Local Politics

GOP, Dems have high hopes in N.C.

Posted November 2, 2010 5:46 a.m. EDT
Updated November 2, 2010 10:18 p.m. EDT

— Leaders of both the state Republican and Democratic parties were projecting victory Tuesday evening as voting across North Carolina wrapped up.

Red, white and blue balloons were ready to drop in a ballroom at the Raleigh Marriott City Center, where the Republican Party was planning a "Victory Party."

Party leaders were tracking 40 competitive state House races and 10 more in the state Senate. The GOP would have to pick up nine additional seats in the House or six in the Senate to win one or both chambers.

"I think it's going to be a big night for the Republican Party, maybe a huge night," party Chairman Tom Fetzer said. "I think we're going to take the House and the Senate."

Republicans haven't had a majority in the state Senate since 1898. They last controlled the state House 12 years ago.

Fetzer attributed the party's prospects to dedicated fundraising and recruitment of solid candidates over the last two years.

"We've put a good team together," he said.

Democrats were counting on heavy voter turnout to maintain control of the General Assembly.

"We slammed it in early voting," said Nina Szlosberg, of the state Democratic Party coordinated campaign committee.

Registered Democrats cast about 96,000 more ballots in early voting than registered Republicans, according to figures from the State Board of Elections. Officials were predicting that voter turnout statewide would top 40 percent, compared with 37 percent in the 2006 midterm election.

"I think all the news of the death of the Democratic Party is greatly overstated," Szlosberg said, predicting that the party would hold onto majorities in the House and Senate.

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.

"There's a lot at stake," Szlosberg said.

Voters said they want to see an end to the partisan divide both in North Carolina and Washington, D.C.

"We just need to find a way to get together," said Chris Austin of Raleigh. "(Election Day) is not necessarily going to do that for us. Hopefully, we will find a way to get together as a country."

"It's interesting to see it sway back and forth every two years. So, it depends on how you are feeling every two years and whether voting in two years is going to change something," said Joe Moore of Raleigh.

U.S. Senate campaign tops ballot

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr was hoping to follow in the footsteps of the late Jesse Helms as the only Republican re-elected to the Senate from North Carolina. Polls show he has a commanding lead over Democratic challenger Elaine Marshall and Libertarian Mike Beitler.

Burr and his wife voted early Tuesday in Winston-Salem, and he then talked with some voters at polling places. Marshall cast an early ballot, and she spent Election Day visiting some of the busiest polling places around the Triangle to talk with voters.

Marshall contends that Burr is part of the old Washington guard, while Burr promises his previous six years in the Senate will only help North Carolinians continue to recover from the recession.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, there’s a close race between Democratic incumbent Bob Etheridge and Republican challenger Renee Ellmers. Etheridge is defending his seven terms against Ellmers’ criticism that he shows Washington arrogance.

Nationally, expectations are high that Republicans will pick up at least the 40 seats they need to retake control of the House after four years of Democratic rule. They need to pick up 10 Senate seats to take control of the Senate.

Although state House GOP leaders are optimistic about winning control of their chamber, prospects ripened for Republicans in the Senate because Democrats have failed to keep their usual dominant fundraising advantage this election cycle. Several Democratic retirements or resignations added to GOP motivation to work to flip seats.

"I think things look promising," Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, who spent Monday working at his law office, rather than campaigning. "There are enough opportunities out there for us to get a majority."

Senate leader Marc Basnight, whose record 18-year run as president pro tempore of the chamber could end, said he was hopeful Democrats could keep a slight majority. Basnight's party probably would remain in charge in a deadlocked 25-25 chamber because Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, a Democrat, would break any ties.

Basnight, D-Dare, said previous elections were easier for him to handicap, but "this one is unpredictable."

Democrats have suffered due to stubbornly high unemployment and taken heat for their decision in the 2009 budget to raise taxes by another $1 billion they contend actually saved thousands of public education jobs. Republicans have pledged to reduce spending and taxes further even as next year's budget gap could be more than $3 billion.

Voters also will choose winners for four contested Court of Appeals seats and one on the state Supreme Court between Bob Hunter of Marion and Barbara Jackson of Raleigh, both current Court of Appeals judges. One Court of Appeals post may not be decided for weeks as voters rank their top three candidates among 13 seeking the job.

A constitutional amendment is also on the ballot statewide asking voters to decide whether to ban convicted felons from running for or serving as a county sheriff.

Voters in 14 counties, including Harnett, Orange and Person, also will decide on whether to add a quarter-cent to their local sales tax rate to fund growth-related needs. A $20 million bond issue is on the Durham ballot, and if it passes, the city would be able to repair about 150 miles of local streets.