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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.

The very small battlefield over the NC House in this fall's elections

NC General Assembly aerial
NC General Assembly
North Carolina's General Assembly meets in Raleigh.

A version of this news analysis originally appeared in the Inside Politics newsletter, out Fridays. Sign up here to get it first to your inbox.

The fight over whether Republicans keep their supermajority in the General Assembly will come down to just a handful of legislative districts.

There are 120 seats in the House. Almost all are preordained in terms of who will win.

The GOP has 72 of them — the minimum number needed to overturn vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, or perhaps Democratic Gov. Josh Stein, should he win.

For this newsletter, I’m going to lean on Raleigh freelance journalist Bryan Anderson, who goes deep in the weeds on the legislature, to look at the small number of districts in play. His substack is here.

He gives the Democrats a 55% chance of breaking the supermajority in the House. One reason, he said, is that Republican lawmakers could have pushed for a more aggressive map last year, but didn’t approve a maximum gerrymander. He believes Republicans wanted to make sure their map complied with the Voting Rights Act.

“They did leave some opportunities for Democrats here,” he said.

The House, of course, was where the action was in 2023, when Mecklenburg’s Tricia Cotham left the Democratic Party to join the Republican Party. That brought the GOP to the magic number of 72.

We will get to Cotham in a moment.

But first let’s look at two new House seats Republicans are likely to win, thanks to redistricting.

That should expand the number of seats they have to 74.

The first is District 73 in Cabarrus County. That’s where Democrat Diamond Staton-Williams narrowly won her seat in 2022. But under a new map, she has been shifted to a seat that former President Trump won by nearly eight percentage points in 2020. Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Budd won it by 11 points in 2022. That makes her a decided underdog.

The second is District 115 in Buncombe County. Democrat Lindsey Prather has also been moved into a more red district that Trump won by nearly nine points and Thom Tillis won by nearly eight points in 2020. That’s a very difficult path for any Democrat. But the good news for Prather is that the gap narrowed in 2022, even in a good year for Republicans overall. For instance, Republican Ted Budd won the 115th by less than four points.

But let’s give the GOP wins in both the 73rd and 115th, boosting their total to 74 seats.

Now let’s switch to Mecklenburg County.

Cotham’s seat covers Mint Hill, Matthews and parts of south Charlotte. Trump won it by two points; Budd won it by a little more than one point. The good news for Democrats is that Tricia Cotham’s mother, Pat Cotham, lost decisively in the Democratic primary for the Mecklenburg County Commission. She lost many of the precincts in Tricia Cotham’s district.

The race is a toss-up, but Pat Cotham’s defeat bodes well for Nicole Sidman, who won the Democratic primary.

The other toss-up race in Mecklenburg is District 98, in Davidson, Cornelius and part of Huntersville. It’s an open seat after Republican John Bradford lost his bid for Congress. There are strong candidates on both sides: former Huntersville Mayor Melinda Bales against Democrat Beth Helfrich, who owns Summit Coffee with her husband.

The district has a slight lean for the GOP.

But let’s assume the Democrats can flip it as well, bringing the GOP’s total down to 72 again.

Two headshots of female political candidates
Melinda Bales (left) and Beth Helfrich.

The battlefield then narrows to five seats.

  • District 35, northern Wake County. Democrat Terence Everitt isn't running for reelection. Trump won the district by five percentage points.
  • District 32, Granville and Vance counties. Republican Frank Sossamon is running for reelection in a district Joe Biden won by five percentage points. 

If the Democrats and Republicans split those seats, the battle then shifts to three evenly balanced districts:

  • District 5, Hertford, Gates, Camden, Pasquotank counties. Republican Bill Ward is running for reelection in a district that is a true toss-up.
  • District 24, Wilson County. Republican Ken Fontenot is running for reelection in another true toss-up district.
  • District 25, Nash County. Republican Allen Chesser is running for reelection in a district that Trump won by nearly two percentage points.

If Democrats can win two of three, they could have 49 seats, breaking the supermajority.
But Anderson said the GOP would still be in a strong position.

“After the 2022 election (even before Tricia Cotham), one thing that stood out to me is that Tim Moore said they have a working supermajority,” Anderson said.

He said it’s hard for the Democrats to have their entire caucus in the building at once.

“If Republicans get their party all there, you don’t have to have a crossover Democrat,” he said. “You just need people to be absent.”

The GOP has a better chance of keeping its supermajority in the Senate. We’ll look there in a future newsletter.

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.