What’s the political fallout from Charlotte?
The conventional wisdom is that lawlessness and disorder help the law-and-order candidate. And the conventional wisdom might be right. It’s a tough state for Hillary Clinton anyway, as it has voted Democratic only once in the last nine elections (i.e., since Ronald Reagan), which was in 2008. But it’s one Clinton can do without—Barack Obama won 332 electoral votes in 2012 without winning the Tarheel State. Donald Trump, however, needs it desperately.
Right now, it’s tight: Trump’s lead in the Real Clear Politics average is 1.8 percent. Two polls from the state hit Wednesday: Fox News had Trump +5 at 47-42, and PPP had it tied at 47 apiece. That makes it winnable for Clinton under the right circumstances, though it would surely be an upset.
But the conventional wisdom is conventional for a reason. It’s...conventional. Is there any basis on which to think that these events could hurt Trump? I say maybe there is.
This argument begins with understanding what’s been going on in North Carolina since Obama won it in 2008. Then, the state was moving toward some very light shade of blue. In addition to choosing Obama over John McCain (albeit by less than 1 percent), the state’s voters chose a Democratic governor, Beverly Perdue that year. She became the state’s third consecutive Democratic governor—the party had controlled the executive mansion since 1992. In January 2009, eight of the state’s 13 representatives in Congress were Democrats. Many were fairly conservative blue dogs, but even so, North Carolina stood as the prime example of how Democrats could expand into areas where they’d usually been outnumbered.
Then came the Great Recession and the tea party movement and bam: All the gains got wiped out. Nearly all those blue dog House Democrats lost, and the party has gone from having those eight seats in 2009 down to three out of 13 today. Gov. Perdue started out well, emphasizing more education funding. But in the tea party election of 2010, the Republicans gained control of both houses of the legislature, and from there, she lost ground fast. She vetoed 19 bills on matters from fracking to voter ID. She became so unpopular that she decided not to seek reelection.
In 2012, Republican Pat McCrory won the governor’s race, and as is well known, he and the GOP legislature pushed the state hard to starboard on education funding, social programs, voting rights, redistricting, and other issues. Their actions led to the “Moral Monday” protests that brought thousands to state legislature building to be peacefully arrested in 2013 and 2014. They’re still ongoing, I gather, mostly over HB2, the famous anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”
McCrory is running for reelection, but his approval numbers are about eight points underwater and right now he’s narrowly losing to Democratic challenger Roy Cooper. The Senate race is almost exactly where the presidential race is, with the Republican, incumbent Richard Burr, leading Democrat Deborah Ross by 1.9 percent.
So this was a deeply divided and electric atmosphere long before Keith Lamont Scott was shot and violent protests flared. One of the most bitterly divided states in the country. Maybe the most.
As I said, the conventional thinking would hold that what’s unfolded over the last two nights in Charlotte would spur the law-and-order voters into action. And boy do those folks hate Clinton already. That new PPP poll found that by 30-23 percent, Trump voters in the state have a higher opinion of David Duke than of Clinton.
But the folks on the other side of this equation have a lot to be angry about too. They’ve been watching for four years now, mostly helpless, as the governor and state legislature have pushed through a series of deeply unpopular measures that are just way too right-wing for this essentially fairly moderate, center-right state. With HB2, they have finally taken the state into national punch line territory. It’s one thing for meta-liberal Bruce Springsteen to cancel a concert in the state. But when the NBA and NCAA start cancelling games there (one of the two or three most basketball-crazed states in the country), as they have, and when Mike Krzyzewski calls the law “embarrassing,” that starts to hit people where they live. And now a police shooting. White voters aren’t the only ones who can get fed up, and I think we can be pretty sure that when Trump says we need a national stop and frisk program, never mind that the one in New York was declared unconstitutional, black voters in North Carolina and everywhere take note.
I’m not making any predictions here. But I remember another time when the conventional wisdom said events were going to lay the Democrats waste, and it involved a Clinton. It was 1998, the midterm election held during Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Clinton’s behavior, the experts said, had demoralized Democrats. It was even said that black voters in particular had “no reason” to come out and vote.
When the votes were tallied, the Democrats still had losses, as incumbent parties in year-six elections always do. But they were far, far less than everyone had predicted. And black turnout, lo and behold, was surprisingly high. The results were so embarrassing for the Republicans that Newt Gingrich resigned the speakership at the end of that week.
Voter registration is tilting slightly Democratic. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report tweeted just Wednesday that since June 2015, net registration is up 6.8 percent in the Obama counties and just 5.2 percent in the Mitt Romney counties. And speaking of Obama, let’s see what effect three or so speeches in the state might have by Election Day. Way too early to turn out the lights on this one.