After weeks of uncertainty in races across state and federal levels, we now have some sense of the results of the 2020 Election. Granted, there are still some races up in the air—particularly the U.S. Senate races in the state of Georgia—but in North Carolina, things are finally a bit more concrete and definitive.
The North Carolina General Assembly kept its Republican majorities, and there were some significant changes in our state’s judicial branch. NC Family President John L. Rustin and Director of Community Impact Jere Royall sat down to unpack the various results of this election, and their analysis is featured on this week’s episode of the Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast.
“I think one of the most amazing results and unexpected results that we saw,” says Rustin, “is, as it appears now, that Republicans actually swept the eight seats that were up on North Carolina Appellate Courts, the State Supreme Court, and the State Court of Appeals.” And, as NC Family shared early this week, the race for Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court appears to have been won by Republican Justice Paul Newby, though Democratic Justice Cheri Beasley has requested another recount.
Incumbent Democratic Governor Roy Cooper defeated Republican challenger Dan Forest by a 4.5% margin, though Rustin points out that the COVID-19 pandemic might have helped swing the race more in favor of Governor Cooper. “When COVID hit, it really put quite a damper on [Forest’s] ability to conduct this grassroots style campaigning that he’s been doing for years,” says Rusin. “Early on in the virus,” adds Royall, “because of I think his presence on TV a lot, I think his approval rating was over 70 percent at one point.”
“We’re going to likely see some continued gridlock in the legislature,” says Rustin. “Governor Cooper is going to continue to veto bills that don’t meet his issue criteria. And the legislature may continue to try to override those vetoes, and certainly will pass legislation that is consistent with the Republican majority. And so, it’s going to be an interesting next two years. Certainly, there will be some challenges, but there will also be some great opportunities there.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear John Rustin and Jere Royall analyze some of the surprising and expected results of the 2020 Election.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. I’m John Rustin, President of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, and I’m excited to be joined by our Counsel and Director of Community Impact, Jere Royall. We’re going to depart a little bit from our typical format in today’s program because we’re going to talk about the election results from the 2020 General Election.
Well, Jere, thanks for being with us. Man, this was quite an election season, wasn’t it?
JERE ROYALL: It was a very challenging time and a lot of unique circumstances leading up to the election.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well on all fronts nationally, and then on the state level, and certainly with North Carolina’s increased prominence in the national election scene, I mean, we’re one of the top three most competitive states in the country, and that has brought a lot of attention, a big spotlight, and a lot of money on our state. I mean, there were just hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into North Carolina from outside groups, from the national parties, and from the candidates’ campaigns to try to persuade voters to support them. And as expected, a lot of these statewide elections in North Carolina were going to be won or lost by a razor thin margin. And that’s pretty much what we saw.
JERE ROYALL: Exactly. And like you say, we see a lot of the national interest. I think we have the distinction, which I think we had in the last Senate race that Senator Tillis was running in, as the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history.
JOHN RUSTIN: So, Jere, one of the interesting things that we saw in North Carolina, especially as we were waiting for the election results in the presidential race, was to get a final vote count in North Carolina and see which way our state went—whether North Carolina was going to go in Trump’s direction again, or was going to support former Vice President Joe Biden. So, what happened? I mean, what do we see there, and why was North Carolina one of the last states to actually announce who won in the presidential race?
JERE ROYALL: And again, that was part of the unique circumstances leading up to the election. Our state legislature recognized that there were going to be some unique situations as far as people trying to cast ballots and concerned about their health and the virus. And so, they made new allowances in the state law, as far as how the elections would be conducted in receiving mail-in ballots. They were going to allow the ballots, as long as they were postmarked by election day, to be received within three days after the election and still be counted. And that was passed by Republicans and Democrats and signed by Governor Cooper.
But then there was a court challenge to that law. The effort was to extend that time out, and that court effort was successful. The Governor and the State Board of Elections and Attorney General, I believe, all were involved with a consent agreement, which extended the time instead of just three days after the election all the way out till the 12th of November. And so, that’s why North Carolina was slower than most in showing what their final vote tally would be.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, it was really interesting. And I think we were in some respects sitting on pins and needles because the national presidential race was so close, but North Carolina was one of the last and one of the closest states with respect to that. In fact, Donald Trump won in North Carolina with just a few less than 75,000 votes out of over five-and-a-half million votes cast, which is really remarkable to have such a close race here. Of course, the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Thom Tillis and Democrat challenger Cal Cunningham was relatively close, although it was decided by about 95,000 votes in favor of Senator Tillis.
In these other Congressional races, pretty much all the incumbents that were running for re-election to the U.S. House got re-elected. There were two districts that formally were held by Republican representatives, one U.S. House District 2 that was held by George Holding, and then U.S. House District 6 that was held by Mark Walker. Both of these incumbents decided not to run again after there was redistricting and these districts changed. And that was court-ordered redistricting that required that the district maps be withdrawn and change these districts really from leaning Republican districts to leaning Democrat districts. And sure enough, what we saw in these districts is that the Democrats won. And so, our Congressional Delegation, which is 13 members, shifted from 10 Republicans and three Democrats to eight Republicans and five Democrats. So, it was interesting to see how redistricting sort of impacted the ultimate outcome of these elections, especially in those two districts.
JERE ROYALL: And I don’t know, just to briefly mention too, overall, even though in North Carolina the numbers changed with more Democrats now serving in the House that overall across the country Republicans actually gained seats in the House of Representatives, which again, according to polling, was a big surprise to a lot of people.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, exactly. And also, you know, we’re still waiting to see what the makeup of the United States Senate is going to look like too. It’s still fairly close now. There are two runoff elections in the state of Georgia. Folks are really sitting on pins and needles waiting to see what the outcome of those races are. Those elections are in early January, and so they could be really pivotal in determining what the majority makeup of the United States Senate looks like. And with a presumed Biden-Harris Administration, along with—although by a much slimmer margin—a Democrat majority in the United States House, having a Republican majority in the United States Senate is going to create this divided government that we hear so much about that is going to keep things from going too far left, but also from going far to the right as well. So, it’s going to be interesting to see, and there will be a tremendous amount of additional money and additional attention focused on Georgia as these two U.S. Senate races continue to develop.
JERE ROYALL: Exactly. And so, that’ll be January. So, I guess right now with the current makeup of the Senate, 53 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and now with Georgia still outstanding, it’s 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. So, you’re right, it literally, you know, could be a tie depending on how the Republicans do. They’re going to lose at least one seat in the Senate, the way things stand now.
JOHN RUSTIN: Yeah. Well, on the statewide races in North Carolina that are more state-specific, I think one of the most amazing results and unexpected results that we saw is, as it appears now, that Republicans actually swept the eight seats that were up on North Carolina Appellate Courts, the State Supreme Court, and the State Court of Appeals. One of those races, the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, is still in the process of a recount right now, as we are recording this, and Republican Paul Newby, who’s been on the Supreme Court already is facing Democrat, Cheri Beasley, who is the current Chief Justice. And Justice Newby leads that race by 420 votes, again as we’re recording this right now. So, the counties are in the process of doing recounts and reporting those recounts to the State Board of Elections. And that process will continue, again as we’re recording this, for a couple of more days. So, it’s going to be very interesting to see that.
But, if Justice Newby holds on to that, a victory in that seat, then we will have seen Republicans win three out of three races for the North Carolina Supreme Court and five out of five races for the North Carolina Court of Appeals. So, that’s pretty remarkable. And again, I would say quite unexpected in all of those races. They weren’t quite as close as the Chief Justice race, but were decided by just a few percentage points, all of them very close. So, what do you glean from that, Jere?
JERE ROYALL: Well, I think North Carolina has had a history, I think, of electing Republicans into the Appellate Court seats. They were listed as Republican or Democrat years ago, and then they changed and didn’t list party affiliation for a few years, and things changed some. During most of that time, I think like the Supreme Court went from four Republicans and three Democrats to its current makeup of Justice Newby being the one Republican and six Democrats. Like you say, with the returns, if they stay where they are now, that’ll change back in the other direction to being three Republicans and four Democrats.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, it’s going to be just very interesting to continue to watch that, certainly not to overshadow other races like the race for governor in North Carolina. Of course, current Governor Roy Cooper won re-election beating Republican challenger and former Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest by about 240,000 votes. That was one of the largest margins that we saw in a statewide race. And I really think in this race that the sheer amount of money that the current Governor Roy Cooper raised and spent was just astronomical in comparison to what Dan Forest spent. And I think Dan Forest, much of his campaign strategy was built on a grassroots campaign style, where he would go out and around the state meeting with groups of people, large and small, to help educate them about who he was, what he stands for, and that sort of thing.
But when COVID hit, it really put quite a damper on his ability to conduct this grassroots style campaigning that he’s been doing for years. And so, I’m sure that was an impact, but just seeing the sheer amount of money that Roy Cooper spent compared to what Dan Forest spent. I mean, it may have been 10 times, you know, 10 to one advantage for Cooper. And also, with respect to COVID, Roy Cooper was on TV a lot and on the radio a lot with these almost daily press conferences that they were having with COVID updates and things of that nature. So, that really was an issue that played a pretty substantial role overall in this campaign.
JERE ROYALL: Definitely, I mean, early on in the virus, because of I think his presence on TV a lot, I think his approval rating was over 70 percent at one point. And that did change as time went on, but even again, leading up to the election, right at election time, a lot of the polling was showing Governor Cooper ahead by 10 or more points. And, like you say, the numbers I saw on spending, it’s like over 50 million compared to four and a half million for Dan Forest, and then you only see a final vote difference of four-and-a-half percent.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s pretty remarkable.
JERE ROYALL: It is. It’s incredible.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, and as we look down these other Council of State races, the race for Lieutenant Governor, of course, Mark Robinson won that race. Then we have Josh Stein, a Democrat incumbent for Attorney General, who narrowly appears to have won that race by a margin of just over 10,000 votes. I’m also looking at the state legislature.
The State Senate went into this election with a 29 to 21 Republican majority. And the State House went into this election with a 65 Republican majority and 55 Democrats. And expectations were that those margins were actually going to shrink down because the expectations were that these races were going to be very close and that the Democrats were likely going to pick up some seats in both chambers of the legislature. And what happens or what appears to have happened, Republicans only lost one seat in the State Senate. So, the 29 to 21 majority shrunk down to a 28 to 22 majority Republican. But in the State House, Republicans actually picked up what appears to be four seats, increasing their majority from 65-55 to 69-51, which is pretty remarkable and pretty unexpected.
I wouldn’t call it a Republican landslide or a Republican tidal wave by any means, but it certainly was a Republican friendly high tide that brought in a lot more Republicans and a lot more Republican victories than what was expected. We’re going to likely see some continued gridlock in the legislature. Governor Cooper is going to continue to veto bills that don’t meet his issue criteria. And the legislature may continue to try to override those vetoes, and certainly will pass legislation that is consistent with the Republican majority. And so, it’s going to be an interesting next two years. Certainly, there will be some challenges, but there certainly will also be some great opportunities there.
Jere with that, unfortunately we’re out of time, but I want to thank you for being with us today. Thanks so much for all your great insights and for your just faithful service at the Family Policy Council. We appreciate that so much.
JERE ROYALL: Thank you for your leadership, and thank you all for your efforts and working together with us. It’s vital, and we are greatly encouraged by all that you do.
JOHN RUSTIN: Yep. I agree. So, listeners, thanks so much for your support and make sure that you tune in next week to Family Policy Matters. Thanks, and God bless.
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