Republican businessman Donald Trump shocked the world Tuesday night and his upset victory provided surprising coattails that swept many Republicans into office in North Carolina, neutralizing what was widely expected to be a year of Democratic gains in Congress and the General Assembly.
Instead Republicans rode the Trump wave to maintain control of the U.S. Senate and easily keep their supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature in Raleigh.
The glaring exception was Republican Governor Pat McCrory who at the end of the night remained roughly 5,000 votes behind his challenger, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.
McCrory told his supporters that the race wouldn’t be decided until a statewide canvass of votes was completed, which could take ten days. He also questioned the late reporting of more than 90,000 early votes from Durham County where technical issues marred the election process earlier in the day and resulted in the State Board of Elections allowing several precincts to stay open later than the 7:30 statewide closing time.
McCrory claimed that the votes “appeared” and some of the GOP faithful raised questions about the votes from the heavily Democratic area without mentioning that the elections were controlled by Republicans at every level of the process.
Cooper claimed victory and it’s unlikely that a canvass and the counting of provisional ballots will change the result.
Cooper is likely to face a Republican state House and Senate next year emboldened by their victories with one notable exception, their support of the anti-LGBT law HB2 that has written discrimination into the law and cost North Carolina tens of thousands of jobs while damaging the state’s reputation around the world.
Cooper ran hard against HB2 and blasted McCrory for supporting it as businesses cancelled planned expansions or bypassed North Carolina and sporting events left the state in droves.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that McCrory didn’t really lose the governor’s race Tuesday night, he lost it last March when he signed HB2 into law in the dark of night after lawmakers passed it in a rushed special session, setting off a firestorm of protest and outrage across the county.
There’s really no other explanation in what turned out to be an overwhelmingly Republican year. McCrory at first wavered on why he supported the law but at the end was all in, embracing the arguments of the leaders of the religious right who he frequently appeared with during the waning days of the campaign.
HB2 also likely cost Republicans another Council of State seat as Democrat Josh Stein narrowly defeated Republican state Senator Buck Newtown in the attorney general’s race, though a recount in that contest is also still possible.
Newton was a primary sponsor of HB2 and famously proclaimed he wanted to “keep North Carolina straight.”
Stein was a polished candidate who ran an effective campaign but this was an evening where Republicans upset Democratic incumbents in races for insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction where the challengers barely mounted campaigns at all.
This was unquestionably a Republican night, Trump’s night, and yet McCrory and Newton couldn’t overcome their support of HB2 that kept them from being part of the wave.
Republicans won every race for the N.C. Court of Appeals where candidates’ partisan labels appeared on the ballot for the first time. Democrats also lost the race for state treasurer where Republican Dale Folwell defeated Dan Blue III.
There was one other important silver lining for Democrats. They gained control of the N.C Supreme Court as Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan defeated incumbent Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds for the only seat up for election this year. Partisan labels were not listed with those candidates.
That’s no small triumph but most Democrats went home from election parties Tuesday night shaking their heads in disbelief as Republicans celebrated their victory—though some of them were surely wondering what to expect from the president they helped elect in one of the most stunning results in recent history.