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NC Republicans Celebrate Preserving Legislative Majorities

Gary D. Robertson
AP Photo

North Carolina Republicans on Wednesday celebrated hanging on to their majorities in both General Assembly chambers after withstanding a massive effort by Democrats locally and nationally to wrest control before the next round of state and congressional redistricting.

Republicans have held a 65-55 advantage in the House and 29-21 margin in the Senate since 2019. As of Wednesday afternoon, their House seat total had grown to 68, while they lost two seats in the Senate, leaving them with 27.

Four races — three House and one Senate — remain uncalled while absentee and provisional ballots are being counted. But even if those outstanding races were to go Democratic, it would still leave the Republicans with majorities in each chamber.

After making up ground in the 2018 elections, Democrats this year made a multimillion-dollar push to take over the legislature. Republicans also benefited from outside independent expenditure groups.

Republicans have been in charge of the 50-seat Senate and 120-seat House since 2011. During their time in power, they have advanced a conservative policy agenda on taxes, school choice and social issues, among others.

“I want to thank the voters of North Carolina for the vote of confidence that they’ve placed in Republican leadership in the General Assembly,” Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters at state GOP headquarters, adding later that the public “should expect to see the same policies that voters convincingly supported returning Republicans to control the legislature.”

Republicans won’t reach the veto-proof majorities that they held from 2013 to 2018. That means Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who won reelection Tuesday, will be able to leverage his veto stamp to check the GOP’s legislative activities, as he has for the past two years.

It could lead to more stalemates over education spending as well as whether to expand Medicaid under the 2010 federal health care law. Cooper wants expansion but Republicans have blocked it. Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore didn't see Cooper's victory as a mandate on offering more Medicaid coverage, saying the Democratic legislative candidates who ran on expansion in close races lost.

“I don’t think that you saw that as being the defining issue,” Moore said. He and Berger, who both said they’ll seek reelection to their leadership positions in January, also talked up working in a spirit of bipartisanship with Democrats during the next two-year session, such as when COVID-19 relief legislation was approved this year.

While not directly addressing expansion or Republican opponents, Cooper said in his victory speech that affordable health care was a priority for all, regardless of political affiliation.

“It’s time that we focus on what we have in common rather than on our differences,” Cooper said. “Regardless of our political beliefs, most all of us want people to be healthy, to have a good paying job and to live in safe communities.”

The Republicans' majorities give them the power next year to redraw state and congressional district maps for the next decade based on 2020 census figures. Republicans also controlled the last round of redistricting, in the 2010s. The maps they drew landed them in court multiple times after Democrats challenged them, and judicial rulings declaring illegal gerrymanders forced redraws in 2017 and 2019. The governor's veto power doesn't extend to the maps.

In the House, Republican challengers unseated five Democratic incumbents, four of whom were in their first terms: Reps. Sydney Batch of Wake County, Christy Clark of Mecklenburg County, Scott Brewer of Richmond County and Ray Russell of Watauga County. A Cumberland County seat held by a Democrat who lost in the March primary also flipped to the Republicans.

Clark lost in a rematch with former Rep. John Bradford, whom she narrowly defeated in 2018. And former GOP Rep. Mike Clampitt beat Democratic Rep. Joe Sam Queen of Haywood County, who had beaten Clampitt two years earlier. It was too early to call races involving Republican incumbents Perrin Jones of Pitt County and Stephen Ross of Alamance County.

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Wake County chalked up losses in part to Republican voter turnout matching Democrats in areas where supporters of President Donald Trump in 2016 hadn't voted in 2018, allowing Democrats to win more seats.

“Those Trump voters came back out (Tuesday), and they took a few of them back,” Jackson said.

In the Senate, Republicans lost seats in Wake and Mecklenburg counties when incumbents had declined to run again, as the districts had become more Democratic in the 2019 redistricting. But they held on to closely competitive seats held by the GOP’s Bob Steinburg of Chowan County and Joyce Krawiec of Forsyth County. It was too early to call the race between former GOP Sen. Mike Lee and Democratic Sen. Harper Peterson. The two are in a rematch of a 2018 race that Peterson won.

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