By Becki Gray
Raleigh, NC – The 2020 election is over. Thankfully and finally. Maybe. Not everyone is happy, and the process may not be perfect, but it works better than any alternative. Before I close my notebook on what may very well be the most important election of our lifetime — at least for now — here are some parting thoughts and takeaways:
- President Trump was right to insist that all measures be taken to ensure that every legal vote is counted and all legitimate allegations of fraud or interference with the will of the people were fully investigated. Rather than adding to the turbulence and polarization, everyone needs to know that the election results are legitimate and have confidence integrity of the system. Once all the ballots are accounted for and all votes are counted, we must move out from under the cloud of suspicion and away from mistrust on both sides. All candidates who will be sworn into office in January must carry the legitimacy of their election as they begin to lead knowing the process worked and they have, in fact, been duly elected. No longer a candidate, they have been elected to govern with the support of the people. No one should want this more than Joe Biden.
- North Carolina’s Senate race, the most expensive in U.S. history, with $287 million spent by all parties, serves as an illustration of the importance primaries play in our election process. Cal Cunningham was the choice of the DNC operatives; the scale was tipped in his favor from the beginning. Had an unfettered primary occurred, the flaws that later sank his campaign may have been discovered and saved him, his family, and his party from embarrassment and defeat. Processes work when they are played out. Both major political parties should make note.
- North Carolina’s congressional delegation of 13 is now five Democrats, eight Republicans; 10 incumbents. No one should get too comfortable in those seats. North Carolina is set to get a 14th district due to increases in population census numbers, most likely in an urban county. All the districts will be redrawn for the 2022 election by the Republican–controlled General Assembly. The governor has no veto over redistricting.
- Gov. Roy Cooper defeated his opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, by 4.5 points. Cooper outspent Forest — $36 million to $11 million. As the incumbent governor, he’s been on TV almost every day for eight months about the COVID crisis, with tightly controlled press conferences and on the front page of major newspapers and the nightly news. The media has been very friendly to Cooper. Dan Forest’s grassroots style of campaigning and connecting with voters face to face was severely hampered by COVID restrictions imposed by the governor. Forest was outspent, out-exposed, and out-maneuvered, yet Cooper beat him by only 4.5 points. The governor should not take the outcome as a mandate for his policies.
- Steve Troxler, the incumbent Republican candidate for commissioner of agriculture, was the highest vote-getter in the state. His opponent, a hobby farmer who ran on an AOC-like platform which she promoted through tik-tok dance videos, delivering a message voters weren’t interested in. As North Carolinians, we’re not woke. We love a guy on a tractor.
- The biggest election surprise was in the General Assembly. Pundits predicted Republican losses, and some said they’d lose the majority in either or both chambers. The pundits and their polling were wrong. Turns out the Senate Republicans lost two seats they expected to lose and won one back, for a net loss of one seat. The Senate sits at 28 Republicans; 22 Democrats. The House Republicans picked up four additional seats, bringing their majority to 69. Democrats hold 51 seats.
- Why did they win? Was it gerrymandered districts? It’s true that North Carolina is gerrymandered, but every state is. There are districts that will reliably elect Democrats and those that will reliably elect Republican, as long as people are free to choose where they live. The difference is in competitive swing districts, where a near equal number of each party and unaffiliated voters live. It’s the competitive races in those swing districts where Republicans won.
- Was it Trump’s coattails? Biden won in four of the five districts that Republicans picked up.
- Was it the money? Final campaign finance reports aren’t in, but what we have so far indicate that Republicans were outspent in legislative races by about $3.2 million. At least.
- So, what was it? Good policy won. Both sides had good candidates who delivered their message to the voters. Republicans had answers to address the problems North Carolinians care about: Affordable and accessible health care, support for law and order, safety and security in their homes and communities, choices in the way kids are educated, a robust economy and opportunity through jobs, and restrained government with low taxes and fewer regulations. Voters chose the policies that solve problems they care about, and that’s why Republicans won. To continue to blindly follow Cooper’s demands rather than honor what their constituents want will be the Democrats’ downfall. North Carolinians are tired of policies driven by divided partisanship and want solutions to the problems they face. The General Assembly should give them want they want. Whoever does that well will see benefits in 2022.
- Republicans swept, or Republicans won, all but one appellate court seat. With widely reported litigation on voter ID, separation of powers, opportunity scholarships, concerns about law and order and defunding the police, voters chose those the judicial candidates they felt could be trusted to uphold law and order, fund the police and protect freedoms from government overreach. Again, policies matter. So does every single vote. The chief justice race appears to have been determined by a few hundred votes, out of nearly 5.4 million votes cast.
- Local sales tax increases were on the ballot in five counties. All were voted down. There were six alcohol sales referendums in five cities. All were approved. Wake and Mecklenburg counties approved four bond proposals, each by over 70%.
Elections have winners and losers, but they also pave the way for emerging leaders for the next election. Fresh faces I’m keeping an eye on — Republicans Lisa Barnes and Danny Britt, and Democrats Jessica Holmes, Wiley Nickel, Lucy Inman. Retiring Republican congressman Mark Walker has said he’s running for the open U.S. Senate seat in 2022. I’m wondering about the next steps for other familiar faces, Republicans Pat McCrory, Dan Forest, Tim Moore, Mark Meadows, and Lara Trump and Democrats Josh Stein, Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Erica Smith, as well as Cheri Beasley.
As I close my notebook from the 2020 Election, it’s clear that integrity, trust, process, and policy matter. The voters have spoken, now let’s get to work.
Becki Gray is senior vice president at the John Locke Foundation.