Exile on Jones Street: Epilogue: Hagan-Tillis

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kirk rossby Kirk Ross

Have to admit to being among those who mostly stuck to the script that Hagan would squeak through. It was a good call through the weekend before the election. Then it wasn’t.

She didn’t lose by a lot, partly because the pizza guy didn’t deliver enough Tillis votes to the Libertarians, but mostly because the electorate turned out to be a lot like the one that showed up in 2010 when Richard Burr was re-elected with 1,458,046 votes. Senator-elect Tillis drew 1,414,715. Adjusted for the overall growth rate of the state over the past four years, the total amount of votes cast in each year was not that different.

As Election Day neared, the signs of shift in fortunes were everywhere. Republican efforts to nationalize the race, driven in great part by the murky apparatus of dark-money groups, was proving successful and Tillis clearly had the rhetorical momentum.

A good, hard look at early and absentee voting, which started off heavily in favor of Democrats, revealed a thinner margin when completed than Hagan needed to stave off the GOP-leaning electorate on Election Day.

Meanwhile, all around the country races were breaking against the president’s party the way midterms typically do. That Hagan was being touted as a “bright spot” for the Democrats and an anomaly should have been a screaming indicator that she was headed out.

The final demographics of the race are being sorted out, as are the precinct totals that plug in the early vote and absentee numbers. We’ll also get a fuller count of the number of rejected ballots and vote challenges. Until all that’s settled we won’t know see the complete picture. But right now if you step back and squint it’s not hard to sort out a few key images. As in:

Young people were mostly no-shows. Nationwide, people 18 to 29 represented about 21.5 percent of the electorate, a slight increase over 2010. But in North Carolina we may see a decrease when the final tallies are certified. One thing to look for when those numbers are drilled down to the precinct level is how voting restrictions, polling-site changes and challenges affected student turnout.

And it’s not just college students sitting it out. In 2010, the average age of people voting in the election was 54. In 2012, when more young people voted because of the presidential election, the average dropped to a youthful 50. This year, it shot back up past the 2010 level to 58.

Fired up? Chalk it up to Hagan’s constant moves to distance herself from the president, vote-suppression tactics or gerrymandered districts, but the Moral Monday movement and NAACP election organizing effort wasn’t enough to substantially increase black turnout. Black voters made up about 22 percent of the electorate, up from 2010, but shy of 2012 levels. Hagan drew about 96 percent of the black vote.

The urban-rural divide is real. As the General Assembly session wound down this year, legislators played up the urban-rural divide and carried that rhetoric on into their local races. The GOP’s efforts to identify with the state’s rural areas served them well at the polls. Tillis won the state without taking any of its seven most populous counties.

There’ll be plenty of time for a more thoughtful look at the numbers once there are numbers around to be thoughtful about. But judging from the relative lack of soul searching, don’t expect to see any more definitive data to change the dynamics going forward. Sadly, the script for the next two years is already mostly written.

With the 2014 election in the rear view mirror, the two sides and the consultants driving them are already headed off to 2016, a year when Burr and McCrory will be up for re-election.

If you needed any proof that would happen, you got it first thing the morning after Election Day, when Roy Cooper, who for now is just “Roy Cooper for North Carolina” dropped an email calling for contributions and big changes in Raleigh.

It may have been a “don’t mourn, organize” moment, but it made a lot of post-election hangovers pound a little