For much of the last decade, Republicans have maintained a stranglehold on North Carolina’s state legislature. With Republican supermajorities in both the state House and Senate, Democrats have had no means to push back on laws that they oppose, even when Democrat Roy Cooper was elected governor of the state in 2016.
But this year, Democrats see an opportunity to break Republican supermajorities in one or both chambers, unlocking the governor’s veto, and potentially restoring the balance of power to what’s widely considered a purple state once again.
In Wake County, six legislative races will be key in helping Democrats pick up the six Senate seats and four House seats that they need. Democrats particularly like their chances in Senate Districts 15, 17 and 18, as well as in House Districts 35, 36 and 37.
“Both Sam Searcy [SD 17] and Mack Paul [SD 18] are running strong campaigns and have an excellent chance to win,” said Rebecca Llewellyn, the chair of the Wake County Democratic Party, in an email to Raleigh Magazine. Searcy and Paul are running against GOP incumbent Sens. Tamara Barringer, an attorney and UNC professor, and John Alexander, who owns a trucking company, respectively. “Jay Chaudhuri is an incumbent Senator who was drawn into a new district [SD 15]. He is working hard to get to know his new constituents and is expected to remain in the Senate.” Chaudhuri, an attorney, faces Republican Alan Michael, a sales rep at Leith Chrysler Jeep.
In the House, Llewellyn says Democratic candidates Julie von Haefen [HD 36], Sydney Batch [HD 37] and Terence Everitt [HD 35] are poised to take seats.
“Julie is a leading public school advocate,” Llewellyn said. “Sydney is an attorney and a fierce supporter of access to affordable healthcare for everyone. Terence…is strong on issues such as teacher pay, the environment and small business needs.” The candidates face incumbent GOP Reps. Nelson Dollar, a media and public relations consultant, John Adcock, a small business owner, and Chris Malone, a case manager for an insurance company.
Llewellyn identifies education, the environment and affordable healthcare as being among the top issues for Wake voters. She says she believes partisan gerrymandering and the protection of voting rights will drive voters out to the polls to vote for Democrats this year.
“Our volunteers are out in force to help educate voters,” Llewellyn said. “Since the GOP has held a supermajority in the General Assembly we have seen damaging bills that hurt public education, a disregard for women’s healthcare, strict voter suppression laws, and discriminatory bills such as HB2.”
But Republicans won’t give up these seats without a fight, and they think they have some chances for pickups of their own in a handful of Wake’s legislative districts, including in House Districts 38, 39, 40 and 41. They tout strong candidates such as Marilyn Avila, a former state representative, Emmanuel Wilder, a system analyst at Red Hat who is young and African American, and Rhonda Allen, a gun rights activist.
Charles Hellwig, the chair of the Wake County Republican party, acknowledges that Democrats are fired up this cycle and says it will all come down to how motivated voters are on either side of the aisle, and who can pick off the most unaffiliated voters. To that end, Republican volunteers are knocking on doors across the county in greater numbers, even, than in 2016.
“The Democrats hate Trump and are mad about a lot of things this year,” Hellwig says. “So candidates are polling neck and neck in what used to be solid Republican districts. We have good things going on, and we think a lot of people are happy with the General Assembly, but we want all Republican voters to get out this cycle. If they sit back and think things are great, we will get whupped.”
Early voting begins October 17 at locations across Wake County. Election Day is November 6. Find out more at wakegov.com/elections/info.