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Look for some surprising surprises on Election Day

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, October 20, 2008

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Chapel Hill, NC - What about the other races?

Few people, other than political insiders, are asking this question when they talk about the possible results of the upcoming elections in North Carolina.

All this is understandable given the excitement surrounding the races at the top of the ballot—the close governor’s and U.S. Senate races and, for the first time in recent memory, a real contest in the battle for North Carolina’s 15 key presidential electoral votes.

North Carolinians are experiencing continuous courtship from John McCain, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and Joe Biden. When we are “in play” in the critical contest for the Presidency, it is harder to concentrate on other races.

Perhaps the well-funded gubernatorial campaigns of Bev Perdue and Pat McCrory may be getting through to us, as maybe also are the U.S. Senate candidates Elizabeth Dole and Kay Hagan.

But mostly we are thinking presidential, overlooking important Council of State, congressional, state legislative, judicial and local races. It is like the Fourth of July when it is hard to watch the sparklers in your own backyard, when there is a massive fireworks show over at the football stadium.

So it is possible, even likely, that the days after the election are going to disclose some surprising election results that could have a profound impact on political life and government in North Carolina.

A few days ago I talked to John Davis, one of North Carolina’s most respected political observers. Until recently, Davis led NCFREE, a pro-business political research organization, and he continues to serve as their consultant. His record in analyzing and predicting political races in North Carolina is extraordinary.

Davis pays attention to the polls and to the relative strengths of the competing political parties the same as other consultants. But he puts extra weight on other considerations. He factors in the rapidly changing electorate. For instance, although many new North Carolinians who have moved here from the Northeast may be registered Republicans, they tend to be more independent and less conservative than North Carolina Republicans. They are more likely to be ticket splitters.

This year, he says, the new youthful voters may have been registered as a result of the efforts of the Obama campaign, but they should not be expected to vote a straight Democratic ticket. Many of them will be voting for youth and for change, rather than for a particular party label.

These factors, says Davis, make an Obama win in North Carolina a real possibility—even a likely outcome. These considerations work against the incumbent Senator Dole in her contest with Kay Hagan, who Davis thinks will win.

On the other hand, these same factors operate in the governor’s race to work in favor of Pat McCrory, the likely winner in Davis’s view.

Most surprising to me is Davis’s prediction that the upcoming election will bring about a change in control of the North Carolina Senate, in which Democrats currently have a commanding 29 to 21 seat edge.

Davis’s detailed rationale for his prediction is too lengthy to include here. But, in summary, he identifies several senate seats currently held by Democrats that are likely, for various reasons, to be won by Republicans this year—enough, he says, to give Republicans a majority for the first time in modern history.

Marc Basnight, the Democrats’ current senate leader, has gained enormous influence, which he has used to insure generous legislative support for environmental programs and for the University of North Carolina. New leadership would mean new priorities—and big changes in the support level for these and many other programs.

If Davis proves correct in his predictions, there will be a lot more to talk about after the election than just who won the presidential race.


D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. Check his blog and view prior programs at

This week’s (October 24, 26) guest is Tony Earley, author of “The Blue Star,” which follows the story of Earley’s popular earlier novel, “Jim the Boy.”

Upcoming NC Bookwatch programs on UNC-TV at 9:30 pm on Friday and at 5pm, Sunday:

October 24, encore October 26

Tony Earley

The Blue Star

October 31, encore November 2

Louise Hawes

Black Pearls

November 7, encore November 9

Nancy Peacock

A Broom of One’s Own

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Look for some surprising surprises on Election Day

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