Raleigh, N.C. — Riding a nationwide wave of voter discontent, state Republican leaders said Tuesday that the party had seized control of the state General Assembly for the first time in more than a century.
Many races remained too close to call late Tuesday, but GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer predicted that Republicans would pick up 14 to 16 House seats and 10 Senate seats. That would give the party 66 to 68 seats in the 120-member House and 30 seats in the 50-member Senate.
About a half-dozen incumbents across the Triangle and the Sandhills regions lost their re-election bids.
The GOP last had a majority in the state Senate in 1898. They controlled the state House as recently as 12 years ago.
"The tough job begins now. These people have to govern," Fetzer said. "We'll wake up (Wednesday) facing sobering challenges."
The state faces a projected $3 billion deficit in the coming year, and Fetzer said a Republican-controlled legislature would set priorities to live within a smaller budget.
Control of the General Assembly during the 2011 session not only means setting the agenda for the state budget and other legislation, it also means controlling the process for redrawing legislative districts, which could influence elections for the next decade.
"The voters know our state has been headed on the wrong path, and they have asked us to right that path," Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger told a cheering crowd at the Raleigh Marriott City Center, where the party was staging a "Victory Party."
"Now, we'll get to be the ones to say, 'OK, this is the direction we're going to go in,'" said Berger, R-Rockingham. "It's our belief that, in doing that, we'll put North Carolina on a better path."
The mood at Democratic Party headquarters was more somber. They, too, started off calling their gathering a victory party, but the crowd grew quieter and more sparse as returns came in and showed that polls predicting a big night for Republicans were correct.
House Minority Leader Paul Stam said Republicans would begin immediately on their transition to power, although the shift wouldn't officially occur until the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
"We will work with (Gov. Beverly Perdue)," said Stam, R-Wake. "She has had some good ideas this fall about regulatory reform and looking at budget cuts."
Gov. Bev Perdue issued a statement Wednesday congratulating candidates on their victory. She said the economy remains her top priority.
"This morning, we woke up to new leaders in the Legislature, but we all still face the same economic challenges that voters responded to yesterday," Perdue said. "I believe the General Assembly will join me in my continuing efforts to grow jobs for North Carolinians, to set government straight and to invest in the education of our future work force."