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Wave Sweeps GOP to Control of N.C. Legislature
By Bryan Warner
Published: Nov. 3, 2010
RALEIGH - For the first time since 1898, Republicans will hold a majority of seats in both the N.C. House and N.C. Senate when lawmakers return to Raleigh in January.
On an election night that saw Republicans win back the U.S. House for the first time since 2006 and pick up seats in the U.S. Senate, the state GOP flipped control of the N.C. General Assembly.
Unofficial results indicate that Republicans will enjoy a 31-19 margin in the N.C. Senate. With four N.C. House races still too close to call, Republicans may have somewhere between a 66-54 and 70-50 advantage in that body. If those numbers hold, Republicans will have a veto-proof majority in the N.C. Senate, but fall at least two votes shy of the three-fifths needed in the N.C. House to override a veto by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.
Before the election, Democrats held a 68-52 and a 30-20 advantage in the respective chambers.
North Carolina was one of 12 states that saw partisan control change hands in at least one house, and was one of five states to see both chambers flip, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The change in partisan control of the N.C. legislature comes at a critical time, as next year lawmakers will take up redistricting based on the latest U.S. census. That process will draw congressional and legislative voting maps for the next decade and could play a significant role in the outcome of elections for years to come.
The newly minted Republican majority will also face a looming $3.5 billion budget shortfall and uncertain federal financial support for such programs as Medicaid.
On a night when Republicans surpassed their U.S. House gains of 1994, North Carolina’s Democratic congressional incumbents were spared the losses seen in other states. The only exception appeared to be Rep. Bob Etheridge. Unofficial results indicate that he lost his reelection bid by less than 2,000 votes to Republican challenger Renee Ellmers. A recount is likely in this race where about 188,000 votes were cast.
All five of the state’s incumbent Republican members of Congress won reelection, as did U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who defeated Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, 54-42 percent. That race saw Burr hold a significant fund raising advantage over Marshall, who emerged from a contentious Democratic primary election that stretched into late June.
In North Carolina’s judicial races, Judge Barbara Jackson won a seat on the N.C. Supreme Court over fellow N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Bob Hunter. With Jackson’s win, women will comprise a majority on the state’s highest court, including Chief Justice Sarah Parker.
All four incumbent N.C. Court of Appeals judges up for reelection won another eight-year term.
In the race to fill the appeals court seat vacated by Judge Jim Wynn, Judge Cressie Thigpen -- appointed by Perdue to fill the seat until the election -- and former N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Doug McCullough led the crowded field of 13 candidates, with 20 percent and 15 percent of the vote, respectively. Though judicial races are nonpartisan, Thigpen enjoyed the support of the state Democratic Party and McCullough received the backing of state Republicans.
In this race, voters were given the chance to rank their top three choices in order of preference. This was the first time in the nation that “instant runoff voting” has been used on a statewide basis.
As the top two vote getters, Thigpen and McCullough will face off in an “instant runoff,” during which, ballots where eliminated candidates are ranked first will be examined to see which of the two remaining contenders is ranked higher.
By an 85-14 percent margin, North Carolina voters approved a state constitutional amendment barring convicted felons from running for sheriff. The proposal came about after six convicted felons ran, and lost, in primary races for sheriff earlier this year.
Voter turnout appeared to be about 43 percent in this year’s election, which would be on par with most midterm elections in the past three decades, according to the State Board of Elections. Turnout was at 47 percent in 2002 and 37 percent in 2006, a year without a U.S. Senate race on the ballot. The 2008 presidential election saw 70 percent turnout in North Carolina.