2012 could be a good year for the GOP in North Carolina, and five out of eight Wake County Republicans, who have filed to run for higher office, are looking to take advantage of it.
June Atkinson (i)
Joseph Hank DeBragga
Beth Wood (i)
NC House of Representatives District 35 (Open)
Lori. B. Millberg
Lt. Governor (Open)
Arthur Jason Rich
U.S. House of Representatives District 13
Bernard A. Holliday
On the Wake County school board, Debra Goldman is running for State Auditor, John Tedesco for State Superintendent and Chris Malone for NC House in district 35. On the Wake County Board of Commissioners, Paul Coble is running for U.S. House of Representatives in district 13 and Tony Gurley for Lt. Governor.
The lone Democrat seeking higher office at the county level is County Commissioner Erv Portman, who is running for State Senate seat 17.
“It comes down to opportunity,” said William Peace University Political Science professor David McLennan. “Democrats see this year as a very difficult challenge and the Republicans see some really nice opportunity in front of them.”
The two biggest reasons: redistricting and a strong top of the ticket at the state level, says McLennan.
“We look at the top of the ticket and we see that at least in the state… Pat McCrory looks to have a fairly easy race for the governorship,” McLennan said. “If he is strong at the top of the ticket then folks running for other council of state offices on the Republican side could benefit from that.”
But those aren’t the only things swinging in the Republicans’ favor. Of the five GOP candidates, none will be forced to give up their county seat even if they lose in races for higher office.
To boot, Mclennan said, school board members are running because “they moved from being in the majority on the school board to being in the minority.”
Tedesco says staying in the majority was something he and his fellow Republicans took too much for granted.
“We may have been a little too presumptuous early on to think that there was not a likely chance that we would lose those seats [in the conservative leaning districts of Ron Margiotta and Kevin Hill],” Tedesco said.
He said the make-up of the school board influenced his decision. If Republicans had kept the majority, but not strengthened it, he says he may not have run, because the board would’ve been split four-four to vote in a new “non-partisan” member.
Ultimately, Tedesco cites a passion for education issues as the driving factor in his decision.
“I was asked by some folks to consider the North Carolina Senate district that was drawn in my neighborhood,” he said. “That district is a conservative district and based on the current trend numbers it would be likely to go to a Republican, but it’s just not where my heart is.”
Redistricting Advantage v. Pitfalls of Tea Party Politics
The redistricting advantage at both the state and national level is heavy.
“The districts [at the state level] were drawn in such a way that we’re going to have even stronger [Republican] majorities in both houses,” Mclennan said. “Even if a Democrat were to win the governorship, there may be veto-proof houses in the General Assembly.”
And as far as U.S. Congressional districts go, he said, “if Democrats walk out of 2012 elections with three members of Congress, I think, they will count themselves fortunate. That shows how powerful the redistricting was.”
But there is one thing for which Republicans need to be wary.
After last year’s school board elections, Public Policy Polling framed the five-seat Democratic sweep as a testament to the strategy of linking Republicans to the Tea Party. In each of those elections, unaffiliated voters swung Democratic.
The effect such a message can have on school board Republicans has already been seen and it may not bode well for County Commissioners Paul Coble or Tony Gurley.
Just last week the Wake Board of Commissioners took a hard right when it approved a resolution supporting the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. The group also had a discussion about the affect of a 1992 United Nations resolution and the “One-World Movement” on county politics.
The one-World Movement has long been a theory of those on the far-right that a small group of people is seeking to establish a worldwide form of socialism, which dissolves all nations.
“Coble made some pretty strong statements in his role as the Board of Commissioners Chair that you could see would turn some moderate people off —plus all the Democrats,” McLennan said.
Coble did not return Record phone calls seeking comment.
Gurley, on the other hand, said, “I encourage the press to link me to the Tea Party. That is great.”
He refutes the PPP claim.
“The school board elections only turned one seat,” Gurley said. “And they spent an inordinate amount of money to do it.”
However, the seat (formerly held by Ron Margiotta) is the only one in Wake County where Republicans significantly outnumber Democrats. The PPP memo also links the strategy to incumbent Kevin Hill’s victory over Heather Losurdo, who was portrayed as an extreme conservative in a tight race.
Gurley says his strategy is to blend his favorability with the Tea Party and his 10 years of experience in government as proof he supports reform, but also knows how to work across party lines.
While acknowledging that it’s armchair quarterbacking with the primaries still two months away, McLennan sums up 2012 like this:
“I don’t think certainly the climate is as positive for Republicans as it was two years ago,” he said. “But that being said it’s still going to be a good year for those running statewide and those running in districts that have been gerrymandered positively for Republicans.”