Voter Anger Over I-77 Tolls Could Mean Trouble For McCrory
With the controversy surrounding the I-77 toll lane project continuing to swirl, the policy issues of whether the contract should be canceled, and who has that power, has become a political hot potato.
Just recently, Governor Pat McCrory sent a letter to the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization chairs. He wants the organization to give a clear ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to moving ahead with the toll project. By placing the final decision in the hands of the regional authority, McCrory was very explicit in describing the consequences of negating the project, especially with the threat that local governments could be made to shoulder the cancelation costs.
This was all within a week of a former state representative, Robert Brawley, announcing his intra-party challenge to the sitting governor for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
It also comes on the heels of a key local election that saw an incumbent mayor defeated in Huntersville and word going around, by disgruntled voters, that other elected officials could suffer the same fate in 2016.
One of the main targets of both voter anger and media fascination has been the governor, Mecklenburg’s own Pat McCrory. The dynamics of what many will consider to be a competitive gubernatorial election are already fanning the flames of how this issue will impact the governor’s potential re-election bid.
Granted, McCrory won a decisive 2012 election against a weak Democratic candidate, then Lt. Governor Walter Dalton. While Romney was able to secure only a two-point margin of statewide victory, McCrory carried the state by 11 points over Dalton, with the help of 15 percent of Democrats crossing over and voting for the Republican, per exit polls.
In Mecklenburg County, with Obama romping over Romney by 22 points, McCrory was able to best Dalton by only half-a-percent; Democratic Charlotte voted for Dalton with 53 percent of the vote, but McCrory won the rest of the county with 66 percent of the vote.
Typically, the Republican strongholds of Mecklenburg County are in the northern part of the county, along with the southern rim and the classic Charlotte GOP wedge. With the current controversy in the northern third of the county, gaining a sense of the vote output for McCrory may give us a sense of how much the I-77 controversy could generate.
In the northern Mecklenburg precincts outside Charlotte, where I-77 becomes a parking lot during rush hour traffic, McCrory won with 72 percent of the vote, substantially ahead of Romney’s 60 percent in those precincts. The 23,000 votes in north Mecklenburg may not seem like a lot, but those votes represented over 10 percent of McCrory’s total Mecklenburg County votes, compared to only 4 percent of Dalton’s total Mecklenburg votes coming from the same precincts.
In neighboring Iredell County, the southern precincts that run along I-77 gave McCrory 45 percent of his total county votes (24,400), giving him 76 percent of the vote in those southern precincts. This landslide gave McCrory an overall 72-28 victory over Dalton in Iredell.
Ultimately, McCrory beat Dalton by only 3,000 votes in Mecklenburg. Most importantly, McCrory was able to keep the state’s largest county competitive, compared to its normal Democratic dominance.
It’s unlikely 2016 gubernatorial race will be the blowout that 2012 was, so the impact of the I-77 toll controversy could flip Mecklenburg County to the Democratic column in the governor’s race.
The voter anger in northern Mecklenburg’s GOP districts could mean previous McCrory supporters will withhold their votes for him.