Red Wave, or Not So Much? A North Carolina Midterm Election Recap

A ballot box with the North Carolina flag in the background

NC Republicans Capture Key Judicial Races, Earn a Supermajority in NC Senate but Ultimately Fall Short on a House Supermajority

When North Carolinians awoke the morning after Election Day, Republicans had won meaningful victories in several judicial races, while Democrats declared victory over a handful of key Congressional contests.

Republicans celebrated a new supermajority in the state Senate, while all North Carolinians are likely rejoicing the end of persistent political ads on their televisions.

Before diving into the details of the results of North Carolina's new fourteen Congressional districts, we will look at the results of the North Carolina judicial contests, the North Carolina General Assembly races and the coveted United States Senate seat that was up for grabs on Tuesday.

Judicial Races

Republicans arguably saw their greatest Election Day success in the judicial arena, with Administrative Office of the Courts General Counsel Trey Allen defeating sitting Justice Sam J. "Jimmy" Ervin IV, and current Court of Appeals Judge Richard Dietz defeating his Court of Appeals colleague Judge Lucy Inman in a race to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson.

Further down the judicial ballot, Republicans Julie Tate Flood, Donna Stroud, John Tyson, and Michael Stading all defeated their opponents to win seats on the Court of Appeals. Judge Stading's victory may be the most surprising as he was able to unseat current Court of Appeals Judge and former House Democratic Minority Leader Darren Jackson by over six percentage points.

North Carolina General Assembly

While many eyes were focused on North Carolina's U.S. Senate race and the newly drawn Congressional districts, the power of Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's veto was also hanging in the balance of Tuesday's election. North Carolina Senate Republicans only needed to net 2 seats to gain a 30 seat supermajority, while House Republicans needed to net 3 seats to gain back the 72 member, veto-proof majority they haven't had since Governor Cooper's first two years in office.

Featured notable and close races in the Senate included Senator Bobby Hanig (R), who faced North Carolina Department of Transportation Board Member Valerie Jordan (D) in a left leaning northeastern North Carolina district, as well as incumbent Senator Michael Lee (R) from Wilmington who faced challenger Marcia Morgan (D). Both Senator Lee and Senator Hanig were able to secure re-election, but the Republican advantage did not persist statewide.

Political newcomer Mary Wills Bode (D) won her Senate race against E.C. Sykes (R) in a suburban Wake and Granville County district, while incumbent Senator Sydney Batch was also able to secure re-election in southern Wake County. After tallies were finalized late Tuesday night, Republicans had secured a supermajority in the 2023 North Carolina Senate, with the balance of power standing at 30 Republicans to 20 Democrats.

In the North Carolina House of Representatives, suburban incumbents such as Representative John Bradford (R) of Mecklenburg County and Representative Erin Parè of Wake County faced strong challenges from their Democratic opponents. Republicans considered both of those seats critical in the path to a supermajority. Not only did both Reps. Bradford and Parè win re-election, but incumbent Representatives Linda Cooper-Suggs (D), James Galliard (D), Terry Garrison (D), Brian Farkas (D), Ricky Hurtado (D) and Howard Hunter (D) all lost their re-election bids to Republican challengers.

These races are all notable as they show the advantage Republican candidates had in the rural districts. The one outlier to that trend was incumbent Representative Larry Yarborough (R), who lost his re-election to challenger Ray Jeffers (D) of Roxboro in a district that was substantially altered after the last round of redistricting.

House Democrats celebrated strong gains in the suburban and urban areas, defeating challengers in Mecklenburg and Wake Counties, as well as winning a new open seat in Cabarrus County near Concord, which will be represented by Diamond Staton-Williams (D) who defeated Brian Echevarria (R).

When all counties had reported their unofficial results, Democrats had secured 49 House seats while Republicans won a 71 seat majority in the chamber, ultimately falling one seat shy of a supermajority.

We predict that when the new legislature is seated in January of next year, business will, in many ways, continue as usual under Republican control of the House and Senate. We expect leaders from the two chambers to continue working together in pursuit of Republican priorities while also exploring opportunities to find common ground with Governor Cooper during his final term.

Republican lawmakers and the Cooper administration reached high profile compromises on major energy legislation as well as the 2021 and 2022 state budgets, and we expect the trio will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate for the good of the state. Without a Republican supermajority in his chamber, it remains to be seen whether Speaker of the House Tim Moore will be able to convince one or more Democratic members of his chamber to override any Gubernatorial vetoes that may arise.

United States Senate and Congressional Races

As many polls had forecast in the closing weeks of the campaign, Congressman Ted Budd (R) prevailed in his contest for U.S. Senate where he faced former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley (D). The early-vote totals heavily favored Beasley as expected, but as results from same-day voting began to trickle in it became evident that Congressman Budd would be replacing the retiring Richard Burr in the U.S. Senate. The unofficial tally as Election Day came to an end had Budd with 50.71% of the vote, compared to Beasley's 47.08%, with over 3.7 million North Carolinians having cast their ballot.

In Congressional contests, voters saw many new candidates from western North Carolina through the Raleigh suburbs and east to the I-95 corridor on their ballots. In North Carolina House District 11, current state Senator Chuck Edwards (R) defeated Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara (D) in a seat that was previously held by Congressman Madison Cawthorn (R).

Moving further east and into North Carolina House District 14, current state Senator Jeff Jackson (D) won a west-Charlotte and Gastonia seat over opponent Pat Harrigan (R). Senator Jackson previously faced Cheri Beasley in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, but bowed out of the race to endorse Beasley before announcing his candidacy for U.S. House.

In what may have been the closest rated congressional district in the country, North Carolina House District 13, state Senator Wiley Nickel (D) defeated political newcomer and former N.C. State football player Bo Hines (R). Many saw this race as one that may not be decided for weeks due to recounts and potential protests, but in the end Nickel would run away with the contest, garnering 51.32% of the vote to Hines' 48.68%, a margin of over 7,000 votes.

Finally, in North Carolina House District 1, a seat long held by the retiring Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D), state Senator Don Davis (D) defeated Sandy Smith (R) in a race decided by a slimmer margin than many expected. Davis would wrap up his election evening with a 52.72% to 47.73% victory over Smith.

Other incumbents throughout the state's Congressional delegation would cruise to victory, as Representatives Murphy (R), Manning (D), McHenry (R), Hudson (R), Foxx (R), Rouzer (R), Bishop (R) and Adams (D) all won re-election by at least eight percentage points. Also joining the Congressional delegation is former state Senator Valeria Foushee (D), who defeated Courtney Geels (R) in the contest to replace retiring Congressman David Price (D), who represented the district for over 30 years.

Heading into the 118th Congress, North Carolina will be represented by seven Democrats and seven Republicans in our delegation, exemplifying North Carolina's purple state status.

Conclusion

Overall, Republicans performed better in North Carolina than they did nationally, enjoying success in our state perhaps only eclipsed by their success in the state of Florida. There were a handful of surprises as the polls closed, with Wiley Nickel being declared winner of his Congressional race before Wednesday morning and Republicans sweeping the slate of statewide judicial races, but the ultimate political dynamic between the North Carolina General Assembly and the Governor's office remains largely unchanged.

Only time will tell how and where the new Republican supermajority in the North Carolina Senate chooses to exercise its power, but without a sure override, General Assembly leaders will still need to weigh Republican priorities against the threat of a Cooper veto.

As always, the Ward and Smith team will be engaged with lawmakers throughout session and will keep you apprised of key developments.

--
© 2022 Ward and Smith, P.A. For further information regarding the issues described above, please contact Whitney Campbell Christensen or Trafton P. Dinwiddie.

This article is not intended to give, and should not be relied upon for, legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact situation. No action should be taken in reliance upon the information contained in this article without obtaining the advice of an attorney.

We are your established legal network with offices in Asheville, Greenville, New Bern, Raleigh, and Wilmington, NC.

Subscribe to Ward and Smith