Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina Democrats enjoyed a banner year in 2008, with the election of the first African-American president, first female governor and enough blue lawmakers to control Congress and the state General Assembly.
Four years later, Republicans have swept away the last bit of power Democrats held in state government, and the party finds itself on the outside looking in for the first time since Reconstruction.
"Elections do that," said Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake. "There's a shift to the Republicans in this cycle, as was in 2010. They took advantage of victories to shape the legislature."
Republicans now hold a 32-18 edge in the state Senate and a 77-43 advantage in the House in addition to having Gov.-elect Pat McCrory succeeding Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue.
Democrats say the power shift doesn't reflect a mandate from North Carolina voters. Instead, they say, new voting maps that produced Republican-friendly districts and enormous amounts of campaign spending were to blame for the seats they lost in state government.
"It sends a message they've got some trouble for some time to come," said Steven Greene, associate professor of political science at North Carolina State University.
Greene said Democrats are going to have to raise lots of money on their own and recruit strong candidates in the future to try to rebuild their power base.
"Republicans didn't do it overnight – taking over the state House – and Democrats taking it back won't happen overnight," he said.
Democrats said a favorable ruling on court challenges to the Republican-drawn voting maps could help them regain some seats in the 2014 elections.
"Redistricting litigation, hard work, and public opinion will help us regain seats," said Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake.
While they wait for a swing in the political pendulum, Blue said, Democrats need to focus on trying to get some of their own bills through the General Assembly. He noted that Republican bills passed when he was speaker of a Democratic-controlled House in the 1990s.
"I believe there's some value in the thought that an idea whose time has come will be able to find a place in the marketplace of ideas," he said. "I see the minority party as being something other than just opposition for sake of opposition, but the minority party ought to raise serious issues, ought to call out the majority party."
"We still have relationships with colleagues and experienced members," Ross said. "For influence, we have public opinion on policy matters."
Democrats also pointed to President Barack Obama's strong showing in North Carolina, where he finished with 48 percent of the vote despite the Republican tide. They say that shows how evenly divided North Carolina is and that both parties have influence.
"I’m pretty sure the Republicans are not taking their majority for granted and are working hard to keep it, and Democrats will work as hard as they can to take it away," Greene said.