After A Mecklenburg Blue Wave, Charlotte Republicans Almost All Gone
A decade ago, Charlotte and Mecklenburg County were becoming increasingly Democratic, but the GOP was still a powerful voice in local politics.
After all, Republican Pat McCrory was finishing his seventh term as Charlotte’s mayor. The GOP held four of 11 seats on the City Council, and three of nine seats on the County Commission.
That's what makes what happened on Tuesday so stunning.
The Republican Party was nearly wiped out in Mecklenburg County. In addition to at least four Republican state legislators losing, all three GOP members of the County Commission lost, including Matthew Ridenhour.
“It was a challenging race this time, given the governor’s efforts at breaking the supermajority, the 9th district race, people upset at state level politics, anti-Trump level voting patterns," Ridenhour said. "It all came to a head in District 5.”
Ridenhour, a former Marine, is in his third term representing District 5, in south Charlotte. That district is in the so-called wedge of precincts in south Charlotte that’s home to the GOP’s Mecklenburg base.
But in the 9th Congressional District race between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Mark Harris, that wedge turned almost completely blue.
“I had one person walk up to me in early voting and said you know what, you are a nice guy, but I can’t vote for any Republican this year, so I have to vote against you," he said. "And that’s hard to hear.”
In south Charlotte, not only was Ridenhour swept out of office, but so were Republican House members Andy Dulin and Scott Stone, and County Commissioner Bill James.
In north Mecklenburg, Republican Jeff Tarte lost to Democrat Natasha Marcus in the NC Senate in a newly redrawn district. She won in traditionally Republican areas like Huntersville.
Republican House member John Bradford was trailing Democrat Christy Clark by 333 votes with all precincts reporting. And Republican County Commissioner Jim Puckett lost to Democrat Elaine Powell.
“The sudden change in south Mecklenburg and north Mecklenburg to an extent last night is rather remarkable," said Democratic political consultant Dan McCorkle. "There is really not a lot of room left for Republicans.”
McCorkle's client, Susan Rodriguez McDowell, defeated James, who has been on the commission for 22 years.
McCorkle remembers the late 1980s when the GOP controlled six of 7 commission seats. Now they won’t have any.
McDowell said she was inspired to run because of President Trump’s victory two years ago. She said the demographics of her district from Steele Creek to Mint Hill is changing rapidly.
“Bill James represented a very white, upper middle class demographic that’s not the case anymore," McDowell said. "If you drive around District 6 when it’s time for the buses to pick up in the morning, and you see the families at the bus stop, these are black and brown families. It’s Indian families, it’s African-American families. It’s not the same as it was.”
James has been low key in the past several years, though he has a history of making racially insensitive comments. Democratic Commissioner Pat Cotham said James is “evolving,” and she said he was a valuable resource on things like the budget.
"The historical knowledge that we are losing, not only with the three Republicans, but with Dumont Clarke will be significant," Cotham said.
She said one of the most important issues facing the county in 2019 will be the countywide property revaluation. The revaluation will result in a larger tax base, and commissioners must decide where to set the property tax rate. The three Republicans would have likely pushed for a lower tax rate, rather than growing the county budget.
James was likely caught up in anti-Trump sentiment. But he also did little in terms of campaigning, and spent only $446 to win re-election, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.
Republican State Senator Dan Bishop did win re-election in his south Charlotte seat, which also includes Matthews and Mint Hill. To win, Bishop hammered his Democratic opponent Chad Stachowicz with negative mailers and TV commercials over Stachowicz’s DUI arrest a decade ago.
In a House race in Matthews and Mint Hill, Republican incumbent Bill Brawley appeared to survive. He is leading Democrat Rachel Hunt by 52 votes. Hunt said Wednesday she is waiting for absentee and provisional ballots to be counted before conceding the race.
There are still Republicans on the town boards, and there are also two Republicans on the Charlotte City Council - Ed Driggs and Tariq Bokhari. They will be up for re-election next year, and Ridenhour says they must run smart races to survive.
“If you look at Tariq’s district or Ed’s or mine, if you look at the districts you can see over the last 10 or 15 years that the Republican win margin gets smaller and smaller," Ridenhour said.
Tuesday's election was similar to the 2011 city elections when Democrat Anthony Foxx was re-elected mayor. Foxx won so convincingly that he helped the Democrats sweep all four at-large seats, defeating longtime Republican Edwin Peacock.
That created the City Council's current 9-2 Democratic majority.