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Republicans win big in WNC

Volunteers for the Republican and Democratic party set up during Early Voting in Sylva, NC.
Lilly Knoepp
Volunteers for the Republican and Democratic party set up during Early Voting in Sylva, NC.

Nationally, this year’s election did not result in the “red wave” predicted by pollsters. But in Western North Carolina, Republicans won big. Fewer than 10 Democrats won seats in the whole NC-11 district which encompasses about 15 counties in Western North Carolina.

Historically, the party of the current president has a hard time during midterm elections. With Biden’s approval rating at 39 percent, Democrats braced themselves to lose the majority in the US House and Senate. That didn’t happen, explains politics expert Chris Cooper, head of the Public Policy Institute at Western Carolina University.

“Republicans did not gain as many seats is they tend to do during the president's midterm,” said Cooper.

Some races are still being called or have headed into a runoff. As of Thursday afternoon, Republicans have claimed 209 seats in the House; they need 218 for a majority. There are still 37 races that have not been called. Democrats hold 189 seats.

At the same time in the Senate, Republicans have 48 seats and need 51 for a majority. There are four races that haven’t been called. Democrats have 46 seats and Independent candidates won two seats.

“I think this depends on your perspective. You can see this is a glass half full or a glass half empty regardless of whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. It was a good night for Republicans, but it was not a great night for Republicans,” said Cooper.

Heading into Election night, North Carolina Republicans were hoping for a supermajority in both houses of the NC Legislature. The balance depended on three seats in the North Carolina House of Representatives and two seats in the North Carolina Senate.

The state Senate Republicans appear to have won the supermajority while the House of Representatives fell short by one seat.

After the election, there are now a majority of Republicans in the NC Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court has previously played a large role in cases from redistricting voting maps, Voter ID laws, abortion access laws and more. Cooper says the Supreme Court is the key to the balance of power within the state branches. That means with a new majority that the balance of power might change.

“I think generally, questions about who gets to move the levers of power. The legislature is going to want even more power. They're going to want to take even more power away from the governor. And I don't think that the new State Supreme Court is going to want to stop them,” said Cooper.

Turnout across the state was down but that wasn’t the case in Western North Carolina. A few counties, including Buncombe County, were in the top 20 counties in the state for turnout, according to Cooper.

“People were pretty excited - with that said, this is a district that certainly leans towards the Republican party in a normal year, and this was a year that was supposed to be better for the Republicans,” said Cooper. “You put all that together and I think that explains how Chuck Edwards, you know, had a fairly commanding lead over Jasmine Beach Ferrara.”

In the closely-watched race for North Carolina’s 11thCongressional district, Republican candidate Chuck Edwards has won with about 54 percent of the vote, or 10 percent more votes than Democratic candidate Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, according to unofficial results from the NC Board of Elections

The district represents about 15 Western North Carolina Counties. Edwards won 14 counties minus for deep blue Buncombe County.

“What we saw was what I think of as calcification of these voting patterns in Western North Carolina,” said Cooper. “Buncombe County looks like it went even bluer. There was not a single Republican who got the majority of the votes in Buncombe County in any of the elections. You look at the entire rest of the district, however, about 180 potential county elections that we could look at. It looks like the Democrats won seven of those outside of Buncombe County. So really what we see is the Red County's got redder, the Blue County (singular) got bluer.”

Right now, all the election results are unofficial. On November 18th, all of the 100 county boards of election will go through a canvass to verify their counts. Then on November 29th, the state will certify the election.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.