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The articles from Inside Politics With Steve Harrison appear first in his weekly newsletter, which takes a deeper look at local politics, including the latest news on the Charlotte City Council, what's happening with Mecklenburg County's Board of Commissioners, the North Carolina General Assembly and much more.

Mecklenburg women keep voting (and boosting women candidates)

campaign sign
Dan McCorkle
Dan McCorkle strategy: Letting everyone know you are a woman.

Dan McCorkle has a strategy for his female candidates.

“If you have seen my yard signs, they always have the female face on it,” said the Charlotte Democratic political consultant.

He listed clients like County Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell, City Council member Dimple Ajmera and School Board winner Melissa Easley. “That’s something I started doing a couple of years ago, and there is no way I’m not going to do it going forward.”

He said local female candidates have a large advantage in the Democratic primary.

“In the primary, I have seen it as high as 62% female participation, and a woman in the Democratic primary is normally unbeatable,” he said.

The Black Political Caucus earlier this year endorsed three men in judicial races. All three lost to female candidates, McCorkle noted.

“The men lost because they were going against female names,” he said.

The gender advantage narrows in the general election. But it’s still there, he said.

Republican consultant Larry Shaheen said women candidates have probably a 1 or 2 percentage point advantage over men in the general election. He said if the GOP wants to win locally, it needs more women on the ballot.

The Civitas vote tracker shows that 54% of Mecklenburg early voters in this election were women, while 42% were men. Roughly 4% were undesignated.

Statewide, 52% of early voters were women. And abortion was a major issue for many women voters this year, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended constitutional protections for abortion.

Local government members like City Council don’t control abortion regulations, of course, but the national climate likely influenced local races. County Commission member Laura Meier highlighted that her opponent, Republican Matthew Ridenhour, is pro-life. Ridenhour said that was a nonissue since Mecklenburg County “doesn’t have anything to do with abortion services.”

Meier, a Democrat, held off Ridenhour much more easily than expected, defeating him 53%-47%.

A few exceptions

There are outliers to this theory.

In Mecklenburg’s most competitive House district, for instance, Republican John Bradford won re-election over Democrat Christy Clark. Bradford was favored to win the north Mecklenburg seat — which voted for Donald Trump — but he did better there than GOP congressional candidate Ted Budd.

And two men — Donald Cureton and Matt Osman — narrowly held off women in judicial races. (There is a recount in Osman’s race against Kimberly Best.)

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But the overall picture is that women did quite well.

  • In the county’s other competitive state House race, Democrat Laura Budd defeated Republican Bill Brawley, who held the seat until 2018.
  • Women won all three competitive Mecklenburg Commission races over men.
  • The School Board will continue to have eight women and one man after Lisa Cline upset Trent Merchant in a close District 5 race. (School Board races are nonpartisan, but Cline is a registered Republican, making her four-point win even more surprising.)
  • And women will now have four of Mecklenburg’s five state Senate seats, up from three this year.

And if you go back to July, Ajmera won the most votes in the City Council at-large race, edging out Braxton Winston in a surprise result. Her McCorkle-run campaign leaned heavily into the theme of Ajmera as a working mom.
(Women now have 7 of the 12 council and mayoral seats. That’s up from 5 of 12 in 2019.)

Perhaps the most significant win by a woman this year came just outside Mecklenburg, in House District 73 in Cabarrus County.

Democrat Diamond Staton-Williams defeated Republican Brian Echevarria by 628 votes, or 2.2 percentage points. Her victory was crucial: She prevented the GOP from gaining a supermajority in the General Assembly, making it easier for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to wield his veto in his final two years in office.

What put her over the top?

Joe Biden won her district by a little more than four percentage points. And she launched an attack ad that featured a fake mug shot of Echevarria, who said he has never been arrested for anything.

So did she also get a boost from being a woman? Looking at the political landscape this year, it’s likely the answer is yes.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.