Will Charlotte’s Riots Hurt North Carolina Democrats?

Republicans could benefit from a backlash after vandalism in the affluent downtown.

North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Deborah Ross speaks at a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton in Charlotte in July.
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Oct. 2, 2016, 6 a.m.

Don­ald Trump needs to win North Car­o­lina to have a chance of be­com­ing the next pres­id­ent. But Demo­crats have more than just the pres­id­ency on the line in the state’s elec­tions. If their base’s lib­er­al act­iv­ism on poli­cing and race re­la­tions is a polit­ic­al win­ner, they’ll need to prove it in a swing state where re­cent race ri­ots have dis­rup­ted the state’s polit­ics six weeks be­fore the elec­tion.

North Car­o­lina, which has voted Re­pub­lic­an in five of the last six pres­id­en­tial elec­tions, was re­cently look­ing like a bright spot for Demo­crats. Hil­lary Clin­ton has nar­rowly led in many state polls, and is spend­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate time in the state to turn it blue. Des­pite dis­ap­point­ing show­ings so far in oth­er high-pro­file Sen­ate races, Demo­crats have been thrilled by the cam­paign of former state le­gis­lat­or De­borah Ross, who is run­ning com­pet­it­ively against two-term Sen. Richard Burr. In the gov­ernor’s race, state At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Roy Cooper has been con­sist­ently lead­ing the Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bent, Pat Mc­Crory, cap­it­al­iz­ing on lib­er­al op­pos­i­tion to le­gis­la­tion reg­u­lat­ing which bath­rooms people can use.

But Demo­crats are a grow­ing a bit jit­tery after last week’s ri­ots in the heart of down­town Char­lotte. To win North Car­o­lina, Demo­crats need to gen­er­ate a strong black turnout and flip sub­urb­an white voters away from the GOP. With Trump head­ing the GOP tick­et, North Car­o­lina Demo­crats were con­fid­ent they could do both. But with the re­cent chaos in Char­lotte, the second part of the equa­tion is now less cer­tain—es­pe­cially in the Sen­ate and gubernat­ori­al con­tests.

Re­mem­ber: It was the GOP-lean­ing busi­ness com­munity that bolted from the party on the bath­room bill, prompt­ing sev­er­al sports leagues to move events out of the state. But it’s that same busi­ness-friendly con­stitu­ency that watched in hor­ror as shops were van­dal­ized in down­town Char­lotte. Un­like many of the ri­ots that oc­curred in poorer parts of oth­er cit­ies, this one happened in its af­flu­ent core.

Des­pite its di­versity, North Car­o­lina is one of the more ra­cially po­lar­ized states in the coun­try. In 2012, Pres­id­ent Obama won only 31 per­cent of the white vote, while car­ry­ing a whop­ping 96 per­cent share of the Afric­an-Amer­ic­an vote. In 2014, then-Sen. Kay Hagan did slightly bet­ter with white voters (33 per­cent), but the dropoff in black turnout al­lowed the GOP to win the Sen­ate race. Demo­crats are hop­ing that race-re­lated is­sues will re­mo­bil­ize the Afric­an-Amer­ic­an com­munity, but they also could cause the party’s share of the white vote to fall even fur­ther.

If the cul­ture wars now de­cis­ively fa­vor Demo­crats, a statewide sweep this year would of­fer a clear sign that the party would be stra­tegic­ally se­cure veer­ing to the left on so­cial is­sues. But if Burr and Mc­Crory come from be­hind to hold a Sen­ate seat and the gov­ernor’s man­sion for the Re­pub­lic­ans, it would be a sig­nal of a back­lash.


1. For a clear sign that there’s no anti-Trump wave emer­ging, just fol­low the money in battle­ground House races. Demo­crats hoped that a mass re­vul­sion among sub­urb­an voters would jeop­ard­ize many pre­vi­ously safe House Re­pub­lic­ans, giv­ing them an out­side shot at the ma­jor­ity. In­stead, Demo­crats are lower­ing their sights, pulling money away from some top re­cruits be­cause Trump is prov­ing to be less of a drag on swing-seat Re­pub­lic­ans than they ex­pec­ted.

Rep. Erik Paulsen of Min­nesota, run­ning in a sub­urb­an Twin Cit­ies dis­trict that Obama car­ried twice, now looks like the clear fa­vor­ite against Demo­crat­ic state Sen. Terri Bonoff. House Ma­jor­ity PAC, the of­fi­cial Demo­crat­ic su­per PAC for House races, can­celed its TV re­ser­va­tions in the dis­trict—even as the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee has been air­ing ads con­nect­ing Paulsen to Trump. In a sub­urb­an Wis­con­sin seat be­ing va­cated by GOP Rep. Re­id Ribble, Demo­crats have pulled a week’s worth of ad time for prized re­cruit Tom Nel­son, who has un­der­per­formed against Re­pub­lic­an Mike Galla­gh­er, an Ir­aq war vet­er­an.

An­oth­er sign of sig­ni­fic­ant split-tick­et vot­ing: A poll re­leased by the cam­paign of Lu­Ann Ben­nett, the Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger to GOP Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock of Vir­gin­ia, shows the in­cum­bent lead­ing by 4 points—even as Hil­lary Clin­ton is rout­ing Trump by 14 points in the sub­urb­an Wash­ing­ton dis­trict. That’s a whop­ping 18-point swing from the pres­id­en­tial bal­lot.

In fact, Trump may even of­fer pos­it­ive coat­tails to one of the most en­dangered House Re­pub­lic­ans. The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port just up­graded the pro­spects of fresh­man Rep. Rod Blum of Iowa, who is look­ing in bet­ter shape be­cause Trump is ex­pec­ted to carry his east­ern Iowa dis­trict. Blum, a con­ser­vat­ive firebrand, was the heavy un­der­dog in a dis­trict that Pres­id­ent Obama car­ried with 56 per­cent of the vote in 2012.

2. One bright spot for Demo­crats this year is red-state Mis­souri. Trump is ex­pec­ted to win com­fort­ably in the pres­id­en­tial race, but Re­pub­lic­ans are strug­gling to take back the gov­ernor­ship and hold a crit­ic­al Sen­ate seat that could de­term­ine which party con­trols the up­per cham­ber in 2017.

A Re­pub­lic­an op­er­at­ive fa­mil­i­ar with Sen. Roy Blunt’s polling told Na­tion­al Journ­al that the in­cum­bent leads Demo­crat Jason Kander by only 1 point—con­sist­ent with re­cent pub­lic polling show­ing the race as a stat­ist­ic­al dead heat. Blunt’s biggest prob­lem is that he is a dated sym­bol of the GOP es­tab­lish­ment (he served in House lead­er­ship with Den­nis Hastert and Tom DeLay) at a time when voters are look­ing for fresh­er faces. The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port moved the race in­to toss-up ter­rit­ory this week.

In the gov­ernor’s race, a new Re­m­ing­ton Re­search Group sur­vey found Demo­crat­ic state At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Chris Koster lead­ing Re­pub­lic­an Ir­aq war vet­er­an Eric Greit­ens by 16 points. It’s an ex­ample of how gov­ernor’s con­tests of­ten op­er­ate on a sep­ar­ate track from fed­er­al races. Koster, who switched parties to be­come a Demo­crat, was en­dorsed by the Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation and has been tout­ing his bi­par­tis­an cre­den­tials throughout the cam­paign.

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