In an election year defined by the so-called
“battleground” states, there may be no bigger battleground in the
country than North Carolina. From the presidential campaign down to
local legislative races, everyone could be for in for a long night of
vote counting on Nov. 8.
Indeed, a recent story by the liberal magazine
Mother Jones declared that, “In the wake of this year's electoral
chaos, one state has emerged as the most critical battleground of all:
North Carolina…What makes North Carolina unique in 2016 is the number
of close races where coattails from the presidential election could tip
By way of evidence, the story goes on to say that
“North Carolina is the only state in which races for president, U.S.
Senate and governor are all rated ‘toss-ups’ by the Cook Political
In the volatile 2016 presidential race, North
Carolina is thus far living up to its recent reputation as a “purple
state.” Democrat Barack Obama pulled off something of an upset in 2008
when he won North Carolina by a mere 14,000 votes over Republican John
McCain. The state then narrowly swung back into the Republican category
in 2012 when Obama’s Republican challenger Mitt Romney captured it by
This year, the polling to date has shown a very
tight race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump
in North Carolina, as the state cements its position as a potentially
key player in deciding the eventual winner.
Earlier in September, surveys by CBS News/You Gov
and Quinnipiac both showed Clinton with four-point leads over Trump
with third party candidates factored in. But a Suffolk survey had Trump
up by three. And the more recent poll, a Sept. 15 survey by the Civitas
Institute (which bills itself as “North Carolina’s Conservative
Voice”), had the race in a 42 percen-42 percent dead heat between the
two candidates, with Libertarian Gary Johnson at five percent. Things
can’t get much closer than that.
Another closely watched race features incumbent
Republican U.S. Senator Richard Burr against Democratic challenger
Deborah Ross. At times, the polls have been surprisingly tight in a
race which, at least initially, was viewed as an uphill fight for the
challenger. Back on Sept. 4, the CBS News/You Gov survey had Ross up by
a point 41 percent-40 percent. But surveys a few days later by Suffolk
(Sept. 8) and Quinnipiac (Sept. 9) put Burr back up by four points and
six points, respectively.
And then there is perhaps the marquee matchup in
the state — the hotly contested governor’s race between Republican
incumbent Pat McCrory and Democratic challenger Attorney General
Roy Cooper, a race likely to be influenced by a number of factors,
including the impact of the controversial HB2 “bathroom bill,” which
continues to make headlines.
Earlier this month, the NCAA and Athletic Coast
Conference announced they would be cancelling athletic events in the
state in response to the bill. That seems to have spurred some
speculation about another effort to make a deal that would lead to
repeal of the measure by the legislature.
A series of polls taken in the dog days of August
showed Cooper with leads anywhere from the low to high single digits
over McCrory, and a Sept. 9 survey by Quinnipiac showed the Democrat up
51 percent-44 percent. But the Sept. 15 Civitas poll showed McCrory up
45 percent-43 percent, which could reflect improving McCrory fortunes
in recent days or could be something of an outlier.
On the local level, residents are getting
bombarded by mailers from both sides in the battle for the District 1
State Senate seat between two-term Republican incumbent Bill Cook and
his Democratic challenger, former newspaper publisher Brownie Futrell.
In 2012, Cook defeated Democrat Stan White by a razor-thin 21 votes,
but then won the 2014 rematch more handily, by about 4,000 votes.
Futrell, who has run a spirited campaign, would likely need a strong
showing in Dare County.
Perhaps the most fascinating local race is the
battle for the District 6 North Carolina House seat being vacated by
the retiring Paul Tine who won as a Democrat in 2014, but subsequently
switched to Unaffiliated. The contest features two members of the Dare
Board of Commissioners – 16-year board veteran and Democratic Warren
Judge and first-term Republican Beverly Boswell, who won on a 2014
recount – in what is a study of contrasts, both philosophically and
In Sentinel interviews this past summer, both
candidates characterized their race as highly competitive. There is no
public polling on the race, but the prevailing view among observers is
that this will be a close one – with Beaufort County perhaps being a
bellwether in the battle.
There are three contested races for the four
seats up for grabs on the Dare County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 8.
It is thought there are some natural advantages to incumbency, but as
2014 proved when two incumbent Democrats were defeated, a strong
election tide can wash out those advantages.
Ironically, the one candidate who is guaranteed a
slot on the new board is a newcomer. Democrat Danny Couch will be
filling the Hatteras seat of retiring Allen Burrus after moving up from
the Dare Board of Education and finding himself unopposed.
The other three races find two Republican
incumbents seeking re-election and a battle for the seat being vacated
by Warren Judge that includes a Democratic member of the Duck Town
The District 1 race features incumbent Republican
Board Vice-Chair Wally Overman, who was appointed to that body in 2013
following the death of Richard Johnson. He then ran in 2014 and
defeated Democrat Sandy Semans Ross by about 1,600 votes. His opponent
this time around is Democrat Rosemarie Doshier, an East Lake realtor
who has been active in realtor organizations on the legislative level
focusing on issues related to property rights.
The District 2 contest is between current
Republican Board Chair Bob Woodard and Kill Devil Hills Police Lt. John
Towler. In his 2012 race for the board, Woodard defeated former Nags
Head Mayor Bob Muller by about 1,500 votes. Towler, who has served in
the Kill Devil Hills Police Department since 1995, is also a
videographer who spent time as a legislative assistant in Washington,
The other contested race is for the District 3
seat being vacated by Judge. And here the Democrats have the candidate
with more experience in elective politics. Monica Thibodeau is the
mayor pro tempore of Duck, where she has served on the town council for
a dozen years. Her Republican opponent is Steve House.
House is a former Emergency Services worker who
now operates First Flight Home Services. He lived in Dare County
between 1988 and 2004, moved away and returned. He defeated veteran law
enforcement officer Jimmy Ray Watts by about 1,300 votes in the March
If you want to see the commissioner candidates up
close and personal, the League of Women Voters of Dare County has
scheduled several candidate forums for the Dare Board of Commissioner
hopefuls this fall. The first will be on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the
Nags Head Elementary School from 7-9 p.m. The second will be on
Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the Fessenden Center in Buxton at the same time.
(Mark Jurkowitz is the publisher of The Outer Banks Sentinel. For more Outer Banks news, go to www.obsentinel.com.)