How Democrats, Republicans are battling for control of state House, Senate

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- While the presidential, senate, and gubernatorial races have garnered significant attention, both Republicans and Democrats are continuing to place significant attention on local races.

Republicans control both the state Senate and House, though their margins diminished during the 2018 elections where Democrats were able to break their veto-proof majority. Republicans control 29 of 50 state Senate seats and 65 of 120 House seats; that means Democrats would need to flip five Senate seats and six House seats to win both chambers.

"In 2018, (Democrats) got the easier districts. You saw in Wake County, for example, in Mecklenburg County, Democrats did very well. So, now they're left with races (that) are more competitive but still don't favor Democratic candidates. They'll pick up a few (seats) I think in each chamber. I'd say the likelihood of them (winning) the Senate, which is more likely than the House, is maybe 50/50," said Meredith College political science professor David McLennan.

Democratic advantages in urban strongholds such as the Triangle, Mecklenburg, and Greensboro make a big impact in statewide races; however, Republicans have long dominated rural counties, giving them an edge in local races.

"(Democrats have) got to go to what are called outer-ring counties. These are areas that are relatively close to metropolitan areas but are not considered to be suburban counties," said McLennan, who used Granville, Cabarrus, and Union counties as examples.

The pandemic has altered both parties' ability to campaign, though NCGOP spokesman Tim Wigginton pointed to years-long ground-game efforts making an impact.

"After 2016, the NCGOP, the RNC, the Trump campaign, they didn't leave. We stayed on the ground. We were still registering voters. And you're starting to see the results of that now. There's (108,000) more registered Republican voters now than there was in 2016," Wigginton said. "A large part of that is because we didn't stop registering people, we didn't stop engaging. So now, we've increased our voter pool and we're now turning them out to vote."

Wigginton also said frequent visits by President Donald Trump, combined with Sen. Thom Tillis being more visible than scandal-plagued Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham during the past month, could assist lesser-known candidates.

"You see Republicans are out there engaging voters right now and that's going to help push out Republican turnout, which is good for everybody down the ballot," Wigginton said. "But also our statehouse candidates, we have a good mail program. We have good door-knocking programs, micro-targeting programs. As we increase turnout, we're able to talk to go (out) in the local level and talk to people face-to-face, to make up for any lack of visibility they may have."

North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin downplayed the effect of President Trump's trips to the state.

"I don't think Trump having these rallies are doing anything more than speaking to a sphere of folks who are already voting for him. He's not making his case to anybody new," Goodwin said.

Goodwin, who himself is on the ballot (running for insurance commissioner) said he believes Democrats have effectively unified behind several issues, making it easier for voters to support down-ballot candidates that they may not be familiar with.

"What we do is we break it down into (the) simplest of terms. When you see these different names on the ballot, we're going to say, look -- what you actually see on the ballot is healthcare. Which party's candidates supports protecting your healthcare? Which party's candidates support protecting Social Security? Which party's candidates support protecting Medicare. Which party's candidates believe in clean water and clean air, and having a government that speaks up for you and fights for you, and not divide us," Goodwin said.

North Carolina, a swing state with several high-profile races, has attracted a number of outside advocacy groups to help supplement the parties' efforts.

"They have limited resources and they have to spread the resources out to the presidential candidates, gubernatorial candidates, the Senate candidates, even the judicial candidates. The State Supreme Court is an important seat that the parties are contesting. But there are third-party groups that have gotten really involved in legislative races," McLennan said.

Simply getting voters to the polls is the bulk of the battle; Pew Research reports just 4% of registered voters plan to submit a split ticket, meaning they would support the presidential choice of one party and the Senate candidate of another.
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