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Key Takeaways From the Midterm Elections: North Carolina

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  • November 12, 2018

In North Carolina, the overall result of the 2018 midterm is a net gain for Democrats at the state, local, and judicial levels. Democrats solidified their majority on the N.C. Supreme Court. They also broke the Republican supermajority in the N.C. House and likely the N.C. Senate, meaning Republicans can no longer easily override Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s vetoes. As a result, you can expect more cooperation across the aisle on certain issues in the state legislature, as we’ll discuss more below.

Republicans fended off strong Democratic challenges in three expensive, high-profile congressional races. Despite flipping the U.S. House, as most predicted, Democrats did not cut into the 10-3 Republican advantage in North Carolina’s congressional delegation.

Democrats did very well in North Carolina’s urban centers, picking up 14 state legislative seats in five of the state’s largest counties (Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Cumberland, and New Hanover). Indeed, Democrats only flipped four additional state legislative seats in the other 95 counties. In rural counties, Republicans fended off strong challenges in several races and actually flipped two state House seats. The net result is Democrats gaining six seats in the state Senate and 10 seats in the state House, assuming recounts affirm the current leaders.

Here are the unofficial results of the General Assembly contests within the 1 percent margin required for potential recounts. (“I” denotes incumbents, where applicable.) The outcome of these races could change as provisional and additional absentee ballots are counted.

* Representative Brawley led on election night by 52 votes. However, Rachel Hunt has pulled ahead after absentee ballots were counted. This is not yet reflected on the State Board of Elections’ website. The votes will be officially certified after provisional ballots are counted. A recount is likely to occur too. For now, we are including HD-103 as a district that flipped from Republican to Democrat.

The chart below shows the partisan divide in the General Assembly before and after the 2018 election, assuming additional ballots and recounts do not change any of the current results.


One of the main storylines for the 2018 election in North Carolina was the Democratic Party’s drive to break Republican supermajorities in the General Assembly, as we mentioned above. In North Carolina, a three-fifths majority can override the governor’s veto. At 35 seats in the Senate and 75 seats in the House, Republicans previously had the ability to override Governor Cooper’s veto without reaching across the aisle to legislative Democrats. Democrats succeeded in cracking the supermajorities – by one seat in the Senate and by seven seats in the House, assuming initial results hold up.

This means that in the 2019-2020 legislative session, there will be a greater incentive for bipartisanship: Republicans will need to seek Democratic votes to reduce the chances of a gubernatorial veto or to increase the chances of overriding that veto. Although that type of cooperation certainly will not apply across the board, the closer margins in the House and Senate could lead to more bipartisan legislative efforts on specific issues.

Of course, Republicans do still enjoy majorities in both chambers. Democrats outspent the GOP in many contests where Republican legislators were able to hold on. Looking across the nation, with Democrats flipping at least seven state legislative chambers, plus Congress, North Carolina Republicans will likely be heard saying, “It could have been worse.”

Here are the state legislative seats that flipped, pending recounts:


Democrats swept the statewide judicial contests. Democratic candidate Anita Earls defeated Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Earls’ win increases the Democrats’ North Carolina Supreme Court majority from 4-3 to 5-2. Justices on the North Carolina Supreme Court serve eight-year terms. In 2020 there is one seat scheduled for election. That seat is currently held by Republican Paul Newby. As things stand today, the Democratic majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court will continue until at least 2022, when four seats are up for election.

Republicans will maintain a majority on the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Going into the 2018 election, Republicans held a 10-5 majority on that intermediate appellate court. Two Republican members of the court, Ann Marie Calabria and Rick Elmore, chose not to seek reelection in 2018. Democratic candidates Toby Hampton and Allegra Collins defeated Republicans Jefferson Griffin and Chuck Kitchen, respectively. Republican Andrew Heath lost to Democratic incumbent John Arrowood. The 10-5 Republican majority on the Court of Appeals will shrink to 8-7.

The other big story in North Carolina was the outcome of the six constitutional amendments. Democrats and outside groups launched a “Nix All Six” campaign against the amendments. In the end, four of the amendments passed and two were defeated.

For more information, please contact me or your regular Parker Poe contact. You can also use the following links to find election takeaways for Georgia, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C