Experts weigh in on 2020 North Carolina races amid pandemic

Buckley Report

The eyes of a nation will be upon North Carolina in 2020.

Not only is North Carolina – with its 15 electoral votes – one of the most-prized battleground states but it will also go a long way to determining which party controls the US Senate, with the outcome of the race between one-term incumbent, Republican Thom Tillis and his challenger, Democrat Cal Cunningham.​

“I think it’s fair to say that the Cunningham/Tillis race will be determined a lot by how the presidential race goes. People are no longer splitting their tickets as much as they once did. They’re doing it just enough for [Gov. Roy] Cooper to have won in 2016,” said Mac McCorkle, a professor at Duke and the director of “Polis: Center for Politics” at the university.

And it’s true that senate races mirror the presidential election in most states – that’s spelled out, in detail, in the video version of this story. Cooper defeated incumbent governor Pat McCrory in 2016 by 10,277 votes out of more than 4,600,00 cast – a margin of about two-tenths of one percent – somewhat in the aftermath of the state’s controversial HB2 bill but largely because of the I-77 toll road that caused much consternation in north Charlotte and the Lake Norman area.

“One thing is, people assess their governors in a different way than they might assess their senators or their house members. For one thing, voters see their governors a lot more than they see their congressional members,” Wake Forest University political scientist John Dinan said. “The advantage of a governor running in a difficult, crisis time is the chance to show crisis leadership.”

But, as McCrory learned in 2016, whatever leadership you show has limits.

“And those limits are, if voters are watching how you’re handling a crisis situation and they become happy with that, they are very much in tune to that unhappiness and they’re willing to put that front-and-center when they go to the ballot box,” Dinan said.

See more about how challengers to somewhat vulnerable incumbents are having to rewrite the campaign book in the coronavirus era, in this Buckley Report.

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