• January 27, 2021
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*DISCLAIMER: These are the author’s personal ratings and analysis. They do not represent any form of endorsement or support of a certain party or candidate from The Mycenaean.*

The Impact

With 2020 shaping up to be one of the most monumental elections of the decade, neither party is letting their guard down. With the deadline to report fundraising totals passing on the 27th, candidates in key House races around the state have been flexing their totals. However, in the end it looks as though Democrats have won. In most every competitive State House race, Democrats have come out on top when it comes to war chests. 

More often than not in these down ballot races, most of the money spent in them comes from political parties or PACs. The Republican and Deomcratic Parties of North Carolina have spent millions of dollars on these races for one big reason: redistricting. 

It’s 2020 meaning that the census has come and gone, and states will be able to redraw their congressional and state legislative districts come 2021. North Carolina is the poster child for gerrymandering, with both parties doing it for decades. 

However, when Republicans gained control in 2010 they drew extreme lines. Since then the courts have struck down the maps, and Republicans have redrawn them three times. Whoever draws the lines can decide how many Republicans and Democrats the state will send to DC as well as Raleigh. 

If Republicans keep control of both the State House and Senate, they’ll more than likely gerrymander the state again.

If Democrats win control of just one chamber, then they’d have to negotiate with Republicans to draw a map.

If Democrats win both chambers then, they’ve promised to pass independent redistricting reforms, but whether they’d follow through on that is debatable.

Western NC

When it came to defending the Trump-won seats that Democrats currently hold, the party and incumbents did not let up on fundraising. In the western part of the state, freshman Democrats Ray Russel and Joe Sam Queen currently represent seats that President Trump won by thirteen and fourteen percent respectively. They may look like the underdogs, but both districts can be much friendlier to down-ballot Democrats. 

Russel, whose district includes the college town of Boone, raised $449k and spent $524k. His own party gave Russel around $300k and, he raised $127k through individual donations, and $23k came from Political Action Committees, or PACs.

Ray Pickett, a Blowing Rock inn owner, is Russel’s Republican opponent. Pickett raised $219k, and spent $220k. His own party gave Pickett about $185k, and $25k came from individual donations. 

Queen, an architect representing the rural mountains west of Asheville, raked in a large sum of $614k, and spent $729k. A large sum of his money, $375k to be exact, came from loans to himself, $219k came from his party, $10k came from individual donations. Mike Clampitt is a retired firefighter and Queen’s opponent for the second time in a row, Queen defeated Clampitt in 2018. Clampitt raised $389k, and spent $392k. A whopping $380k, or 97%, of his money came from his party, and $1.5k came from individual donations.

Charlotte Area

Moving eastward to Charlotte, Democrats are defending another of their freshman Representatives against the man she beat in 2018. Christy Clark is a gun rights activist, paralegal, and Democratic incumbent of HD98. HD98 includes the north Charlotte suburb of Huntersville, as well as parts of Lake Norman. President Trump won this district by eight points, but Governor Cooper won it by two. John Bradford is the former Representative of HD98 who is vying for his job back, after losing it to Clark by just about 400 votes. 

Clark raised $627k, and spent $738k in quarter three. 55% of Clark’s money came from her own party, 38% came from individual donations, and 17% came from PACs. Bradford raised $137k, and spent $163k in quarter three. 13% of his money came from his party, 60% came from individual donations, and 25% came from PACs. Clark is the favorite to hold this left-trending seat. 

Going farther outward to Concord, Democrats are fighting to flip two Republican held seats in Cabarrus County. 

Both Aimy Steele and Gail Young ran and lost in 2018, however the lines have been redrawn since then making both districts friendlier to Democrats.

Aimy Steele, a Democrat, is a former elementary school principal and ran against longtime Republican incumbent Linda Johnson in 2018, and lost by nearly six points. Johnson passed away in February of 2020, so Steele will be facing Republican Kristin Baker, in a seat Trump won by thirteen points. After Johnson’s passing, House Republicans appointed Baker, a non-practicing psychiatrist, to the seat.

Steele raised $771k and spent $842k in quarter three. 40% of Steele’s money came from her party, 55% of the money came from individual donations, and 4% came from PACs. 

Baker raised $738k and spent $659k in quarter three. In stark contrast to Steele, 80% of Baker’s money came from her party, 5% came from individual donations, and 14% came from PACs. This is shaping up to be the most competitive House races in the state, with both candidates raising substantial amounts and both having credible backgrounds. I rate this race as a tossup.

Gail Young is a former development consultant, and Democratic nominee for HD83 which encompasses much of Concord and the town of Harrisburg. Young is re-matching Larry Pittman, the Republican incumbent who she lost to by almost six points in 2018. Young believes her chances this year are better due to the fact that the lines were redrawn, as well as the fact that Pittman is probably one of the most controversial legislators in the state. Pittman has raised ire over the years for comparing Abraham Lincoln to Hitler, introducing bills that would allow for North Carolina to succeed and called for the shooting of Black Lives Matter protestors. Trump won this seat by 17 points in 2016. 

Young raised $475k, and spent $518k in quarter three. 44% of Young’s money came from her party, 49% of her money came from individual donations, and 7% of her funds came from PACs. Pittman raised a mere $35k, and spent $34k in quarter three. 38% of Pittman’s money came from his party, 46% came from individual donations, and 15% came from PACs. Pittman’s background, measly fundraising, and suburban district are all ingredients for a flip, which is why I rate this race as tilt Young. 

The Triad

Now we move to the Triad, a region that Republicans still have strength in, but Democrats are looking to chip almost all that strength away on Election day. HD74 takes up much of the Winston-Salem suburbs, as well as some smaller exurban communities. It was recently redrawn to be a Trump +10 seat, as well as a seat Cooper only lost by three points. Former Republican incumbent Debra Conrad chose not to seek re-election, and resigned half way through her term to become a lobbyist. Winston-Salem city councilman Dan Besse is the Democrat looking to flip this seat, while Lewisville town councilman Jeff Zenger is looking to hold this seat for his party.

Besse raised $444k, and spent $533k in quarter three. 53% of Besse’s money came from his own party, 40% came from individual donations, and 6% came from PACs. Zenger raised $180k, and spent $155k in quarter three. 51% of Zenger’s money came from his party, 32% came from individual donations, and 16% came from PACs. The Zenger campaign’s fundraising disadvantage, paired with this blue shifting district has prompted me to move this race to lean Besse. 

Moving onto the Greensboro suburbs, where Jon Hardister is fighting for his political life. Hardister is the House Majority Whip, meaning if he went down it wouldn’t just be a big win for Democrats, it’d be a Republican embarrassment. Hardister is facing off against Nicole Quick, the former Guilford County Democratic chair. The two are running to represent a district that takes up much of eastern Guilford County, and includes parts of Greensboro as well as smaller suburbs. Trump won this seat by eight points, but Governor Cooper only lost it by three in 2016.

Quick raised $664k, and spent $688 in quarter three. Hardister wasn’t far behind, raising $534k, and spending $458k in quarter three. 46% of Quick’s money came from her party, 50% of her funds came from individual donations, and about 4% came from PACs. 71% of Hardister’s funds came from his party, 17% came from individual donations, and 10% of his money came from PACs. Both candidates have a lot going for them. Hardister is high up on the Republican ladder, and his party is doing a lot to protect him. Hardister also benefits from the fact that much of his district is still rural and red. For Quick, she has a slight fundraising advantage. Quick also favors from the suburban parts of her district that are zooming leftward. I rate this district as a tossup.

Continuing east through the I-40 corridor into Burlington, HD63 is Democrats likeliest pickup in the state. Incumbent Republican Stephen Ross came into a shock last cycle when he only beat his democratic opponent by around 300 votes in his Trump +9 district. Now with the lines redrawn, HD63 only backed President Trump by two points, while Governor Cooper also won it by two points. Ross’ opponent is Chapel Hill professor Ricky Hurtado. The son of Mexican immigrants, if elected Hurtado would be the only Hispanic member of the House, representing a district with an increasing minority population.

Hurtado raised $758k, and spent $754k in quarter three. A mere .6% of his funds came from his party, 61% of his money has come from individual donations, and 38% came from PACs. Ross raised $249k, and spent $158k in quarter three. 67% of his money came from his party, 17% came from individual donations, and 16% came from PACs. Hurtado’s haul is massive compared to Ross’, that along with the fact that this is a Cooper won district leads me to rate this as a probable Hurtado race.

The Sandhills and Fayetteville

Moving south to the Sandhills, a region that used to be a Democratic stronghold, but is increasingly electing Republicans. Democrats are defending two districts here, while trying to flip another one in the Fayetteville suburbs. The district most likely to flip to Republicans is HD66, sitting in the rural Sandhills between Charlotte and Fayetteville. After running unopposed for six years, Former Democratic Representative Ken Goodman only won re-election here by 4 points in 2018. Goodman resigned early into his term to join the Cooper administration, leaving Democrats to fill the vacant seat with Scott Brewer, a local judge. Brewer will face Richmond County commissioner Ben Moss on Tuesday in this district that President Trump won by 17 points. 

Brewer raised $67k and spent $98k in quarter three. 49% of Brewer’s money came from his party, 43% came from individual donations, and 7% came from PACs. Moss raised $51k, and spent $45k in quarter three. 6% of Moss’ money came from his party, 58% came from individual donations, and 31% of his funds came from PACs. It seems as though neither party is putting much work into this district which signifies to me that Republicans see it as a safe pickup and Democrats have given up defending it. It’s hard to see Brewer overcoming the rural realignment in the area so I rate this race as lean Moss.

Moving over to Fayetteville where redistricting has put Republicans and Democrats in odd circumstances. Before the court ordered redistricting took place, Democrats had three safe seats in Cumberland County, and Republicans had one. Now there are two safe Democratic held districts, and two that Trump narrowly won. Incumbent Democrat Elmer Floyd got placed in a Trump +2 and Cooper -3 district, but Kim Hardy, a more progressive Democrat, defeated Floyd in his Democratic primary. Hardy is a former social worker, and current professor at Fayetteville State University. Hardy is going up against Diane Wheatley, a former Republican Cumberland County Commissioner. Wheatley has a strong background as a former elected official in the county, but Hardy is fighting a tough fight. 

Hardy raised $556k, and spent $638k in quarter three. 51% of Hardy’s money came from her own party, 46% came from individual donations, and 3% came from PACs. Wheatley raised $90k, and spent $69k. 35% of Wheatley’s money came from her party, 25% came from individual donations, 7% came from PACs, and 31% came from a loan to herself. Hardy has a clear fundraising advantage, she also has hyper-driven black voter turnout on her side. I rate this race as lean Hardy.

Now going to where Republicans are the ones playing defense, HD45 is a prime Democratic target. Nestled just south of Fayetteville, HD45 takes up parts of the city, as well as it’s suburb of Hope Mills. Both Hillary Clinton and Governor Cooper lost this district by about two points, however if this district had been in place in 2018 Democratic State House candidates would’ve won it by around six points. This swing gives Democrats hope that they can dislodge incumbent Republican John Szoka. Szoka is known to be one of the stronger campaigners in the Republican party, but he faces a credible challenge from Frances Jackson. Jackson’s background is extensive, including teaching, working as a magistrate, as well as formerly serving on the Hope Mills Town Commission.

Szoka raised $403k, and spent $532k in quarter three. 39% of Szoka’s money came from his party, 29% of his funds came from individual donations, and 31% came from PACs. Jackson has yet to file her quarter three report, however in a recent interview with MSNBC she claimed she had raised “over half a million dollars”. While I’d prefer to use the exact amounts, half a million is a lot of money and would be more than what Szoka raised. Putting money aside I think it will be hard for Szoka to overcome the partisan lean of his district, so I’m rating this race as tilt Jackson. 

Wake County

Traveling north to Wake County, there’s only one competitive seat to cover. Freshman Representative Sydney Batch flipped her southern Wake County district from red to blue in 2018 by less than 1000 votes, however the court ordered redistricting actually shifted her district slightly rightward, Trump won it by about six points while Cooper lost it by about three points. Erin Pare is a PTA President out of Holly Springs and the Republican looking to flip this seat back. However, demographics favor Batch. HD37 is currently overpopulated by around 20k residents, a growing population combined with the national suburban shift towards Democrats is a recipe for a blue wave. 

Batch raised $636k, and spent $873k in quarter three. 44% of those funds came from Batch’s party, 41% of her money came from individual donations, and 15% of her money came from PACs. Pare raised $113k, and spent $143k in quarter three. 21% of Pare’s money came from her party, 70% came from individual donations, and 8% came from PACs. Batch’s large fundraising advantage, along-side her district’s leftward lurch has me confidently rating this race likely Batch. 

Wilmington

Moving down to Wilmington, we have the coastal HD20. HD20 consists of parts of Wilmington as well as Wrightsville Beach. The area is very suburban and a mix of middle and upper class families, the district went for Trump by twelve points, but Cooper only lost it by three points. There technically isn’t an incumbent here. The court ordered redistricting placed Republican Representative Ted Davis in a district that neighbored his old one, HD20 may contain half of his old district, but Davis will have to introduce himself to the half unfamiliar with him. Davis is facing a strong challenge from Adam Ericson, a local high school teacher and lacrosse coach. TV ads and mailers are rampant throughout the district, signaling a close race. 

Ericson raised $513k, and spent $571k in quarter three. 43% of Ericson’s funds came from his party, 53% of his money came from individual donations, and 3% came from PACs. Davis raised $311k, and spent $254k in quarter three. 4% of Davis’ money came from his party, 13% of his money came from individual donations, and 82% of the money came from PACs. Ericson has Davis beat on fundraising, and the district itself is shifting away from Republicans. While it will be one of the closest in the state, I rate this race as tilt Ericson.

Northeastern NC

Going back north, Democrats are trying to flip a Greenville based district. HD09 is the only Republican held seat in the House that both Hillary Clinton and Governor Cooper won, however the margin each time was only about half a percentage point. Democrats had always struggled in this seat due to inelastic voters, low black voter turnout, and a strong incumbent. However, the previous Republican incumbent resigned to run for Congress, leaving House Republicans to nominate anesthesiologist and mega-donor Dr. Perrin Jones to the seat. Jones being able to fund his own campaign as well as being a doctor during a pandemic has shored him up to be a tough opponent, but Democrats think they have one stronger. Brian Farkas is local architectural consultant and Democratic nominee for HD09. Farkas has also shown strong fundraising abilities. 

Farkas raised $510k, and spent $528k in quarter three. 32% of Farkas’ money came from his party, 60% of the funds came from individual donations, and 7% came from PACs. Jones raised $340k, and spent $421k in quarter three. 22% of Jones’ money came from his party, 40% came from individual donations, and 37% came from PACs. I find it hard to believe that a Republican can win in a Clinton district in this type of political environment, that along side Farkas’ cash advantage leads me to rating this race lean Farkas. 

Finally the last district Democrats are fighting towards is HD01. HD01 is very rural, taking up much of Northeastern NC, including parts of the black belt. The district is 40% black, but is increasingly polarized, making it harder and harder for Democrats to land wins. Trump won the district by six points in 2016, while Cooper was losing the district by eight points. Ed Goodwin is the Freshman Republican incumbent of HD01, winning in 2018 by about six points. However, this time around his Democratic opponent is much better funded. Emily Bunch Nicholson is a job coordinator and former educator in the region. Nicholson has touted her experience in helping rural communities, but will it be enough? HD01 is currently underpopulated by 10k residents, much of the loss coming from black voters leaving the area for better opportunities. 

Nicholson raised $502k, and spent $581k in quarter three. 49% of Nicholson’s money came from her own party, 47% of her funds have come from individual donations, and 3% came from PACs. Goodwin raised $372k, and spent $286k in quarter three. 82% of Goodwin’s money came from his party, 11% came from individual donations, and 6% came from PACs. Nicholsons warchest may be large, but I don’t think she can overcome the realignment in the region as well as the large loss of black voters, which would’ve been her key voting block. I rate this district as tilt Goodwin. 

We’re seeing unprecedented amounts of money pouring into these legislative races, some have raised more money than candidates for Congress raise. Both parties are racing towards the finish line and are using money to propel them closer and closer. While it will be very narrow, I predict the national environment we’re in right now, the amount of money they’re spending, and the suburban shift will lead Democrats to a narrow one or two seat majority in the North Carolina State House of Representatives.

Author

jcsmith10@students.wcpss.net
Hi! My name is Jacob Smith and I am a staff writer for The Mycenaean. I am also a political activist and volunteer.

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