State Democrats failed to win enough legislative districts Tuesday to wield greater influence in shaping laws and in drawing new Congressional and House and Senate district boundaries next year.
Instead of picking up seats in the state House, early results show that Democrats lost ground. In the state Senate, Democrats fell short of their aim to at least draw even with Republicans.
Republicans will control redistricting next year, and priorities Democrats have been trying to advance, such as Medicaid expansion, will continue to be stymied.
The Associated Press has not called three House races and one Senate race Wednesday morning, but it appears Republicans will not regain the veto-proof majorities they held during Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s one term and in the first two years of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s first term.
Cooper won a second term Tuesday.
That’s likely to mean little change in state governance, said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith University and director of the Meredith Poll.
“I think what we’re going to see is very much like we’ve seen over the last two years,” he said. “The Governor will use his veto liberally, and generally there will be party-line votes on overrides. The real issue is going to be redistricting, where the Governor, of course, has no power.”
Redistricting is entirely in the hands of the legislature because governors cannot veto redistricting bills.
Voting rights groups have turned to the courts to get changes in GOP-drawn voting districts. “I don’t think they have any other options than to use the same approach they have in the past,” McLennan said. “The Democrats have very little negotiating power on redistricting.”
At a news conference Tuesday, Senate leader Phil Berger said Republicans were able to win Tuesday in districts created after court intervention. “I hope this puts an end to the decade-long saga of redistricting lawsuits,” Berger said.
Republicans started Election Day with a 65-55 advantage in the state House, and a 29-21 advantage in the state Senate.
In the Senate, Democrats won two open seats where their candidates were the favorites: Democrats Sarah Crawford won a Wake County district and DeAndrea Salvador won a Mecklenburg County district.
Otherwise, Democrats lost contests they had been targeting, failing for example, to oust Republican Sen. Joyce Krawiec from a district that includes Forsyth and Davie counties, and GOP Sen. Bob Steinburg from a district in the state’s northeast corner.
A rematch between first-term incumbent Democrat Harper Peterson and Republican Michael Lee in New Hanover had not been called. Peterson trailed by 1.2 percentage points Wednesday morning.
In the House, Democratic incumbents Joe Sam Queen, Christy Clark, Ray Russell, Sydney Batch and Kimberly Hardy lost.
“I’m very proud that we’ve maintained our majority,” House Speaker Tim Moore said at the news conference. Moore said he wants to work with Democrats to build coalitions. “We know that our best days are those that we can always work together and try to find opportunities, to find joint needs and find joint solutions to those,” he said.
Wayne Goodwin, state Democratic Party chairman, noted there were some close races and more than 100,000 absentee ballots outstanding.
The election results reflect the nation’s hyperpartisan atmosphere, Goodwin said.
“This just shows the nationalization of our state politics,” he said. “We’re still hopeful with a number of close races, we will have additional victories.”