Two local Republican strongholds in the state legislature — Senate District 31 and House District 74 — could turn blue this year, a growing number of political analysts say.
Swing Left, a left-leaning national grassroots organization, revealed this week the eight Senate and 12 House districts it views as swing seats. Those seats are being targeted for donations from national grassroots sources and volunteer assistance.
The breakdown is six GOP and two Democratic in the Senate, including Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, and seven GOP and five Democratic in the House, including the seat from which Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth, is retiring.
House 74 is pivotal to Democrats’ chances of regaining control of the state House for the first time since 2010.
Of the state’s five urban counties, Forsyth is the only one where Republicans have an advantage, at 3-2, in the House.
Democrats hold all 10 House seats in Mecklenburg and Wake counties, all four in Durham County and have a 4-2 advantage in Guilford County.
Another four of the vulnerable GOP House seats also are open because incumbents have chosen not to run for re-election.
“With North Carolina’s newly drawn districts, our targets are scattered across the state, including the suburbs of Raleigh, Fayetteville, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, and other ex-urban or rural regions in western areas of the state,” Swing Left official Alex Pilla said.
Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter focused on American political trends at all levels, lists the N.C. Senate as one of seven Republican-controlled chambers vulnerable to flipping.
Cook determined the state Senate — where Republicans hold a 29-21 advantage — as being “a bit more favorable to Democrats” following the approval of the 2019 legislative redistricting map.
Meanwhile, Cook rates the N.C. House as “likely Republican” with a current 65-55 advantage.
There are no Senate seats uncontested in the general election, while five House Democrats and three Republicans are unopposed, including Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, and Rep. Jeffery Elmore, R-Wilkes, in the Triad and Northwest N.C.
“A Democratic takeover of one or both chambers is possible, but likelier in the Senate,” Cook said.
“In fact, it will be a crucial goal for the party, which wants to assert some leverage in the post-2020 Census redistricting.”
Ryan Quinn, Swing Left’s national political analyst, said North Carolina is an example of “sharing the importance of state legislative races in influencing national politics, such as congressional redistricting maps again in North Carolina in 2021 with the expected 14th congressional seat.”
“Redistricting for the 2020 election has made Senate 31 and House 74 less partisan in terms of party affiliation and votes cast in previous elections,” Quinn said. “As goes the districts we’ve targeted, so will go the legislature in 2020.”
Quinn said Swing Left does not recommend campaign issues to candidates it supports, but rather “we try to amplify the voices of those candidates on the issues they deem important to their communities.”
That said, Quinn said it’s “clear that Medicaid expansion and health care will be top of mind issue with voters in North Carolina and nationally when they head to the polls, as well as referendums on elected officials’ track record on other hot-button issues.”
Senate Majority leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said Tuesday that Senate Democrats are supporting Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a state budget without a form of Medicaid expansion for political reasons.
“They are holding out in 2020 because they believe they will be in charge (of the legislature) in 2021, and that’s not going to happen,” Berger said.
Pilla said her group’s efforts have gained credence because of its success in contributing to flipping eight legislative seats from Republican to Democratic in the 2019 election in Virginia, along with defending six Democratic seats.
“Seventeen of our 20 target races were decided by single digits,” Pilla said.
Krawiec and Conrad’s seats were identified as vulnerable to flipping as the final 2020 legislative redistricting maps were being approved in November.
Senate 31 includes reliably Republican Kernersville and Walkertown areas, as well as many Winston-Salem neighborhoods where minority voters give precincts a distinctly Democratic tilt.
Even with solid-red Davie County tossed in, the new district could be competitive for Democratic candidate Terri LeGrand, who ran unsuccessfully in 2018 against Conrad.
While House 74, in its new configuration, has strongly Republican parts of western Forsyth, it also has substantial areas of dependably Democratic voting on the southwestern side of Winston-Salem.
Winston-Salem Council Member Dan Besse is the Democratic candidate for the 74th, while Jeff Zenger of Lewisville filed to succeed Conrad as the Republican representative.
Besse said in November that after looking at the 74th’s past voting history, he feels he has a shot, though the GOP on paper still has the upper edge.
Besse said “we already knew District 74 would be a toss-up. That speaks to the competitiveness of the race and how hard we will have to campaign to be successful.”
Zenger said in a statement that “I want to go to Raleigh to fight for the traditional values and conservative principles that make North Carolina great.”
Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College in Salisbury, rates both Conrad’s and Krawiec’s potential districts as competitive districts that lean Republican.
Bitzer published his analysis on his Old North State Politics blog, using www.PlanScore.org to examine voter data from the new districts.
Bitzer “predicts” the Republican should get 54.5% of the 2020 vote in House 74, and 54.1% of the vote in Senate 31.
The prediction word is in quotation marks because Bitzer takes pains to point out that his model isn’t attempting to say who’ll actually win. He’s only looking for patterns based on 2016 voting.
Turnout is typically much higher when the presidential contest is at the top of the ballot.
If the division between Republican and Democratic votes were to more resemble that in the 2016 gubernatorial contest, the GOP total could be down to 52% in the 31st.
Yet, Krawiec has never won less than 61% of the vote in the 31st, although that was based on its configuration prior to the recent court order.