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Looking Ahead To The General Election With Michael Bitzer


It’s House Speaker Thom Tillis versus incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan in the general election. Tillis cruised to victory in the Republican primary, winning about 45 percent of the vote in the 8-person race. Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer joined us to talk about this race and other observations from the primary results.

Kevin Kniestedt: Professor Bitzer, it seems like these two have been running against each other during primary season so I guess it’s only fitting they face each other in the general.

Michael Bitzer: We actually got the epic battle that we were all thinking we were going to get. The big news certainly was that Speaker Tillis survived and does not have to go to the summer runoff primary with winning that 45-46 percent, well over that threshold mark. It looked like he was going to get there based on the polls leading in to Tuesday, but he really did show a pretty convincing victory. And it looks like he is going to be able to consolidate most of his conservative base into the general election. So what we’ve got now is basically the two candidates, but we also have surrogates. It’s going to be the Koch brothers versus Harry Reid. It will be Obamacare versus the state legislature. This will be one of the key marquee races going into the general election this fall.

Kevin: Republicans have such a firm grip on the General Assembly in part because it did such a good job – or bad job, depending on your point of view – in redrawing districts a few years ago. Senator Hagan is attacking Tillis for legislation that’s passed on his watch. Can we look at this race as a statewide referendum on the General Assembly?

Bitzer: I think the Democrats will have to make Thom Tillis basically the poster boy for the unpopularity of the General Assembly. I think we’ve already started to hear some of the beginning snippets of the attacks by the Hagan campaign against Tillis, and more importantly the General Assembly. You’ve got to remember that among the Democratic base, particularly folks that adhere to the Moral Monday protests, this will be the key event going into the summer that will really help to energize and mobilize a Democratic base that has got to get out. In the fall what we will see is a much more Republican electorate than what we do in presidential years when she first ran in 2008. And so what she needs, and what her campaign needs to do is to make the legislature, and Thom Tillis as one of the leaders the enemy. What Thom Tillis will do is counter with Harry Reid, and particularly Obamacare. And so it’s going to be a fight among surrogates. We’ll also have independent expenditures come in that will probably dwarf what the candidates will be spending, but it is going to be an epic battle come this fall.  

Kevin: The 12th District congressional seat was held for two decades by Charlotte’s Mel Watt. State Representative Alma Adams of Greensboro won a crowded Democratic primary – are you surprised that didn’t go into a runoff?

Bitzer: I think everyone was counting on a runoff going into it. Looking back on it we probably should have figured out that even though Mecklenburg County holds 53 percent of the voters, all of those candidates out of Charlotte really split the votes very badly, and Alma Adams was able to consolidate her base in Guilford County, and also do fairly well here in Mecklenburg to really put together a vote total that I think surprised a lot of people. She will also be the interim candidate going into the November election against Vince Coakley. So the likelihood is she will start later in November after the General Election because this district is so heavily Democratic.

Kevin: Let’s talk about the state Supreme Court race. Democratic Justice Robin Hudson overcame a nasty ad by a conservative superpac that accused her of being sympathetic to child molesters. She finished first in her supposedly “non-partisan” primary and faces Republican Eric Levinson in the general. Overall – four of the 7 Supreme Court seats are on the general election ballot. Why are these races going to be so intriguing?

Bitzer: Well it’s certainly the factor of non-partisan, but they are partisan. Both parties will adhere and support their respective candidates. This is also a low information election. Once you get down the ballot you generally see voters drop off because they don’t know who these people are. But the third branch of government, the Judiciary, is critical. The Republicans already control the Supreme Court. They also want to add their numbers on there, as well as having a solidified control of the legislature and the Executive branch. So this is really going to be one of the key races in the state that will help to determine further GOP control or not going into the future.

Dr. Michael Bitzer is a professor of political science at Catawba College. He is also the author of WFAE’s political blog, The Party Line.