-1 plurality; the margin is more than symbolic since the high court often is the final word on partisan cases.
There are some interesting Council of State contests but getting voters’ attention will be difficult, a benefit to incumbents. Democrats made big gains in our legislature in 2018 and hope new legislative districts will propel them into majorities in one or both houses. If Republicans lose control of either, count on the 2021 legislative session to be extremely interesting.
My 20-20 vision says most people will become weary of all the politics and tune out. But these will be the most significant elections we have seen in our lifetime, so our admonition is to stay informed and, as we like to say on our television show, watch out for the spin.
Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina state treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide TV discussion of N.C. issues that airs on UNC-TV main channel Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m.