North Carolina’s 2020 elections could alter the Senate
North Carolina has two Republican senators, but both could be ousted in November.
With Vice President Joe Biden beating President Donald Trump in polls in key battleground states, Democrats hope that the momentum can trickle to their tight Senate races to flip the upper chamber of Congress.
Republicans currently hold a majority of 53 seats out of 100.
For Democrats to take the majority in 2020, they will have to win four Republican seats, or just three if they claim the White House because the vice president is the tie-breaking vote in the chamber.
The road to gaining control of the Senate might be through the Tar Heel state of North Carolina.
Republicans know this because their national convention was going to be held in the state’s capital, Charlotte. President Trump moved the convention to Jacksonville, Florida after North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper suggested the event continuing as planned was “very unlikely.”
Cal Cunningham, who is the Democrtic challenger to Thom Tillis, is a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Reserve and former state senator. It’s not his first rodeo, as he ran in the Democratic primary for Senate in 2010, but placed second. This time around, he won his primary with 57% of the vote and the rest being split between four other candidates.
This year will be Tillis’ first Senate reelection campaign, and although he enjoyed decent fundraising numbers in 2019, he is starting to significantly fall behind his competition.
In the first quarter of 2020, Cunningham raised $4.4 million which was more than double that of his opponent.
In the second quarter that ended on June 30, he set a new record for North Carolina Senate elections by raising $7 million in a three-month span.
With the President’s approval rating continuing to fall, Tillis and his voting record have not distanced themselves from him. FiveThirtyEight found that during his time in the Senate, Tillis has voted in line with Trump’s positions 93.3% of the time.
Tillis’ far-right comments and stances will not sit well with the increasing number of young professionals moving to the Raleigh, Durham, and Charlotte metro areas.
“What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance,” Tillis said at a campaign rally before suggesting that low income people who receive benefits should be drug tested.
One of the issues that Tillis has been moderate about is immigration. This is probably down to the influx of Latinx people coming to the Tar Heel state — about 200,000 came between 2010 and 2018. They also now make up nearly 10% of the state’s population.
“When the president announced he was phasing out DACA in late 2017, I introduced the SUCCEED Act which offers a merit-based process for the DACA-eligible population to earn a 10 to 12-year path to citizenship as long as they work hard, contribute to their communities, and follow the law,” Tillis wrote in an op-ed for The Hill.
In 2014, Tillis won his race without reaching a majority of the vote as he only obtained 48.87%, meaning he has the lowest winning percentage in North Carolina election history and therefore, vulnerable to an opponent like Cuningham.
Richard Burr is a three-term senator who is not up for reelection this year, but a recent scandal could send him packing. Both he and fellow U.S. Senator from Georgia, Kelly Loeffler, were briefed on the novel coronavirus before the economic downturn and sold off stocks worth millions beforehand.
Both senators went against the 2012 Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act because although elected officials are allowed to buy and sell stock, they are not to use non-public information to turn a private profit.
Loeffler was appointed to her seat by Brian Kemp in December 2019 and she is running in a special election this year. Her main challenger is fellow Republican congressman Doug Collins.
Burr stepped down from his position as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee while his stock sales are being investigated by the Department of Justice.
The Charlotte Observer reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation also took his cell phone and issued a search warrant for his residence in Washington D.C.
If all of the pressure surrounding his investigation makes Burr resign from his Senate seat one would assume that Gov. Cooper could simply appoint a Democrat to fill the void, but the state legislature barred him from doing that in 2018.
“Cooper must choose from ‘a list of three persons recommended by the State executive committee of the political party’ of the outgoing senator. That gives Republicans, in this case, a much tighter grip on who gets the seat,” The News & Observer explained of the governor’s challenges if he had to replace Burr.
If Cunningham pulls off a victory in his close race and Gov. Cooper wins reelection this year, then the Republican who fills Burr’s place will be weak in the 2022 midterms.
Cunningham’s victory will lead Democratic donors to continue to invest in the Tar Heel state as he proved that he could flip an important seat. Giving Cooper another term will allow him time to get rid of the 2018 law so it doesn’t affect future races.
North Carolina will be a state that every political analyst keeps their eye on from now to November and beyond.