For more than 20 years, Charlotte Republicans held the key to the mayor’s office.
Now the question is: Will they ever find it again?
Democrat Patrick Cannon’s victory over Republican Edwin Peacock on Tuesday continued a trend of Democratic dominance.
For the second time in four years, a Democrat beat a well-financed Republican for an open mayoral seat. And for the second straight election, Democrats swept the City Council’s at-large seats on their way to a 9-2 majority.
“The challenge for Republicans in local elections … will be persuading quality candidates to run,” said Eric Heberlig, a political scientist at UNC Charlotte. “(Peacock) was kind of the candidate from central casting. A lot of Republicans would say if he can’t win, how can I?”
Demographic changes have given Charlotte Democrats a decided edge. They outnumber Republicans 2-1. But a new voting law passed by the Republican-led General Assembly could cut into that advantage.
Tuesday, for example, was the last time voters anywhere in the state could cast a straight-ticket ballot or register and vote on the same day during early voting. Starting next year, the early-voting period – which gave Cannon a 5,481-vote lead heading into Tuesday – will be a week shorter.
And in 2016, voters will have to present photo IDs. Democracy North Carolina, which fought the changes, puts the number of Mecklenburg County voters without IDs at nearly 41,000. Most are Democrats.
How dominant were Charlotte Democrats on Tuesday?
• In the 29 precincts where at least 80 percent of voters are minority, Cannon won 12,841 votes to Peacock’s 1,072 – a gap of nearly 11,800 votes.
• Peacock picked up five precincts in Dilworth, Elizabeth and Plaza-Midwood that voted for Democrat Anthony Foxx in 2009, the last time there was an open-seat race.
But Cannon won seven precincts – mainly in the northeast and southwest – that had gone Republican. That year Republican John Lassiter won the seven, 3,421 to 2,947. This year Cannon carried them, 3,043 to 2,433.
• Cannon lost five Ballantyne-area precincts but outperformed Foxx in them.
• More than 26,700 Democrats voted straight-ticket. That was nearly double the number of straight GOP ballots.
While Cannon enjoyed a sizable early-vote cushion, he won just 182 more votes than Peacock on Election Day itself.
“We did a good job on Election Day, but obviously it wasn’t good enough,” said Russell Peck, who managed Peacock’s campaign.
Republicans see hope
State Republicans put a positive spin on Peacock’s 6-percentage point loss. In each of the last two presidential elections, Democrat Barack Obama carried Mecklenburg County by 100,000 votes.
“Obviously we’re disappointed that Edwin lost,” said state GOP spokesman Daniel Keylin. “But it’s also incredibly optimistic for Republicans heading into 2014 and 2016. … Quite frankly we’d be satisfied if we could keep the margin in Charlotte to six points because it means that (Democratic U.S. Sen.) Kay Hagan will be defeated.”
The last Republican mayoral win came in 2007. Republican Pat McCrory won his seventh and final term with 61 percent of the vote, carrying precincts in the east, northeast and southwest that have since gone to Democrats. Republicans had held the seat since 1987, when Sue Myrick was elected.
McCrory’s 14-year tenure as mayor masked demographic changes that have come to favor Democrats.
When McCrory was first elected in 1995, 73 percent of the city’s voters were white. By the time Foxx was elected in 2009, whites made up 57 percent. Today they’re 53 percent.
By 2010, the city’s non-Hispanic white population had dipped below 50 percent for the first time. Half the city’s Republicans now live in just two southeast City Council districts.
Critics say North Carolina’s new voting law is designed to lower Democratic turnout. Republicans say it’s designed to ensure election integrity. The U.S. Justice Department filed suit over the law in September, alleging racial discrimination.
But as long as the law stays on the books, both parties will have to adjust to changes such as the absence of straight-ticket voting.
Democrat David Howard, re-elected to one of four at-large City Council seats Tuesday, said that will put more emphasis by parties on educating voters about their candidates.
“Just as easy as it is for people to go in and push one button for each party, it will be as easy for … voters to punch four buttons,” he said.
Democrats expect their advantage in city elections to continue.
“It’s going to be hard to overcome a 50- 23-percent advantage,” said Democratic strategist Dan McCorkle.
(This story was modified 10 a.m. 11/7/2013 to correct reference to voter registration during early voting.)
Staff writer Steve Harrison contributed.