GOP Tripwires in NC’s 2010 Battle for the Senate Majority: Democratic Caucus faces an Uphill Battle after 114 Years of Uninterrupted Power

by johndavis, March 4, 2010

“Republican candidates who win independents will take the oath of office — period.”1 — Glen Bolger and Neil Newhouse, Public Opinion Strategies I am stunned. How is it possible that the fortunes of the Democratic Party could plummet so far so fast? One year ago they were enjoying the spoils of victory after riding the
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“Republican candidates who win independents will take the oath of office — period.”1 -- Glen Bolger and Neil Newhouse, Public Opinion Strategies

I am stunned. How is it possible that the fortunes of the Democratic Party could plummet so far so fast? One year ago they were enjoying the spoils of victory after riding the crest of an anti-establishment wave created by the Bush administration’s low approval ratings and the inspirational candidacy of Barack Obama and his message of “change we can believe in.” For the first time in 40 years, they claimed the state’s top three political prizes in the same election year, President, U.S. Senator and Governor, and held a majority in both houses of the legislature.

Now, it’s the Democrats flailing about in a stormy sea of angry voters and in danger of losing many of the partisan advantages they gained in 2008. It’s the Democratic brand that’s tarnished.

Last Friday was the filing deadline for candidates. This report summarizes the state Senate filing results in the context of the turnabout in partisan political fortunes, and examines two tripwires that could thwart the Republican Party’s quest for the majority. Here are some key numbers:

Senate Democrats Senate Republicans
All Democrats have GOP opponents 11 Republicans have no Democrat opponent
6 Democrats retired leaving OPEN seats 2 Republicans retired leaving OPEN Seats
4 of 6 Democratic OPEN Seats are Competitive Republican OPEN Seats are Not Competitive
3 Democrats are in Republican Districts No Republican is in a Democratic District
3 Appointed Democrats (first Senate run) No Appointed Republicans

Table Footnotes

D1 Sen. Michael Walters (D-Robeson) appointed after Sen. David Weinstein resigned Strong Democratic Dist
D2 Sen. Larry Shaw (D-Cumberland) is retiring Strong Democratic Dist
D3 Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake) appointed after the death of Sen. Vernon Malone Strong Democratic Dist
D4 Sen. Katie Dorsett (D-Guilford) is retiring Strong Democratic Dist
D5 Sen. Margaret Dickson (D-Cumberland) appointed after Sen. Tony Rand resigned Leans Democratic
D6 Sen. R.C. Soles (D-Columbus) is retiring Leans Republican
D7 Sen. Charlie Albertson (D-Duplin) is retiring Leans Democratic
D8 Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover) is retiring (fmr GOP Seat: P. Ballantine) Leans Republican
D9 Sen. Tony Foriest (D-Alamance) in competitive district (fmr GOP seat: H. Webster) Leans Republican
D10 Sen. Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood) in competitive district (fmr GOP seat: K. Presnell) Leans Republican
D11 Sen. John Snow (D-Cherokee) in competitive district (fmr GOP seat: B. Carpenter) Leans Republican
D12 Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston) is retiring Strong Republican Dist
D13 Sen. Steve Goss (D-Watauga) in competitive district (fmr GOP seat: J. Garwood) Strong Republican Dist
R14 Sen. Jim Jacumin (R-Burke) is retiring Strong Republican Dist
R15 Sen. Eddie Goodall (R-Union) is retiring Strong Republican Dist

GOP Tripwire #1: Favorable Generic Ballot Not Driven by Party-Related Motivations

For the first time in years, NC voters favor Republicans over Democrats in both congressional and state legislative generic races by a margin of 44% to 41%.2 However, only 32% of NC voters have a favorable opinion of the GOP, with 48% having a negative opinion. The favorable opinion of Democrats is a bit higher (38%), but so is the negative opinion of Democrats (51%).

Independent voters are behind the generic ballot results favoring the GOP, and they are driven by an anti-establishment mood, not a pro-Republican mood. The tripwire for Republicans is thinking that independent voters are turning to their candidates for any reason other than they have lost confidence in the Democrats to solve the most important problems of the day: jobs, the economy and spending. If spending were producing jobs, independents would be for it.

Public Opinion Strategies was the polling firm for the recent big GOP wins in Virginia and Massachusetts. Both Virginia’s Gov. Bob McDonnell and Massachusetts’ Sen. Scott Brown won independents by a 2-to-1 margin. According to pollsters Glen Bolger and Neil Newhouse, “McDonnell’s campaign targeted independents, particularly in Northern Virginia, who responded to messages about jobs and fiscal responsibility. Brown, meanwhile, ran as an independent-minded candidate and a ‘Scott Brown Republican,’ as he called himself.”3

Tripwire #2: It’s Not About Abortion, Slick City Lawyers, Homosexuals and African Americans

Two weeks ago, Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall, a Manassas Republican, asserted during a press conference that children with disabilities are "a special punishment" from God for women who aborted their first pregnancy.4 Last week, North Carolina State Senator Jim Forrester, a Stanly Republican, was quoted in the Statesville Record & Landmark as saying, “Slick city lawyers and homosexual lobbies and African-American lobbies are running Raleigh.”5

After considerable effort, I cannot find any poll with more than 1% saying that issues related to homosexuals, African-Americans, slick city lawyers or abortions are the most important issues of the day. In a News and Observer/ABC 11 Eyewitness News poll conducted in mid-February, 55% of North Carolinians said the most important issue was "Economy/Jobs.”6 "Health care" was a distant second at 14%, followed by “Government spending/deficit/taxes” named by 12%. All other issues were a single digit number, all the way down to the following issues that were named by only 1% of the voters combined: "Social issues/abortion/gays in the military.”

If Republicans can avoid the tripwire of social issues, they will win over independent voters with their message on jobs, the economy and spending. If they win the independent voters, they will win the majority of the seats in the NC Senate. Pollsters Glen Bolger and Neil Newhouse said it best in their Washington Post op-ed piece, Lessons from Virginia and Massachusetts, “Republican candidates who win independents will take the oath of office — period.”

References

  1. Washington Post, Sunday, January 24, 2010; Lessons from Virginia and Massachusetts
  2. http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2010/02/gop-mandate.html
  3. Washington Post, Sunday, January 24, 2010; Lessons from Virginia and Massachusetts
  4. http://www.newsleader.com/article/20100222/NEWS01/2220318
  5. http://www.wsoctv.com/news/22677348/detail.html
  6. The News & Observer, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010; Distress over economy rules N.C. voters’ mood, Pg. 1A
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