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NC Legislature Sees Historic Shift Of Power

North Carolina is waking up to a sight it hasn't seen in a century - a state legislature controlled by Republicans. They won the state house and senate last night by resounding margins. It would not be hyperbole to call last night's election results seismic. The state legislature hasn't seen such a dramatic shift in power since Reconstruction. The last time Republicans controlled the state Senate was 1868. But Democrats knew there was a good chance that would change last night. It was a bad year to run as a Democrat for pretty much any office. Six Senate Democrats saw the writing on the wall and opted out. That left longtime Senate Leader Marc Basnight without the support of key strategists and fundraisers. Senate Republicans seized the opportunity, executing an elegant and very effective plan. Late Tuesday night, unofficial results showed seven Democratic incumbents lost their seats, and four open seats went to the Republicans as well. That puts the balance of power in the Senate somewhere around 31-19 in favor of the GOP. Former Minority Leader Phil Berger is likely to become the next President Pro Tem. "Our state is headed on the wrong path," Berger says. "The voters know our state has been headed on the wrong path. They have asked us to right that path." As the polls closed, the atmosphere at the Democrats' party was subdued but cautiously optimistic. They were hoping their get out the vote efforts would counteract the Republicans' money advantage. Democratic chair Andrew Whalen said party staff and volunteers had contacted some 200 thousand people yesterday alone. "We knew it was a difficult cycle, that there was some voter anger out there," he said. "But we wanted to make sure that we did our best to get out and let them know what Democrats have done here in North Carolina, why in a lot of ways we're different from Democrats in any other state. I think we've done that to a good degree." Governor Bev Perdue showed up early in the evening to rally the faithful and thank the volunteers who worked on the party's behalf. "This is a good night for a new generation," she told the crowd. "Y'all have turned the tide for North Carolina. This is one woman governor who's been in the trenches for a long time, who says 'Thank you, thank you, thank you on behalf of all the candidates who're running, on behalf of the people of North Carolina. You have made a difference.'" But it was not enough of a difference, as the returns showed. Most Congressional Democrats were safe. Only one, Bob Etheridge, lost. But at the state level, it was a bloodbath. Not only did the Senate flip, the state House went Republican, too - and by a big margin. Thirteen House incumbents lost their seats, including Majority Leader Hugh Holliman. The GOP also took two open seats formerly held by Democrats. Unofficial results give Republicans at least 67 seats to the Democrats 53. Mecklenburg County Republican Thom Tillis was the strategy chief for the House GOP. Even he seemed surprised by the margin of victory. He says the voters have spoken. "We're a centrist state," he says. "We're a small government, we're a limited-government, free-market, stay-out of my-personal-life electorate." Even though Republicans will control the legislature next year, they'll still have to contend with a Democratic governor. Tillis says that means the GOP will be have to work across the aisle to get things done. They do have a lot on their plate next year, including redistricting - which they'll control - and a budget deficit now expected to exceed $4 billion. They say they can balance it through cuts alone, with no tax increases. Their first job will be choosing their leadership. That's likely to happen soon. The next session starts at the end of January.