North Carolina was a legitimate swing state this year, having gone narrowly to President Barack Obama in 2008 and narrowly to his Republican challenger Mitt Romney in 2012.
The state leaned conservative this year, part of a series of swing state Republican flips that put presidential candidate Donald Trump over the top in the electoral college.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
“The split-ticket voter is apparently live and well here in North Carolina,” said Dr. Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science and history at Catawba College.
In an interview with Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon, Bitzer pointed to a series of Democratic wins in the state – most prominently Attorney General Roy Cooper, who finished election night about 5,000 votes ahead of Governor Pat McCrory in the gubernatorial race.
Democrat Josh Stein also beat out Republican Buck Newton for Attorney General. Newton, a central proponent of the controversial House Bill 2, was one of a number of Republicans who struggled to overcome opposition to the law.
Democratic Supreme Court candidate Mike Morgan also unseated Bob Edmunds, the Republican incumbent, by almost 10 points – one of election night’s big surprises. Though that race is officially non-partisan, the political left and right saw it as an important political battleground.
But with national attention on McCrory and his status as America’s most vulnerable governor, the gubernatorial race was one of the most watched in the nation.
Though many assumed a Trump win would carry McCrory, the governor took 62,902 fewer votes than his party’s presidential candidate statewide. That would suggest a number of Trump voters chose Cooper over McCrory – which is borne out in the county breakdowns as well. Cooper took all of the counties Clinton did but also won Granville, Jackson, Nash and New Hanover counties – all ground Trump took in the presidential contest.
But large, urban counties appear to have given Cooper the real edge, Bitzer said.
“I think certainly you have to look here in Mecklenburg County and Charlotte to see he lost a significant amount of votes to Roy Cooper,” Bitzer said.
“The combination of the I-77 toll roads in the Northern part of the county, a very Republican part of the county, combined with HB2 in the heart of deep blue Charlotte were the motivating factors to move Mecklenburg County so much against Pat McCrory,” Bitzer said.
McCrory has yet to concede – waiting for provisional and absentee ballots to be counted and suggesting he may request a recount. By the end of Wednesday about 44,400 provisional ballots had been reported in 69 counties, according to the state board of elections. But county election officials across the state say that with a margin of 5,000 votes, those ballots are unlikely to make much of a difference.
“If Pat McCrory needs 5,000…that’s a lot of votes to find in a statewide race,” said Kristin Mavromatis, Public Information Manager for Mecklenburg County Board of Elections. “People think ‘Oh, five thousand votes isn’t that much statewide.’ But his opponent is likely going to get the same percentage of the vote he got previously – so, we’re going to have to talk about a lot of votes.”
Mavromatis, who has been in elections since the early 90s, said in her experience a change that big due to provisional or absentee ballots would be so extraordinary as to be suspicious.
“That doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” she said. “We’ve all been surprised by results before. But statistically speaking, If the dynamic changes that much, somebody did something wrong. If it changes that much, one of my peers won’t have a job because something was wrong.”
Click below to hear more from Chris Fitzsimon’s interview with Dr. Michael Bitzer, as he discusses what pollsters and pundits missed this season and what’s ahead for President-elect Trump.
Also make plans to join NC Policy Watch next Wednesday, November 16: Making sense of the 2016 election: What happened? Why? What now?