BURR AND THE UNDERVOTE
US Sen. Richard Burr easily won his Republican primary against three challengers with 61 percent of the vote. His nearest opponent, Dr. Greg Brannon, captured just 25 percent. Burr landed more than 622,000 votes, almost 200,000 more than Trump and about 6,000 more than Clinton in her bid for the Democratic delegates.
But though this race attracted a high percentage of Republican voters, still more than 125,000 Republican ballots left this race blank. More Republican voters took part in the governor’s race than the one for Burr’s US Senate seat. And incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory took in about 200,000 votes more than Burr, clocking more than 80 percent of the vote in Guilford and Forsyth along the way, indicating a strong position for the incumbent governor in the fall.
Apathy down the ticket was more evident on the Democrat side.
In the governor’s race, Attorney General Roy Cooper beat Ken Spaulding by more than two to one, but Democratic candidates collected 40,000 fewer ballots than their Republican counterparts in the race. And more than 100,000 Democrats who cast ballots in the presidential race declined to vote in this one.
In the Senate race, where Deborah Ross prevailed with 62 percent of the vote, 155,000 Democrats who showed up at the polls declined to vote.
Sanders voters, in particular, seemed to eschew the undercard races. The undervote in his biggest precinct, UNCG, was around 17 percent for both the Senate and governor’s races.
The undervote becomes particularly important in the US Senate, because 34 of the 100 seats are up for re-election, 24 of them belonging to Republicans. The GOP currently has an eight-seat edge in the Senate, and will need to increase engagement in these races to maintain its advantage.
CRUZ TAKES THE TRIAD
Sen. Cruz lost to Trump by just four points in North Carolina last week, winning 22 of 100 counties, including a small band of mountain territory in the west and a stretch of counties in the interior running from Forsyth to Dare. His biggest win came in Bertie County, with 52 percent of the vote, taking Trump by almost 14 points.
Cruz won all the western precincts in the rural edge Forsyth County and most of the east, the county’s most heavily Republican areas; Trump’s precincts cut through the middle of the county. Very few Republican ballots were cast in most of the city’s precincts, but Kasich had the most impressive showing in Winston-Salem, pulling precincts in the south and west. He logged 286 votes in Precinct 803 in Buena Vista, populated with high-income, country-club Republicans, i.e. the establishment.
Cruz won Guilford by about 2,000 votes and 2 percentage points, splitting precincts in Greensboro with Trump and, to a lesser degree, Kasich. Cruz’s precincts included ones in Summerfield, Mcleansville and other mostly white, rural areas. He got his largest Greensboro totals in G27 at Greensboro Day School and G32 at Claxton Elementary School, bellwether Republican precincts with strong voter turnout.
Cruz’s path to the nomination is even more of a longshot than Sanders’. He’ll need to win all of the remaining Republican primaries by an average of eight points each — tough in races with three contenders — or he’ll have to hope for a contested convention, which hasn’t happened since 1952.
And that in itself would cause turmoil among Trump voters, a malcontented lot who just might stay home if their candidate isn’t on the ballot, and could incite even more unpredictability if Trump decided to run as an independent.
THE TRUMP FACTOR
Donald Trump took North Carolina by yooge margins in the south and the east, winning by double digits in most counties and losing, in most instances, by just a few points. It was enough to win the state by about 50,000 votes — fewer than 4 percentage points, because Cruz won the counties with the biggest populations.
Interestingly enough, Trump did the best in low-income counties that were heavily African American, collecting the white vote in those precincts. His best total, more than 60 percent, came from Columbus County in the south, where he took every precinct; Clinton won the Democratic race there by 25 points. Sanders, with just 31 percent of the votes, was only outdone by Trump by 160 votes.
Of the 22 counties where Trump scored more than half of the vote, 13 of them are described by the American Communities Project as “African American South.” In the general election, counties like these are likely to go Democratic.
Guillory, the UNC professor, underscored the racial makeup of the modern GOP.
“The Republican primary is almost exclusively white voters,” he said. “The Republican Party has become a vehicle for white voters’ aspirations and attitudes and political leanings…. The party has a cleavage between college-educated, professional, affluent men and women, and its high school-educated workers, blue-collar men, and they are the ones who have tilted largely towards Trump.
“These are the sons and daughters of the Reagan Democrats,” he continued, “and Jessecrats — the old Jesse Helms Democrats.”
Trump also did well among counties described by the ACP as “Graying America” — Brunswick, Carteret, Cherokee and Dare. Among these, Brunswick has the most black people at 11.4 percent; Cherokee has the least at 1.2 percent. Put together with Trump’s strong performance in Columbus County, it becomes difficult to make generalizations about where Trump’s support comes from.
In the Triad, most of his wins came from outside the cities, but he managed to find some support in urban precincts.
Forsyth County’s Precinct 081, at Oak Summit United Methodist Church, is 39 percent African American and 53 percent white. Trump won by more than 8 points with 182 votes. But Sanders got more votes than Trump there, even after a 35-point shellacking by Clinton.
Trump’s true Greensboro stronghold is in the precincts of the northwest, but even in the most conservative part of the city his victories couldn’t match the totals of Clinton or Sanders on the Democrat side. But perhaps the most telling point is that Trump was completely covered over by Cruz in the Republican primary in Guilford and Forsyth. In other words, wherever Trump mined the most votes, Cruz won even more.
WHO WILL WIN NORTH CAROLINA?
Despite all the data provided by the 2016 North Carolina primary, the picture remains unclear until each party names its nominee, which on the Democratic side could come by April, but because Sanders still has a copious war chest he may decide to see it through to California in June despite slim odds. In the general election, Clinton has the numbers but Sanders has the passion. But while it seems intuitive that Clinton voters would go with Sanders were he to get the nomination, the same may not be as easily said for the Sanders constituency, some of which has had an increasing hostility towards the Clinton campaign as she keeps racking up wins.
On the Republican side, it would be hard to take the nomination away from Trump, but it seems that the party may be planning to do just that with talk of a contested convention. There’s even talk of an independent, conservative movement if Trump takes the mantle. If Trump gets the nod, he could very well win North Carolina, a swing state that is expected to lean right. His voters might not break for Cruz, or whomever the GOP might enlist to run. But Republicans in the population centers voted against Trump in the primary, so the state could stay red again with a similar margin to 2012, when Mitt Romney won it by 2 percent in his losing bid against Obama. If Trump gets pushed out and runs as an independent, all this math goes out the window.
Or North Carolina could go blue like it did in 2008, the first time since Carter won it in 1976. In his first election, Obama turned North Carolina blue on the strength of a surge in voter turnout and a coalition of young, black and educated voters, though he lost it to Mitt Romney in 2012.
So just as always, the fate of North Carolina depends on who gets on the ticket… and who shows up to vote.
Jordan Green contributed reporting and analysis for this story.