Raleigh, N.C. — Time and time again late Tuesday, Republicans running for major offices in North Carolina were forced to give concession speeches.
Following the lead of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, Democrats continued their domination of the governor's office, captured a U.S. Senate seat Republicans had held for 36 years, deposed a five-term Republican congressman and Republican incumbent state auditor and captured the openings for lieutenant governor and state treasurer.
"We're disappointed," state Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Daves said, crediting Obama's charisma and a massive effort by the Democrats to register first-time voters, including many teens and college-age students.
"He was able to get out a whole new voting block of citizens. We will have to get our message out so that we can get on the ground and get these votes out on our behalf," Daves said.
Jack Hawke, a former state GOP chairman who worked on the 1984 campaign of former Gov. Jim Martin – the last Republican to hold the position – said the party fell behind the Democrats in voter registration and early voting. The deficit proved to be too much ground to make up on Election Day.
Still, Republicans for the first time are close to having 2 million registered voters in North Carolina, according to the State Board of Elections.
Political analyst John Davis said those numbers begin to level the playing field in the state, where Democrats have more than 2.8 million registered voters. The GOP needs to craft a message to appeal to those changing numbers, he said.
"They are going to have to move a little closer to the center because that's where North Carolina is," said Davis, who has tracked elections in the state for more than 20 years.
Hawke said he's been through other low points for the GOP in North Carolina, and he predicted the party would again bounce back.
"We'll have a two-party state. It'll come back," he said.
Daves said the party is reassessing its position in the state and is looking ahead to 2010.
Davis said the mid-term election in two years will offer Republicans a good chance to pick up ground in the General Assembly. Republican lawmakers also will have an opportunity in 2010 to influence the redrawing of North Carolina's congressional and legislative maps after the next census.