State legislative races now have new importance after Supreme Court overturned Roe
North Carolina Republican House Speaker Tim Moore has said that “pro-life protections” will be a “top priority” of the General Assembly when it returns to a normal legislative session in January.
That session will come after the November elections, in which Democrats will try to keep the GOP from gaining super-majorities in the House and Senate. If Republicans win those super-majorities, they could pass whatever anti-abortion rights legislation they want — and would likely have the votes to override a veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
WFAE’s "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn talks with political reporter Steve Harrison about key legislative races, including several in Mecklenburg County.
GLENN: Steve, so in talking super-majorities…what do the numbers look like for the GOP and Democrats?
HARRISON: So if the Democrats lose three House seats and two Senate seats, they slip back into the super-minority status for the first time since 2018.
That would mean the GOP could pass a strict anti-abortion rights bill. Cooper could veto it and then Republicans could override that, assuming their caucus stayed together.
GLENN: And we have heard a lot of back and forth earlier this year about gerrymandered maps. What can you say about the maps for the state House and Senate?
HARRISON: So this fall’s election will be under maps that are, for the most part, pretty even. The Republican legislature’s first maps heavily favored the GOP, but after the state Supreme Court threw those out, lawmakers drew new maps.
And those maps are considered to be much fairer than what was first drawn.
GLENN: So where are the battlefield races going to be?
HARRISON: Well, you are looking at a handful of seats in eastern North Carolina, and some suburban seats in Wake and Mecklenburg. And let’s focus in on Mecklenburg.
There are five state Senate seats that are entirely inside Mecklenburg — and Senate District 42 is the one to watch.
That covers a lot of Matthews and south Charlotte, and this is considered a Democratic-leaning seat by about nine percentage points.
Democrat Rachel Hunt is running against Republican Cheryl Russo.
Hunt says before the Supreme Court’s decision, there were a lot of factors going against her
HUNT: With the economy in the situation that it’s in, with people’s 401ks, we have a lot of things that need to change to make it a favorable situation for Democrats
HARRISON: But Hunt says that’s still a factor, but that now she thinks swing voters — especially women — can be kept in the Democratic column because the court overturned Roe.
GLENN: In the House, are there any battleground seats locally that could determine whether or not Republicans have a super-majority?
HARRISON: There are, yes.
Of the 13 House seats on the ballot in Mecklenburg, the one everyone in the state is watching is District 98 in Davidson and Cornelius.
Democrat Christy Clark defeated Republican John Bradford in 2018, then Bradford won it back in 2020. And now they are running against each other again.
Clark is already tweeting about the Roe decision, writing that Bradford will “lead the charge to ban abortions.”
CLARK: We’ve had an outpouring of support from people wanting to volunteer and a steady flow of donations from people who want to support the campaign monetarily.
HARRISON: And Clark freely admits that she was the underdog in this race, given that this is a Republican-leaning seat that Thom Tillis won by four percentage points in 2020.
But maybe the court’s Dobbs decision gives her an opening.
GLENN: And what about the other competitive House seats in Mecklenburg?
HARRISON: There are three others in south Charlotte that could change from blue to red. One is House seat 103 in Matthews.
And there are two other seats in south Charlotte that Republicans could theoretically win.
Incumbent Democrat Wesley Harris…who represents a Ballantyne/Pineville seat…says he was elected in 2018 on the strength of women voters.
GLENN: And so the big worry this year was that we would lose some of those back as the pendulum swings the other way, and with this decision coming down, a lot of them are really fired up.
And what are the Republicans saying about the court’s decision?
HARRISON: Well, they are downplaying the impact.
They say that the main issues in the fall are going to be the economy. Here’s Republican Joshua Niday, who is running against Harris in that south Mecklenburg House seat. He says Democrats will make abortion their main issue.
NIDAY: I think they are going to campaign really hard on that and I think as Republicans we’re going to campaign hard on the issues of the economy and inflation.
HARRISON: GOP strategist Jim Blaine from Raleigh says he thinks abortion will drive fundraising, but he thinks most voters are away from the extreme positions of either a total ban or allowing abortion up to 40 weeks.
BLAINE: The problem with those two positions is that the 70% of the people on a lot of these controversial issues see some nuance and think that both of those positions are illogically extreme.
HARRISON: But I think it’s important to add that the possibility of a total ban is now on the table. And that’s something that wasn’t the case for decades, during the 50 years of Roe.