Looking Ahead to the 2020 Elections

When candidate filing opens on December 2, the 2020 elections in North Carolina will be officially under way.

That’s not to say we haven’t seen a fair amount of election-related activity in 2019, with several candidates having already announced their intention to run for various state and federal offices, as well as a few incumbents signaling that they will not seek re-election next year.

Plus, we’ve seen several of the Democratic candidates for president visit our state this year, vying for support in advance of the March 3rd primary.

That’s because in 2020, we are a ‘Super Tuesday’ state, with North Carolina being one of 15 states (plus American Samoa) to host a presidential primary on that day, the first significant primary event following the early-on contests in New Hampshire, Nevada, Iowa and South Carolina.

So, Democratic candidates for president – who either did worse than expected, or better than expected in the first four contests – will wrestle to pick up wins in key states like California and Texas (and NC).

There’s also likely contested primaries within both parties for US Senate (freshman incumbent Republican US Senator Thom Tillis is facing a challenge from retired investment executive Garland Tucker, and former state Senator Cal Cunningham and current state Senator Erica Smith battling for the Democratic nomination) and an emerging spirited contest between Lt. Governor Dan Forest and state Representative Holly Grange to be the GOP’s candidate seeking to derail Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s re-election bid.

What’s all this mean for the 2020 electoral landscape in the state? Well, when thinking ahead to next year three words come to my mind:


2020 is a triple full moon election year in North Carolina, with contests for President, US Senator AND Governor all on the ballot – as well as for our 13 Congressional seats and 170 state House and Senate races up for grabs.

Generally speaking, voter turnout is higher in a presidential election year – it was nearly 70% in 2016, compared with just 53% in the 2018 midterm elections. Part of the reason for this difference is that there are fewer races on the ballot in a midterm and thus less campaign activity to make voters aware there even is an election.

With so many campaigns all going on at once, running TV and radio ads, filling up social media, going door-to-door to woo voters, participating in debates and candidate forums, and hosting rallies and fundraising events, it seems pretty likely that voters will be highly engaged and enthusiastic about casting their vote in the election, so voter turn-out rates should be high.


Not only will North Carolina command a lot of attention during the primary because our election date got moved up, but also because our state is very much an electoral battleground, with the three top-of-the-ticket races all predicted to be highly competitive.

In 2016, Donald Trump won NC by slightly less than 4% of the votes cast; Mitt Romney, the GOP candidate in 2012, won by only 2%, and Democrat Barack Obama had a winning margin of less than 0.5% in 2008.

Picking up North Carolina’s 15 Electoral College votes (if a presidential candidate wins the popular vote in our state, they get to select all the delegates who cast votes in the Electoral College to decide who the president and vice president are) is essential for President Trump’s re-election effort.

That makes it probable that President Trump and whomever the Democratic presidential nominee is will spend significant campaign resources here and are likely to visit the state a number of times in 2020.

Additionally, because the partisan balance of power in the US Senate is on the line in 2020 (Republicans must defend their 22 currently-held seats up next year, compared to just 12 for Democrats, to hold their slim 53-47 majority), there’s predicted to be over $120 million combined spent in North Carolina by the US Senate candidates and outside groups.

And finally, incumbent Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who won in 2016 by just 17,000 votes, will face the winner from the Republican primary between Forest and Grange, in what’s widely predicted to be the most competitive gubernatorial contest in the country in 2020.


So, with a FULL, TOP-HEAVY ballot in 2020, what’s that mean for every other contest?

Well, given all the money likely to be spent and media attention given to these three top-of-ticket races, every other campaign will have to scrap and struggle for the attention of voters.

And, the long shadow cast by these up-ballot races means down-ballot candidates of both parties will prosper or suffer in large part based on how well their fellow Democratic or Republican presidential, US Senate and gubernatorial candidates are doing here in North Carolina.

In short, 2020 is shaping up to be a very interesting election year!

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