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Opinion
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Expectations For A Quiet 2015 Prove False

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For an ‘odd-year’ in the election cycle, it was a pretty intense one, from the local level in Charlotte to the state and the nation. I’m reminded of just how intense taking a look back at some of the blog posts I wrote in 2015. 

My first post was about 2015 being the “year of the invisible primary.” Well, the primary contests were anything but “invisible” for both sides of the political aisle. On the Democratic side, the big question then, along with most of the year, was whether the sitting vice president, Joe Biden, would make a third run for the presidency. While he had the name recognition and certainly could mount a credible campaign, after much public speculation, Biden left the field to Clinton, Sanders, and others to battle for the nomination.

On the GOP side, it was a year that was topsy-turvy, to say the least. While the beginning of the year was still awaiting the decision by the conventional wisdom’s presumptive front-runner Jeb Bush, I did write that if Bush or Romney decided not to run, “the GOP race would be a factionalized battle exposing the critical fault line within the Republican Party.”

Little did we suspect at that time that an earthquake known as “The Donald” would shake the party like the San Andreas fault. I also mentioned that “if 2015 decides to break the mold of what conventional wisdom has been expected,” we should expect a battle for the hearts and souls of both parties.

  The year 2015 didn’t just break the mold, but smashed it, ran over it, backed up and ran over it again with all of the predictions of what would happen next, especially with a major candidate insulting Latinos, women, and veterans. And Trump’s poll numbers just continued to go up.

In looking at the possible primary electorates that the GOP presidential field would be competing in, I noted in March that evangelicals would be a key electoral group within the GOP battle for both the all-important Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary.

Now that we’re a month away from the Iowa caucuses, the major battle is playing out between the predicted Ted Cruz, but not the other key players that I had thought, such as Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. Instead, it’s Ted versus Donald for a tight contest in the Hawkeye State.

Another expectation for 2015 was the huge amount of money, especially from super PACs, to dominate when it comes to the presidential primary race. But the PACs haven’t been as big as most thought, due perhaps to one candidate’s total domination of free media has eclipsed everything else. With Trump’s ability to say whatever he wants and the media’s salivating eagerness to replay over and over the bluster that is The Donald subsumed everything else.

If 2015 is any indication, depending on who the two major nominees are, super PACs may not be as super as they were once thought to be. And, more importantly, partisanship of the voter is the stronger predictor, rather than the carpet-bombing of campaign ads over the airwaves. Perhaps this is why we will see super PACs act more like traditional campaign operations in 2016.

In the summer, at the ascent of Donald Trump’s domination of the national GOP polling, I wrote about the fact that he assembled a core group of supporters—those who are “anti-immigration, anti-establishment, anti-politician, pro-‘I’ll say whatever I want to’” and love him for it.

And, like others, I started off thinking, “Well, at some point, he’ll self-destruct and the race will play out like in the past.” Nope. That core group has not only stuck with him, but seems to have slightly grown each month. The true test of Trump’s support will be coming up in Iowa and New Hampshire. Will those loyal poll supporters actually show up to vote for him?

Notoriously, general election match-ups this far out from November are inherently unreliable. But just looking at the head-to-head numbers when pitting Hillary Clinton against possible GOP contenders like Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and others, the remarkable trend that I see is Clinton getting about 45 percent consistently, while all GOP contenders are in the same neighborhood (some up, some down against the former first lady and secretary of state).

What seems like a volatile electorate is really quite stable, and may be throughout the 2016 campaign, to shape up as another bitterly divided contest with so few undecideds going into the fall campaign push.

Statewide, all are expecting the big battle not just at the presidential level in North Carolina, but also for the chief executive of the state. The expected contest between incumbent Republican Governor Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper should be on par with the national contest.

And taking the cues from the national contest, it will be important to watch and see who the ‘top-of-the-ticket’ candidates are for the two parties, especially on the GOP side, and how that may influence down-ballot races as well. Most likely, we’ll see the same ‘partisanship dictates voting’ that we have seen previously, and the candidates reacting accordingly, like in Gov. McCrory’s two videos rolling out his re-election campaign.

One thing that may, or may not, pose a problem for the Governor is the continuing localized issue of the I-77 toll roads controversy. While typically this would only cause heartburn for the candidate in the north Mecklenburg region, how this issue will play out in the GOP primary with Robert Brawley’s potential wind-mill tilting crusade against McCrory, and what potential Democratic challenger Cooper does with it, only time and the campaigns will tell.

With a heavy presidential and gubernatorial contest already underway in the state, the missing big statewide race is for the U.S. Senate seat, currently held by Republican Richard Burr.  While there is a contested Democratic race that has a lot of ground to make up for the eventual nominee across the state, like the gubernatorial race, the battle for the U.S. Senate seat may be overwhelmed by the presidential contest.

At the local level, Charlotte’s mayoral race was what I would have expected to play out: while the Republicans put forth a solid campaigner like Edwin Peacock, the electoral dynamics of the Queen City have just moved beyond what the GOP can conceivable overcome in the Democratic dominance.

And while the race was a ‘competitive’ one citywide, one only has to look at the precinct breakdowns to see the political polarization and sorting happening in Charlotte.

Even with the launching of the 2016 presidential primary contests this year, I had a secret New Year’s resolution at the beginning of 2015 that maybe—just maybe—it would be a relatively ‘quiet’ year in comparison to what we saw in 2014.

Well, resolutions are easily broken, and I have no expectations that the same will be true for the upcoming year. But I do wish everyone the best in 2016, no matter your partisan affiliation—and one recommended resolution for everyone: buy a new TV remote. You may wear the ‘mute’ button out very quickly.