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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Looking Back On 2013, Ahead To 2014

Michael Bitzer
Michael Bitzer

With thoughts turning to the New Year, I thought I would look back at the year of past blog posts that I wrote and what they may hold for the birth of a new political year.

The year of 2013 started with the U.S. House of Representatives and its speaker, John Boehner, coming out of a disastrous “Plan B” alternative to keep the country from going off the preverbal “fiscal cliff.” 

In that post, I wrote that “with the movement of the House GOP more and more to the right of the political spectrum and an unwillingness to compromise with the other branches of government, Boehner is finding himself having to lead a more rancorous party,” and that “the 113th Congress will simply continue the dysfunction of the 112th Congress.  Boehner will be speaker for the new Congress, but with the divisiveness of his own conference, he appears to be even weaker in terms of political strength.”

And with the continued polarization within the House and now being coming evident in the Senate, the legislative branch’s popularity turned more into unpopularity: most polls now showed the public’s approval of Congress at an all-time low

But one individual who may have reasserted his power was the speaker of the dysfunctional House, who called out the far-right conservatives within his own party by declaring “Are you kidding me?” when it came to the government shutdown. 

Unfortunately, the speaker will continue to try and lead a fractured party conference in an election year, ranging from what one political analyst calls the “coalition of the unwilling” to the “coalition of the willing.”

Three North Carolina Republicans were part of the “unwilling coalition” (Jones, Holding, and Meadows), while only one, McHenry, is seen as an ‘ally’ of the Speaker. 

If you thought the productivity of Congress was bad in 2013, you ain’t seen nothing yet since it’s an election year.

Back in February of 2013, I wrote that the saying “elections have consequences” in terms of the Republican Party claiming all branches of state government, and that to the victor go the spoils.

Little did anyone truly know what the spoils of the GOP’s 2012 victory would entail: from election law reforms (or retrogression, as your political perspective would define it) to abortion to major tax overhaul, North Carolina Republicans enacted their policy stamp on the state. 

And with the guarantee of relatively safe legislative seats, thanks to redistricting and gerrymandering, the likelihood that 2014 will bring about major changes in the GOP’s grasp on the general assembly is miniscule, at best. 

Democrats are more likely to have success in statewide races. The real test in 2014 will come with the nationally watched U.S. Senate battle between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and her to-be-determined Republican opponent.

And it’s not just November’s election that one should be eagerly awaiting, but rather the May GOP primary.  Back in June 2013, I wrote that NC House Speaker Thom Tillis was laying the visible groundwork in the period of the ‘invisible primary’ for his U.S. Senate nomination run.

But with the addition of a Tea-party backed candidate in Dr. Greg Brannon and the social evangelical candidacy of Rev. Mark Harris from Charlotte, Tillis’ primary battle may be the more fascinating short-term war to watch, in terms of the continued fracture between establishment GOP and the Tea-Party insurgents who can claim several targets in nomination battles, only to lose in their head-to-head matchup with Democrats. 

And while I wrote in late February that the Democrats need to come up with some fresh faces in what appears to be a generational shift, a recurring face is emerging as the lead Democrat to challenge first-term governor Pat McCrory: Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Yes, I know we have a mid-term election to survive, but 2016 may be shaping up to be another one to batten down the Tar Heel hatches. Along with presidential contest, both the governor and U.S. Senator Richard Burr will face the electorate. If Democrats are smart, strategic choices for the top-three of their ticket could continue to make this state a competitive purple state, while the red hue underline at the sub-state levels.

And here’s another consideration for Tar Heel Democrats in 2014: can they continue to tap the Moral Monday energy from 2013 and ride it into grassroots activation and organization for the 2014 election?

In 2009, political analysts considered whether another fledgling grass-roots mobilization could sustain itself in the Tea Party insurgency of 2010: they did, and in this state, could Democrats make use of the threat they perceive from GOP control to finally energize their resources into a competitive battle in November 2014?

The history of mid-term elections in North Carolina, as I wrote back in August, has traditionally been more GOP friendly than in presidential elections.  The upcoming general election will again test the ground organization of both parties into shaping an electorate to help their candidate win in November.

Part of the November battle may be the continuation of the culture war, especially those surrounding gay marriage.  With the US Supreme Court’s decision in the summer and the Christmas decision in Utah by a federal judge overturning that state’s constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, 2014 will most likely see the issue of gay rights versus traditional definitions of marriage spar in the election contests.

Coming out of his first year in office, North Carolina’s chief executive can be thankful for Santa not bringing a big bag of coal to his stocking.  Republican Pat McCrory, who had been tracking his predecessor in her first year free-fall of public approval, saw a better rebound in his numbers by the end of 2013. McCrory’s disapproval by independents is 13 points lower than Bev Perdue was at the end of her first year in office. 

But McCrory still can’t claim the bi-partisan approval that he won with in 2012. Only 20 percent of Democrats approve of his job at the end of his first year.  One of the big questions for 2014 will be whether McCrory can make repairs to his ‘moderate’ role in state government, or will the legislature, especially the state senate, continue to push for more conservative policies than the general public will tolerate?

Nationally, the relevancy of the Obama presidency will be the continued big question in his sixth year, which for most presidents is the year they regret the most, following what has been a disastrous fifth year in office.

The likelihood that the GOP will continue to hammer Obamacare into the November midterms will be the likely strategy by the Republicans.  For many endangered Democrats, the strategy will be the continued distancing of themselves from the president’s signature, but administratively flawed, policy. 

2013 created a variety of political stories, and 2014 will most likely not disappoint; so here’s to another year of trying to make sense of the political world.  My one resolution for the political New Year: no tweets referencing the Nazis.

Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of politics and history at Catawba College, where he also serves as the 2011-2012 Swink Professor for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the chair of the department of history & politics. A native South Carolinian, he holds graduate degrees in both history and political science from Clemson University and The University of Georgiaââ