Below are my predictions for competitive Cumberland County races in the 2018 midterm election. Unlike this year’s primary races that were relatively easy to predict (I was 9 for 10), several of the races up for grabs Tuesday are literal dead-heats . In short, I may end up looking like a fool Wednesday morning.
Nevertheless, I started this blog because I saw a void of good political analysis in Fayetteville press and radio where the same talking heads were and continue to be quoted in every story. I took a chance and tried something unique with this site, and this post is written in that spirit. Thank you for reading.
One theme I hit on often at Cross Creek Divide is the growing divisiveness and partisanship in our present moment of American politics. This election will be a cross-country case study of the effects of this growing divide.
A referendum of the President has been developing since he took office in 2016 while losing the popular vote by 2,800,000 votes (the largest deficit in the history of the Presidency). Trump’s Gallup approval rating has never been above 50% and has taken a dive as of late:
Right now, both Republicans and Democrats are entrenched in their positions. Democrats are ready to send Trump a message. Republicans are rallying to the promise of “Keeping America Great” by keeping themselves in power. Nationally, turn-out is high across the board.
Partisan dynamics will have a greater impact than they would in a traditional mid-term election where state and local issues tend to dominate. In short, there won’t be many votes stolen from across the aisle. It’s all about getting your voters to the polls.
In the face of all this partisanship, we a have a growing “unaffiliated” group of North Carolina voters, driven in part by young people who are fed up with traditional parties. Where do these folks land in 2018?
To make a good forecast, we need to start on solid footing, so let’s look at the raw data. This is the early vote in Cumberland County by party registration, taken from carolinaelections.com:
Here’s the total vote in Cumberland County from the 2014 Mid-Term Election, by party registration:
76,606 people voted in Cumberland County in 2014. So far in 2018, 48,494 people have voted early. The 2018 early vote is 63.3% of the total vote in 2014.
- Thus far in 2018, Democrats have voted at 63.2% of their total 2014 vote, right on pace with the overall turnout.
- Republicans are lagging behind at only 54.3% of their 2014 numbers.
- Unaffiliated voters, an ever-increasing demographic, have voted at 76.5% of their 2014 numbers.
Republicans, ever the traditionalists, will come out in greater numbers on Tuesday, but what we have seen so far is Democrats and Independents surging in Cumberland County early voting. This cannot be ignored in a mid-term election and colors the analysis.
We’ll start at the top of the ticket:
US House (9th District): This race is a true toss-up that is being watched all over the country. If Democrats flip this seat, they can flip others like it and easily capture the House of Representatives.
Democrat Dan McCready has run an impressive, well-funded campaign and solidified his position as a moderate that fits the District. Due to the high Democratic and African American turnout in early voting in the bookends of the 9th District (Mecklenburg and Cumberland), I think McCready starts the night with a 3-4 point early-vote lead that dwindles to a 1 point lead by midnight as the election day results trickle in. McCready will flip this seat and beat Republican Mark Harris 51-49%.
US House (8th District): While this is a good year for Democrats, this 8th District is too red for former Aberdeen Mayor Frank McNeill to win. Republican incumbent Richard Hudson is an expert politician, having been groomed for this seat since he was an aid to the seat’s former Congressman, Robin Hayes. Hudson has learned the blueprint for success and is heavily backed by the Republican establishment. Moreover, the 8th District was drawn by Republicans in Raleigh to remain red, even in a blue-wave election year. Richard Hudson will hold his seat, 53-47%.
Tangential Prediction: For these same reasons, Republicans will hold all other Congressional seats in North Carolina including the “competitive” 2nd and 13th Districts. These Districts remain gerrymandered in favor of Republicans. Expect only the 9th District to flip.
NC Senate 19: Probably the most controversial and hardest race to call on the list, I’m torn between my head and my heart and the two often flip-flop when I analyze this one.
Incumbent Wesley Meredith spent over a million dollars to destroy my old man in 2014, and he’s done the same to challenger Kirk deViere this year. However, as I pointed out in my last post, Meredith’s routine cash advantage hasn’t always had the impact one would expect. In spite of the lopsided campaign expenditures, the Democrat running against Meredith typically gets close to the same percentage of the vote as the Democratic composition of the electorate. Right now, registered Democrats are 49.62% of the early vote. I don’t think this number will change very much on election day.
Having been recently redrawn, the 19 District is now more favorable to Democrats. If you look at a breakdown of the votes for Governor in 2016 in the new Senate 19 District, it was McCory 49, Cooper 48.8. This Meredith-deViere race has the potential to be that close. The wild-card is the ever increasing number of “unaffiliated voters” in Cumberland County. Unaffilated voters are 22.74% of the early vote in Senate 19. Can deViere win with a coalition of Democrats and unaffiliated voters?
If I’m being honest, my head thinks that Meredith will hold off deViere, but I’ve seen upsets in Cumberland County before. One happened in 1992 when I was 9 years old. Voters wanted change and elected a young attorney to the North Carolina House over an incumbent and former Mayor of Fayetteville. No one saw it coming. The lesson: upsets are driven by outside influences, political winds that push close races in one direction or another. The strongest wind is deep unrest and a desire for change. Meredith was elected in 2010 when these winds were pushing in his direction. The winds have shifted, and I’m going with gut feeling on this one:
DeViere will hold serve with Democrats and win enough unaffiliated voters to gain a significant early-vote advantage. DeViere and Meredith will be sweating election night returns as deViere’s lead dwindles, but in the end deViere pulls off the upset with a razor thin margin: 50.6-49.4.
NC House 44: Democrat Billy Richardson’s district is more favorable to a Democrat than Senate 19. You can take deViere’s total and add two or three percentage points to it and get Richardson’s share of the vote. Two years ago, Jim Arp came within a hair of taking out my old man. For the same reasons I’ve already stated, this is a better year for Democrats, and I believe party will TRUMP gender in the minds of female voters (See what I did there?) Richardson holds off Republican Linda Devore 53-47.
Cumberland County District Court Judge: This is an intriguing race with two Democratic Judges facing off county-wide. Incumbent Tal Baggett was endorsed by the local Democratic party, but Caitlin Young Evans has run a smart and tenacious campaign. Females have done well in Cumberland judicial races as of late, but I think Baggett will win with a combination of name recognition and a larger share of Republican and Independent voters. Judge Baggett keeps his seat 53-47.
Cumberland County Sheriff: This one is going to be a landslide. You can look at the Democratic and African American turnout in the early vote in Cumberland County and tell that no Democrat is going to lose a county-wide race. Ennis Wright remains our Sheriff by beating Charlie Baxley 60-40.
Cumberland County Clerk of Court: This race has some intrigue. Sitting Clerk Lisa Scales is facing Cindy Blackwell. Blackwell is a newcomer to Republican politics after changing parties to run in this race. Blackwell has spent $144,000 so far after her husband lent her campaign $115,000. Still, she faces the same problem as Charlie Baxley and every other Republican that tries to run county-wide in Cumberland. Lisa Scales will win 56-44.
Other NC General Assembly Races: Ben Clark (Senate 21), Marvin Lucas (House 42), Elmer Floyd (House 43), and John Szoka (House 45) are all in radically gerrymandered districts. They will all be re-elected without difficulty and in doing so demonstrate the downside of racial and partisan gerrymandering: these incumbents aren’t held accountable because they will never face a legitimate general election challenge.
Early voting enthusiasm for Cumberland Democrats will carry into election day giving Democrats an inherent advantage across the board. Democratic voters will combine with young, unaffilated voters to produce landslides for Democrats in county-wide races and tip the scales in close legislative races. Democrat Dan McCready uses these same trends to tip the 9th Congressional District in his favor.
Check back later this week for a breakdown of the results, and get out and vote if you haven’t already.