Democrats ousted enough Republican incumbents in the state House on Tuesday to break the Republicans’ “supermajority” power over the Democratic governor’s vetoes.
The outcome of the election will determine how well the parties work with each other and with Gov. Roy Cooper as both sides push for often conflicting goals, such as health-care access and education funding for the Democrats, tax relief and deregulation for Republicans.
With supermajorities in both the state House and Senate, the GOP has been able to block Cooper’s vetoes since he took office in 2017. But on Tuesday, those three-fifths majorities were ended in the House and in jeopardy in the Senate.
If all of the Democratic candidates’ leads in the Senate hold through final ballot counting, then the party will have won enough seats to also end the GOP supermajority in that chamber. But one chamber is all Democrats needed.
Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the NC Democratic Party, issued a statement Tuesday night saying breaking up the supermajority has been a singular focus of the party.
“North Carolina sent a loud message tonight to Republicans in the General Assembly that they are tired of backroom, secretive deal-making that has put special interests ahead of what’s best for regular people,” Goodwin said. “Lawmakers should listen to the will of the people when they return to Raleigh through productive, bipartisan governing, not one more final, last gasp power grab.”
But state House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger issued a statement early Wednesday emphasizing that Republicans have held on to their majorities in both chambers.
“North Carolina voters issued a clear mandate to continue Republican policies that are benefiting the workforce, improving schools, and delivering a pro-jobs agenda for families,” Moore and Berger said. “We appreciate the strong support of our constituents and look forward to continuing our successful approach to making North Carolina the very best state in the nation.”
In rural districts in the western mountains, Democrats had wins over incumbent Republican Reps. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson and Mike Clampitt of Bryson City. Clampitt lost to former Rep. Joe Sam Queen, who he’d defeated in a close 2016 race; this time, Queen raised much more money than the Republican.
Jordan also fell to a well-funded challenge from Ray Russell, who runs a popular weather website in Watauga County. Both Queen and Russell won with about 52 percent of the vote.
Those victories could be offset by losses for two rural Democrats who were in redrawn districts that now tilt more conservative — Rep. Bobbie Richardson of Louisburg and Rep. George Graham of Kinston. Richardson lost to Republican Lisa Stone Barnes, a Nash County commissioner. Graham was trailing Republican Chris Humphrey, a former Lenoir County commissioner, with many votes still to be counted. Both Humphrey and Barnes raised more money than the incumbents.
But Democrats made their biggest gains in the suburbs.
According to complete but unofficial results, Republican Reps. Chris Malone of Wake Forest, Nelson Dollar of Cary and John Adcock of Holly Springs all lost to their challengers in Wake County. GOP Reps. Scott Stone and Andy Dulin of Charlotte both lost in Mecklenburg County, and Rep. John Bradford of Cornelius trailed challenger Christy Clark.
In the state Senate, Democrat Sam Searcy of Holly Springs unseated Republican Sen. Tamara Barringer of Cary. Sen. Wesley Meredith, a Fayetteville Republican, lost to Democrat Kirk DeViere by about 300 votes with all precincts counted. Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Republican from Cornelius, lost by a wide margin to Democrat Natasha Marcus, and Republican Sen. Trudy Wade by a smaller one to Democrat Michael Garrett; both are from Greensboro.
In a closely watched contest on the coast, Sen. Michael Lee of Wilmington narrowly trailed Democratic challenger Harper Peterson of Wilmington. With all precincts reporting, Peterson led by just 36 votes. In a tight House race in Mecklenburg County, Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews led Rachel Hunt by 52 votes with all precincts reporting.
Not all news was good for Democrats.
Republican Sen. John Alexander defeated challenger Mack Paul, a Democrat. Both live in Raleigh.
A prominent Charlotte Republican legislator, Sen. Dan Bishop, defeated his challenger, Chad Stachowicz, also of Charlotte. Bishop was a primary sponsor of HB2, the controversial law that restricted access to public restrooms.
Republican Reps. Donny Lambeth and Debra Conrad of Winston-Salem fended off challenges. So did Republican Rep. Ted Davis Jr. of Wilmington, who defeated Democrat Marcia Morgan.
Many Triangle incumbents cruised to victory. And Democrat Wiley Nickel of Cary soundly defeated Republican Paul Smith of Raleigh for an open Senate seat.
Going into the election there were enough GOP lawmakers to override vetoes with the required three-fifths of the Senate and House of Representatives voting — by a six-vote margin in the Senate and a four-vote margin in the House. Taking over simple majorities in either chamber seemed from the start like an unreachable goal for Democrats. That would have required Democrats gaining 16 seats in the House and 11 in the Senate.
There are a number of House and Senate races that were considered competitive, where candidates and outside interests have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads and mailers, many employing a negative tone. It’s also possible that districts with campaigns that did not attract a lot of attention could flip, whether due to the dynamics of individual campaigns or to the national “blue wave” of Democratic candidates that has been anticipated.
NC Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse said last week that Republicans in the General Assembly were able to advance much of their agenda after taking over in 2011.
“I always remind people, Republicans got a lot of things passed, a lot of good policies when we had a Democratic governor and no super majority,” Woodhouse said last week in an interview.