Compared to 2012, the I-77 toll corridor cost Governor McCrory approximately 33,000 votes. Here’s the breakdown:
Drilling down to the local level, the results are even more surprising.
Cornelius alone enough to deliver Cooper victory; Huntersville and Iredell roar
Cornelius is bedrock GOP establishment territory. It’s home to a state representative and senator. U.S. Senator Thom Tillis started his political career there as a town commissioner.
However, it is also ground zero for the anti-toll movement. The anti-toll group Widen I77 was founded there, and the town board was among the first to take an official anti-toll position. The board even censured the mayor and called for his resignation because of his support for the project.
In 2012 McCrory carried Cornelius by a whopping 74%. 2016 was a different story; he barely carried a majority, at 50.6%. The total vote swing was 6,196. Given Cooper’s current margin of victory of 5,000 votes (pending a recount), Cornelius alone delivered a Cooper victory:
Huntersville was nearly as dramatic. During the primary, Republican incumbent Charles Jeter lost every Huntersville precinct to challenger Tom Davis due largely to Jeter’s early support of the I-77 toll project. And in 2015 three pro-toll commissioners and a four-term mayor were swept from office.
Apparently Huntersville wasn’t through cleaning house, because while it went 71% for McCrory in 2012, in 2016 McCrory failed to even carry a majority, garnering only 48.6%. The result was a net loss of over 10,000 votes, an electoral disaster for McCrory.
A similar shift played out in South Iredell county, another staunchly conservative region. In 2012 the eight precincts around Mooresville delivered a net margin of over 20,000 votes for McCrory. In 2016, while he still carried a majority, the margin dwindled to about 9,800 again resulting in a net loss of over 10,000 votes.
HB2 a non-issue in North Meck
The mainstream media has reported extensively about the effect of HB2 on the governor’s race. Did it play a factor in North Meck? As it turns out, the 98th House race served as a proxy for HB2. An analysis of this race provides insight into the effect (or non-effect) of HB2.
The 98th House contest pitted Republican incumbent John Bradford against newcomer Jane Campbell, a Navy veteran and lesbian. Campbell skipped the primary but decided to run as “unaffiliated” after HB2 passed. In both debates she stated HB2 was her primary motivation for running. Several anti-HB2 super PACs poured money into her race.
Both ran on an anti-toll platform, but Campbell repeatedly made an issue of Bradford’s vote for HB2. So if HB2 was an issue to North Meck voters, the results would have shown either a narrower Bradford victory (vs 2014) or even a Campbell win.
It didn’t happen.
In 2014 Bradford handily won his race by a 55-45% margin. But in 2016, Bradford’s margin of victory actually increased to 56.5-43.5%.
Drilling down further, if HB2 would have resonated anywhere in North Meck it would have been the Democratic enclave of Davidson. While Bradford failed to carry a majority in either 2014 or 2016, Bradford actually performed better in Davidson in 2016 (48-52% in 2016 vs 46-54% in 2014).
In contrast to Bradford’s improved performance, McCrory saw a net loss of over 3,000 votes in Davidson. Since Bradford did better despite (or some may say because of) his support of HB2, McCrory’s dropoff can be primarily attributed to his toll position:
Perhaps statewide HB2 may have cost McCrory votes, but it had little effect in North Mecklenburg which otherwise stayed Republican in down-ballot races. Statewide McCrory lost ~6% of Republican support, but in North Meck he lost an astonishing 21%:
Adding all this up, from the northern most precinct in Charlotte to the southern Iredell, voters voiced their displeasure over McCrory’s toll support to the tune of over 33,000 votes.
This is even more remarkable considering the top of the ticket. In 2012 Obama was sweeping to victory nationwide. North Carolina bucked that tide by barely going Republican, but the top of the ticket was of little help in the gubernatorial race. Yet, McCrory still won by a double-digit margin. In 2016, with Trump coattails everywhere, McCroy was one of the few Republicans nationwide that underperformed, perhaps nowhere as deeply as the I-77 toll corridor.
Cooper should not be too smug, however. Those 33,000 votes will probably revert to their Republican home if Cooper fails to intervene on the project, especially if a Republican challenger promises to take action.
It’s not too late to start thinking about 2020.
Mr. Cooper, are you listening?
Special thanks for Greg Wallace for providing the number crunching and Nils Lucander for the graphics work.