We told you the political future was hazy

Posted December 25, 2016

Behold, the @NCCapitol Crystal Ball.

— Last year, the @NCCapitol team sat down to predict the future. Matt Burns, Laura Leslie, Tyler Dukes and I all stared deep into our crystal balls to ponder the stories we'd be covering over the next 12 months.

We did OK with the questions we fielded, although yours truly should have stuck with the pack more than he did. Where our lack of imagination showed was in the questions we didn't ask. Nobody foresaw court orders that would require to state to rerun its congressional primary or a protracted battle over bathroom rules.

Of the 10 questions we answered, five were unqualified wins across the panel of four. All of us rightly said that the Republican presidential campaign would still be in full swing by the time it reached North Carolina on March 15. As we expected, Democrats tapped former state Rep. Deborah Ross of Wake County to take on Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr in the fall election, but Burr won that face off. House Speaker Tim Moore kept his job when Republicans chose leaders for the 2016 session. As well, all four of us predicted the Connect NC Bond referendum would pass easily during the March primary.

When asked who was the incumbent most in danger of losing his or her post, Laura, Tyler and I singled out 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, who ended up losing a primary to fellow Congressman George Holding after redistricting. Matt pointed to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who ended up losing to Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.

As a bonus, Laura and I also said the race for state auditor was one to watch as Democratic incumbent Beth Wood faced opposition from Republican Chuck Stuber, a well regarded former FBI agent. Wood won, but the contest ended up being the closest statewide race and provoked a recount before Stuber conceded.

Mixed results

On the remaining five questions, our panel was less unanimous and had mixed results.

Laura, Tyler and Matt all correctly said that lawmakers would close down the legislative short session before July 15.

I said I was nervous that a budget surplus would lead to shenanigans. As it turns out, lawmakers were out of town before July 4. The General Assembly did return for three post-July 15 special sessions late in the year. But I can't lay claim to having foreseen the need for disaster recovery legislation or the strange circumstances of the House Bill 2 repeal failure and the surprise session that stripped the incoming governor of some appointment powers.

On the question of who would win the state's presidential primary, only Laura correctly predicted Trump would take North Carolina's delegates to the GOP convention. Tyler and Matt both thought U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida would be the North Carolina GOP's choice. Meanwhile, I was hilariously wrong in picking former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who had suspended his campaign by the March 15 primary.

Laura and Matt both correctly predicted that Trump would win the nomination, while Tyler picked Rubio and I, for some reason that seems unfathomable at this point, thought that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had a shot.

Matt, Laura and Tyler all predicted state House and Senate Republicans would hold on to their super-majorities, whereas I thought the House GOP might dip under 72 seats. In the end, Republicans held serve, with 74 seats in the House for the 2017-18 session.

Finally, on the question of who would win in a matchup between McCrory and Cooper, Tyler put his faith in the power of incumbency and picked McCrory. Laura pushed, saying that the race was a tossup between the two men, which given the slim margin in the race and weeks of post-election doubt seems reasonable, but kind of violates the spirit of making a prediction. Matt saw an upset all the way and picked Cooper.

I picked McCrory to keep his post but did so with the following caveat: "If the GOP does nominate Trump for president, Cooper takes the governor's mansion." Trump voters, I thought at the time, would not necessarily stick around to participate in down-ballot races or be particularly enamored of McCrory. It seems like that was about right.

Tallying up the scores, Laura and Matt had the best records, with nine correct answers to their credit. Tyler had a respectable seven right. Meanwhile, I scraped by with six out of 10.


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