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Politics
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.

Democratic Primary Will Likely Decide Mayor's Race

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By Tuesday night, we should know the Democratic and Republican nominees in Charlotte’s mayoral race.

While some contend that personalities may be the dominant feature of local elections, party loyalty and attachment are more of a driver of local elections than some may realize.

First, a little background on the transition that Mecklenburg County has undergone in its voting pattern, especially due to the 800-pound gorilla that is the city of Charlotte.

As of September’s voter registration numbers, Charlotte has 79 percent of the Mecklenburg County’s nearly 640,000 registered voters.

Registered Democrats make up nearly half of the city’s voters, with registered unaffiliated voters at 28 percent and registered Republicans at 23 percent.

While Charlotte has a history of electing Republicans as mayor–including the city’s longest-serving mayor, now Gov. Pat McCrory–something happened under the GOP’s feet within the city over the past two decades.

Since 1996, the county has been trending more and more Democratic. For example, in 1996 and 2000, the county flipped back and forth at the presidential level between voting for Democrat Bill Clinton to supporting George W. Bush, but both won by very competitive (less than 55 percent) margins in the county.

In 2004, the county went back to supporting Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry with 52 percent of the vote. Then, the blue tidal wave came crashing, with Obama winning 62 and 61 percent in 2008 and 2012 in Mecklenburg County.

Meanwhile, in the odd-year elections, McCrory was able to hold on to the mayor’s office until his decision not to run for reelection in 2009. From 1997’s high of 78 percent of the vote to his 56 percent of the vote in 2005, McCrory was able to keep his elections fairly uncompetitive.

But during those McCrory years and thanks notably to the growth of his own city, Mecklenburg County started trending more and more Democratic in voter registration numbers.

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Not only has the gap widened between registered Democrats and Republicans, but unaffiliated voters have seen their numbers increase the greatest in percentage terms, similar to the statewide rise of unaffiliated voters as well.

Once McCrory decided not to seek an eighth term, it was all but expected that a Democrat would take the reigns of City Hall, and Anthony Foxx did just that. And when Foxx went to become U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Patrick Cannon won by a similar margin of victory as Foxx did in his first general election contest.

This year, the Democratic primary is shaping up to be slightly different than the past competitive primary, with two African-American candidates and two white candidates (one who is female, the other the incumbent) vying for the party’s nomination.

But in looking back at the last contested Democratic primary in September 2013, which was a two-way competitive election between council members Patrick Cannon and James Mitchell (it did have two other candidates), the influence of African American voters can’t be underestimated.

While African-Americans make up 38 percent of Charlotte’s voter pool, they were 70 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the September 2013 Democratic primary.

And the great numbers of unaffiliated voters who could be the deciding factors in an election? Only 14 percent of the ballots cast in the Democratic primary in September 2013 came from registered unaffiliated voters, while only 13 percent showed up for the 2013 general election.

While some may believe that local politics is much less “partisan” and more personality-driven, Charlotte isn’t immune to the polarization that the country is facing. And like other contests across the nation, the likelihood is that the true electoral contest to become Charlotte’s next mayor may be who wins the upcoming Democratic primary; with the city’s partisan nature, the general election may just be for show.