Patrick Gannon: Expert says GOP ‘very likely’ to retain General Assembly majorities

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 10, 2015

RALEIGH – I don’t have a crystal ball, but I bet I could tell you whether a Democrat or Republican will win election in at least 150 of the 170 state House and Senate districts in 2016.

With a little luck, I could probably guess at least a few more. How’s that possible 17 months before the election?

Easy. Just look at how voters in each district voted in partisan races the past few election cycles. That’s what the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation does routinely, and it comes up with what it calls its “Conventional Voter Behavior” (CVB) ratings for the 50 Senate and 120 House districts. The ratings define each district as either “competitive,” “strong” Republican or Democrat or “lean” Republican or Democrat.

This year’s ratings, which were just released by the Raleigh-based nonpartisan political research organization and take into account voter behavior in the 2014 elections, haven’t changed much at all from last year’s. And in 2014, the ratings were a remarkably accurate predictor of General Assembly election results.

In other words, if the foundation rated a district “lean” or “strong” Republican last year, a Republican almost always won there. The same is true on the Democratic side.

The new rankings foreshadow little movement in the partisan makeups of the House and Senate after 2016. Joe Stewart, the foundation’s executive director, said it appears “very likely” that the GOP will maintain its majority in the two chambers for two more years following the 2016 elections.

Whether Republicans will build on their majority or Democrats will gain ground depends on many factors, including the quality of candidates fielded by each party, who ends up in the presidential race and the resulting voter turnouts, whether Democrats field a strong challenger against U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and how much outside money gets spent on in the state, Stewart said.

The House currently has 74 Republicans, 45 Democrats and one unaffiliated member. The Senate has 34 Republicans and 16 Democrats.

In the Senate in 2014, Republicans won all 31 districts that the FreeEnterprise Foundation ranked lean or strong Republican. Democrats won in all 16 districts where the CVB ratings gave them an edge. Republicans won all three competitive districts.

In the House in 2014, Republicans won in all districts they were favored, except for three “lean” Republican districts. Democrats won in all 39 “lean” and “strong” Democratic districts. Of the nine “competitive” districts in the House, Republicans won five and Democrats took four.

If the foundation’s new ratings hold true in 2016, Republicans would win at least 73 seats in the House, not including any of the competitive districts. Democrats would win at least 39. The eight “competitive” districts will be where most of the money is spent and most of the attention focused. They are also where Democrats could pick up ground.

In the Senate, Republicans would win 30 seats, not including the four competitive districts, and Democrats would win at least 16.

Obviously, things can change. But in the vast majority of state legislative districts, unless your incumbent decides not to seek re-election, you’ll be stuck with him or her for two more years.

And depending on your politics, you’ll either be stuck – or blessed – with GOP rule in both the House and Senate for at least two more years beyond 2016. Democrats have way too much ground to make up and too few competitive districts in which to make a big push toward retaining the majority.

Chalk it up to gerrymandering