Incumbent Joe Sam Queen (D-Waynesville) lost his state Senate seat to fresh-faced Republican challenger Ralph Hise, making Hise the youngest North Carolina senator and adding another member to the now-Republican majority in that chamber.
This is just the latest in a series of tough battles fought by Queen over the last few elections for the 47th Senate District. His fortunes at the polls have risen and fallen with the tides of national sentiment – he lost his seat in the Bush-bonanza of 2004, but swooped in to reclaim it in 2006 when Bush’s ratings – and, by extension, his party’s – plummeted, and held it easily in 2008, riding the Democratic wave led by now-President Obama.
Queen himself attributes this loss, the second of his Senate career, to the national backlash against incumbents as well as the wealth of attack ads lobbed at him by his opponent and outside groups unaffiliated with Hise.
“It was a unique kind of race, as anyone knows that followed it,” said Queen. “There’s been a million dollars of negative advertising, which is twice as much as you would expect, even in a high profile race like I usually have.
“It’s hard to withstand a million dollars of negative advertising and still keep your public persona.”
Meanwhile, winner Hise attributes his win to the feeling among voters that their interests and needs aren’t being properly represented in Raleigh.
“We’ve heard an anger across the district that people are upset with their government and representation since we started this campaign,” he said, noting that his own frustration with the way government is run prompted his bid for the seat in the first place.
While 60-year-old Queen has served intermittently since 2002, 34-year-old Hise comes to the assembly from his position as mayor of Spruce Pine, carrying with him minimal legislative experience.
He said his priorities in Raleigh will be to “return us to some fiscal discipline” while seeking out new opportunities for jobs in the district.
Hise took just under 56 percent of the vote, winning McDowell, Yancey, Mitchell and Avery counties. Queen surpassed him Haywood, his home county, and neighboring Madison County.
Although he is out for this legislative term, Queen has made comebacks before, and wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a return to the campaign trail on the next election cycle.
“I am 60 years old and I’ve still got a lot ahead of me,” Queen said, “but whether it’s in politics or business or what, I’m not certain.
“I like public service and I will look at the future appropriately as it develops, but I certainly have enjoyed getting to do the things I’ve been able to do for my region.”
Hise said he is excited about the win, after what he called a “hard, tough fight,” but takes a cautious attitude towards the role of the new Republican majorities in both state chambers, warning that he and fellow Republicans must be careful to keep promises lest they find the tables turned on them when voters hit the polls again.
“If we don’t return representation to our government,” Hise said, “this will be a two-year opportunity.”
47th Senate District
Ralp Hise Jr. (R) 31,098
Joe Sam Queen (D) 24,531