For Republicans, Mecklenburg and Wake are more than North Carolina’s most populous counties. They’re windows into the future of state politics.
That’s why the N.C. Republican Party last week launched what it calls “Project Listen,” a concerted effort designed to improve the party’s brand in the state’s biggest counties.
“That’s the place to start,” says GOP strategist Paul Shumaker. “This is just a first step in what needs to be an ongoing process for the Republican Party to remain a competitive, viable force.”
The project grew out of a meeting Shumaker had in the home of his longtime client, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who faces re-election in 2016.
Presidential election years haven’t always been kind to Republicans of late.
In 2008, while Democrat Barack Obama squeaked out a narrow win in North Carolina, Democrat Kay Haganbeat Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole by 362,000 votes.
She rolled up nearly half that margin in just two of the state’s bluest counties – Mecklenburg and Wake.
Since 2010, the counties have been the state’s growth engine, accounting for almost half of its total growth. Already about 1 in every 5 North Carolina voters lives in Wake and Mecklenburg.
Those are also the kinds of voters who interest the GOP.
In both counties, registered unaffiliated voters have overtaken registered Republicans and are closing in on Democrats. And unaffiliateds may be the state’s only genuine swing voters.
Burr has an immediate interest in figuring out the two counties – it’s called 2016. Shumaker says there’s a longer-term interest as well.
“This state is a competitive state,” he says. “It is there for the taking by either side at any time.”Jim Morrill
GOP bills could face opposition – from a Republican lawmaker
Last week, the N.C. Senate passed bills to dramatically reconfigure the Greensboro City Council and the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
Republican lawmakers initiated both bills over the protests of many local leaders in Greensboro and Wake. Both passed by virtual party-line votes. Now they head to the state House.
There, the votes might not be quite as partisan.
Rep. Charles Jeter, a Huntersville Republican, plans to vote against the GOP-sponsored bills unless they’re changed to at least include a referendum.
“For me, self-governance is about as constitutional as the Constitution gets,” he says. “The City Council in Greensboro has not asked for it – in fact they’ve asked not to do it. The county commission in Wake County has not asked for it – in fact they’ve asked not to do it.
“Without a referendum or without a request from the government in question, I will vote against both measures.”
That position could make him popular with the bills’ critics. Says Jeter: “I could get elected in Greensboro right now.”Jim Morrill
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