State Senate races here in the mountains could determine whether a historic shift occurs in North Carolina’s overall political landscape.
Many experts are predicting that voters in North Carolina might punish Democrats and incumbents for the shaky economy. Republicans have not controlled the state Senate in more than a century. That could change in a matter of days as Republicans need to pick up just six seats to gain a majority. Nine seats are needed for Republicans to gain control of the state House.
“This is shaping up to be a very rough year for Democrats, just as it was a rough year for Republicans in 2008,” said Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at Western Carolina University.
For the state Senate, two of the mostly closely contested races are here in the mountains between incumbent and Democrat Joe Sam Queen and Republican challenger Ralph Hise for District 47, and incumbent and Democrat John Snow and Republican challenger Jim Davis for District 50.
A statewide poll by Public Policy Polling earlier this month found 50 percent of likely voters would support Republicans, 42 percent would support Democrats, and just 8 percent of voters remained undecided.
More specifically, some polls are indicating leads for Republicans in both District 47 and District 50. N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation, a statewide research and education group serving business and industry, noted Queen fell narrowly behind Hise, the mayor of Spruce Pine, in two polls in June. One taken in mid-September had Hise 10-percentage points in the lead.
“Sen. Queen has proven himself a tenacious politician, but is facing a substantial headwind this year that could return the seat to Republican hands,” John Ruskin, executive director of the foundation, said in a recent news release.
A poll Oct. 8 showed Snow trailing Davis by 16 percentage points.
“If this district goes Republican, the entire portion of North Carolina’s Senate district map west of Charlotte, with the exception of a single senate seat in Buncombe County, could turn red,” Ruskin said.
Jim Blaine, head of North Carolina’s Senate Republican Caucus, credited the surge in the polls to the two GOP candidates’ hard work. He also cited a desires by mountain voters to receive an equitable distribution of state tax dollars when compared with the amounts received by those in the eastern portion of the state.
Not so fast, responded Andrew Whalen, head of North Carolina’s Democratic Party, who is deeply familiar with Western North Carolina and its voting patterns from two successful stints as U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler’s campaign manager and, most recently, as the congressman’s communications director.
“Early voting numbers show Democrats are leading out west, in ballots returned,” Whalen said. “I’m confident that Sen. Snow and Sen. Queen are going to be reelected.”