More than 2.3 million North Carolina voters latched on to President-elect Donald Trump’s message of draining the “swamp” in Washington, D.C., but that indignant tide of change didn’t upset the state’s congressional incumbents.
(Americans) don’t feel heard and they don’t feel represented by those in office.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan
All 12 U.S. House members on the ballot in North Carolina — nine Republicans and three Democrats — cruised to re-election Tuesday night. The experienced politicians clobbered their competition: Their average win margin exceeded 25 percentage points.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from Winston-Salem, also won comfortably by more than 268,000 votes.
Nationwide, House and Senate incumbents fared mostly well, with Trump’s stunning victory helping Republicans keep their majority status in Congress.
Still, Duke University associate professor Pope “Mac” McCorkle, a former Democratic consultant, says the significance of political parties is declining.
“A new unwritten chapter in American politics has opened. Trump’s win was an ugly, divisive victory not supported by a majority of American voters. But, it has overwhelmed the old Democratic and Republican establishments,” McCorkle said. “At the same time in North Carolina, a Republican appears to have become the first gubernatorial incumbent to lose a re-election bid.”
Gov. Pat McCrory trailed Democrat Roy Cooper in the governor’s race Wednesday.
The only fresh face in the North Carolina congressional delegation – Republican Ted Budd, who won in the newly drawn 13th District – posted the smallest margin of victory: about 12 percentage points. District 13 was the only House race in North Carolina with no incumbent this year.
The power of incumbency and the congressional results come as no surprise for most people familiar with North Carolina politics. Thanks to district maps drawn to maintain the delegation’s partisan balance, primary elections – not general elections – pose the biggest threat to incumbents.
Take, for example, a former Tea Party favorite, U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Republican from Dunn who voters cast out earlier this year in a GOP primary. Ellmers, who was the first woman in Congress to endorse Trump this year, lost her bid for another term in June when fellow Republican U.S. Rep. George Holding of Raleigh opted to run against her in the 2nd District.
June’s Republican primary was also a close call for Charlotte-area Rep. Robert Pittenger, who posted just 134 more votes than the second-place candidate. In that contest, Pittenger won just one of the eight counties in his district and came in third place in the seven other counties. On Tuesday, Pittenger beat Democrat Christian Cano by nearly 17 percentage points.
The demographics in all 13 congressional districts reflect North Carolina state lawmakers’ intent: To keep the balance of party power at 10-3, advantage Republicans.
Gerrymandering helped keep incumbents safe in a year where voters – especially Trump’s base – erupted with anger and vowed to oust career politicians. The Republican president-elect has also called for term limits on Congress.
Trump tapped into seven of 10 Americans not trusting Washington, Republican U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday morning when he congratulated Trump.
“They don’t feel heard and they don’t feel represented by those in office,” Ryan said. “(Trump) turned politics on its head.”