By Susan Myrick
With so many legislative contests already decided and so many others that appear to be sure things, we use the 2012 Civitas Partisan Index (CPI) to winnow down the key races to watch in the November 8, 2016 General Election to 22.
The CPI is a useful tool to take into account when looking at North Carolina’s legislative political landscape. It is used to study voting tendencies within a district and to identify districts that swing, lean, or firmly trend towards one political party or the other. Keep in mind that incumbency, turnout, candidates’ experience and qualities, fundraising and current political issues also play powerful roles in determining outcomes in elections.
2016 Legislative Races to Watch
Of the 22 races we have chosen to watch, it’s interesting to note that five of the 14 state House Districts and three of the seven state Senate Districts are in Wake County.
But for one exception, the races to watch are in districts that have a CPI score of D+4 to R+4. The exception – House District 116 – has a CPI score of R+5 but is held by a Democrat. The CPI compares votes cast in each N.C. legislative district to votes cast in the state as a whole. The end result is a letter (D or R) followed by a number, indicating the extent to which each district leans one way or the other relative to the state as a whole. For example, a district whose voters allotted 5 more percentage points to the Democratic candidates compared to the state average receives an index score of D+5.
State House Summary
In the state House, only 63 out of 120 districts will be contested in November 2016.
Fifty-seven contests are either already decided or will be decided after the March 15th primary. Of those, 41 district winners are already decided because only one candidate filed for the seat in each of those districts. That leaves 16 seats that will be decided in the March 15th primary. Ten Democrats and six Republicans will “win” their Primary contest.
Of the 63 House contests that will include more than one candidate, the CPI points to only 15 that fall in the category of races to watch. It’s worth noting that all but one of these races include incumbents and the power of incumbency is real and often times hard to overcome.
State House Races to Watch
District 2 (D+0) Incumbent Larry Yarborough (R-Person), won by 56.7 percent in 2014 after then-Rep. Winkie Wilkins (Dem) decided not to run in 2014. Wilkins won the district in 2012 by with 56.7 percent of the vote. Yarborough will face Democrat Joe Parrish in the General Election.
District 6 (R+4) Paul Tine (U-Dare), who was first elected as a Democrat to the State House in 2012 (50.6%) and re-elected in 2014 (53.6%), switched his voter registration to unaffiliated early in 2015 and caucused with the Republicans, has decided not to run in 2016, making way for primaries in both parties. As a result of the open seat there is a Republican and a Democratic Primary. Republicans Ashley Woolard and Beverly Boswell and Democrats Arthur Williams and Democrats Warren Judge and Judy Justice will all vie for a spot on the General Election ballot in their respective primaries.
District 8 (R+1) Susan Martin (R-Wilson), the incumbent, was first elected to the House in 2012 when she garnered 57.2 percent of the vote. She gained strength in 2014 when she won re-election with 60.8 percent of the vote. Martin will face Democrat candidate Charlie Pat Farris in the November General Election.
District 9 (R+4) While Greg Murphy (R-Pitt) is officially the incumbent, he was appointed to the seat in October 2015 after Rep. Brian Brown left office to work for U.S. Senator Thom Tillis. Murphy will face the winner of the Democrat Primary between Brian Farkas and Walter Gaskins in November.
District 35 (R+4) Incumbent Chris Malone (R-Wake) has served two terms in the state House. In 2012 he won by 50.8 percent of the vote; in 2014 he widened the winning margin with 56.3 percent. Malone will face Democrat Terrence Everitt in the General Election.
District 36 (R+4) Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) has served six terms in the State House. In 2012 he won with 55 percent of the vote and in 2014 he won with 54.4 percent of the total vote. By the looks of the number of filings for his seat, it appears some believe that Dollar is vulnerable this year: he has a primary challenger, Mark Villee, and Jennifer Ferrell and Woodie Cleary will face each other in the Democrat Primary. The winners of both primaries will face Libertarian Brian Irving.
District 40 (R+3) Five-term incumbent Marilyn Avila (R-Wake) won the 2012 and 2014 elections by carrying 53.9 percent and 54.4 percent of the vote, respectively. She will face Democrat Joe John in the General Election.
District 41 (R+0) Democrat incumbent Gale Adcock (D-Wake) beat two-term Republican incumbent Tom Murry in 2014 by winning 51.3 percent of the votes. One of the Democrats in an “R+” district, Adcock will face Republican Chris M. Shoffner in the General Election.
District 45 (R+3) Two-term incumbent John Szoka (R-Cumberland) was unopposed in the 2014 election. He won his first election in 2012 with 56.4 percent of the vote. Szoka will face Democrat Roberta Waddle in the General Election.
District 49 (R+1) Republican incumbent Gary Pendleton (R-Wake) was appointed in August 2014 to replace Jim Fulghum, who died while in office. Pendleton won with 51.6 percent of the vote in 2014. Fulghum won 54 percent of the vote in District 49 in 2012. While Pendleton doesn’t have a Primary opponent, he will face Democrat Cynthia Ball and Libertarian David Ulmer in the November General Election.
District 51 (R+5) First-term incumbent Democrat Brad Salmon (D-Harnett) beat two-term incumbent Mike Stone in 2014 by 1,573 votes (53.9 percent of the vote). Stone first won the district in 2010 with 53.5 percent of the vote and again in 2012 with 52 percent. In 2016, Salmon will face Republican candidate John Sauls in the November General Election.
District 92 (D+1) A Republican in a “D+” district, incumbent Charles Jeter, (R-Mecklenburg) has served two terms in the House. He won with 51.4 percent of the vote in 2012 and with 52.5 percent of the vote in 2014. Jeter will face a primary challenger this year – Tom Davis. The winner of the Republican Primary will face Democrat Chaz Beasley in the General Election.
District 115 (R+1) First-term incumbent John Ager (D-Buncombe) is one of the Democrats in an “R+” district. Ager upset a Republican incumbent in 2014 (Nathan Ramsey) by winning 50.8 percent of the vote. Ramsey had won an open seat (vacated by a Democrat) in 2012 with 54.3 percent of the vote. Ager will face the winner of the Republican Primary between Frank Moretz and Robert (Bob) Chilmonik in the November Election.
District 116 (R+5) Incumbent Brian Turner is a Democrat in an R+5 District. In 2014, Turner defeated two-term Representative Tim Moffit with 50.8 percent of the vote. Moffit was first elected in 2010 and received 55.79 percent and in 2012, Moffit won the district with 56.3 percent of the vote. Turner will face Republican Kay Olsen in the General Election.
District 119 (D+1) Incumbent Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood) has served two terms in the House (He also served two terms in the state Senate). Queen won the 2012 race with 51.7 percent of the vote and the 2014 race with 52.5 percent of the vote. In November he will face the winner of the Republican Primary between Aaron Littlefield and Mike Clampitt.
State Senate Summary
There are 13 out of 50 State Senate districts where only one person filed to run in 2016, which means there are already 13 winners in the state Senate. Add to those numbers two Senate districts where the Republican primary will decide the winner because no Democrats or Libertarians filed to run, and this leaves us with 35 General Election contests for state Senate. Of those, seven meet our criteria as a race to watch.
State Senate Races to Watch
District 1 (R+3) Incumbent Bill Cook (R-Beaufort) has served two terms in the Senate and one in the House. Cook’s first election to the Senate was in 2012, when he won by only 21 votes – garnering 50.01 percent of the vote. In 2014 Cook won with 53.4 percent of the vote. He will face Democrat Brownie Futrell in the General Election.
District 9 (R+4) Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), the Republican incumbent from Senate District 9, was first appointed to fill Thom Goolsby’s unexpired term in August 2014. He ran for the office in November 2014 and won 55.4 percent of the vote. Goolsby had won the district with 54.2 percent in 2012. Lee will face Democrat Andrew Barnhill in the General Election.
District 15 (R+2) Incumbent John Alexander (R-Wake) has served only one term in the state Senate. He won the seat left open by retiring Sen. Neal Hunt in 2014 by getting 50.4 percent of the vote. Hunt won his last election in 2012 with 55.8 percent of the vote. Alexander will face Democrat Laurel Deegan-Fricke and Libertarian Brad Hessel in the November General Election.
District 17 (R+3) Tamara Barringer (R-Wake) is the incumbent in the state Senate District 17 race. Barringer was first elected to the Senate in 2012 with 53.7 percent of the vote. In 2014 she won with 58.4 percent of the vote. Barringer will not face a challenger in the March 15 Primary, but will have challengers in the General Election, including Democrat Susan Evans and Libertarian Susan Hogarth.
District 18 (R+1) Incumbent Chad Barefoot (R-Wake) was first elected to the House in 2012 with 55.9 percent of the vote and won re-election in 2014 with 52.9 percent of the vote. With no Primary challenger, Barefoot will face Democrat Gil Johnson in the General Election.
District 19 (D+3) A Republican in a “D+” district, incumbent Wesley Meredith (R-Cumberland) is in his third term in the state House. In 2012 he won with 53.9 percent of the vote and won re-election in 2014 with 54.5 percent. Meredith will face Democrat Toni Morris in the General Election.
District 25 (R+3) First-term Incumbent Tom McInnis (R-Cumberland) beat one-term incumbent Democrat (Gene McLaurin) in 2014 with 50.4 percent of the vote. McLaurin won in 2012 with 53 percent of the total vote. McInnis has no Primary challenger, but will face Democrat Dannie Montgomery in November.
What you should know about the CPI:
The CPI is based on voter data from presidential election year results for governor and other council of state offices, i.e. lieutenant governor, commissioner of agriculture, commissioner of insurance, commissioner of labor, attorney general, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction, state treasurer and state auditor. Although President and U.S. Senate election results may also be available, we believe that state-level races give a more accurate picture of how voters will vote in a state legislative race than do national races.
In 2012 the newly drawn legislative districts were applied to the 2012 vote for Governor and all Council of State races except the attorney general’s race, which was uncontested. Though we couldn’t compare individual districts in this CPI with the last one, because of redistricting, we were able to compare average voting patterns from 2008. While it is true that historically in Council of State races North Carolinians tend to vote for Democratic candidates, in the 2012 CPI we see a possible shift in that voting pattern. In the 2008 election, the average Council of State vote (looking at only votes for Democratic or Republican candidates) was 53.4 percent Democratic and 46.6 percent Republican statewide; in the 2012 model, the average vote statewide was nearly even: 50.6 percent Democratic to 49.4 percent Republican.