With the winter holidays now behind us, North Carolina looks ahead to a very busy 2024. The year ahead will be a pivotal one – not only for North Carolina, but for America at large. The all-but-certain Presidential rematch between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump already dominates many political headlines. But the presidential race aside, many highly far-reaching decisions will influence the long-term trajectory of our state and nation this year.
We at Carolina Forward are typically not in the predictions business – but having eaten our black-eyed peas today, we are making a small exception. Today, we present five predictions for our state over the next year.
Five predictions for North Carolina in 2024
1. Primary upsets
In a state as deeply gerrymandered as North Carolina, much of our state political landscape is decided in two periods: candidate filing, and primaries. As more and more election districts have been drawn to virtually guarantee victory to one party or another (much more often Republicans, of course), real competition has migrated to the primary cycle. While many primaries involve a comfortable incumbent facing challengers with slim chances of success, several others are much more meaningful.
There are 23 Republican primaries and 19 Democratic ones in our state legislature coming up in March. Besides these, there are others for the long list of Council of State positions (including Governor). In both parties, we are likely to see more than one established member of the legislature defeated in this year’s primary cycle in ways that will have real political impact beginning in 2025.
2. GOP mayhem
This year’s “short session” of the legislature will operate under a novel set of circumstances. It will be House Speaker Tim Moore’s last session, before he sails to victory in a Congressional district tailor-drawn to guarantee that outcome. It is also likely to be the last House supermajority Republicans enjoy for some time. In choosing what legislation to advance now, versus in the 2025 long session, Republican leaders must gamble on the outcome of this year’s gubernatorial election.
If Republicans leaders believe they are more likely to have a Governor Mark Robinson in 2025, then there is somewhat less pressure to move extremist legislation in 2024. Allowing such legislation – such as an even more restrictive abortion ban, full repeal of all gun safety regulations, or further book banning measures – to wait until 2025 would allow Republican leaders to pass it with just a simple majority, allowing their members in more competitive districts to duck the vote.
However, if Republicans believe a Democratic Governor is more likely in 2025, then the pressure is on to get while the getting’s good. Republicans are very likely to lose their supermajority in the House, and quite possibly in the Senate as well, in the 2024 elections, and with it their ability to override a gubernatorial veto.
We thus predict that the Republican far-right will clamor strongly to pass yet more extremist legislation in the 2024 short session, because they will correctly see it as their best shot for some time to come. This will include new abortion restrictions, repeal of gun restrictions, and more social legislation aimed at agitating the MAGA base.
3. More school voucher fraud
Every year since North Carolina began its failed private school voucher experiment, the supply of taxpayer dollars allocated to it has outstripped demand. Demand for school vouchers has been so slow in growing that Republican lawmakers actually added $500,000 for a marketing campaign for the program in 2021 – spending even more taxpayer dollars to convince more parents to take their children out of public schools.
The massive (and massively unpopular) expansion of private school vouchers passed by the state legislature this year pours tremendous new resources into a system already rife with fraud, waste and a total lack of oversight. Fraudsters are already seeing dollar signs. Unscrupulous actors are already approaching conservative church leaders across the state pitching them on an easy money grab from the state that carries with it almost no oversight, regulation or quality control. State lawmakers have created a perfect recipe for fraud.
In 2024, we will see more “private schools” pop up to claim easy state voucher cash. Intrepid investigators – unfortunately not from the state, which provides almost no oversight – will eventually discover that their reported information doesn’t hold up.
4. Broken supermajority
In the 2024 election, Republicans will lose their State House supermajority, and face even odds of losing the same in the State Senate.
Even in 2022, a “red” year that showed the usual over-performance of the party out of power in the White House and on maps gerrymandered in their favor, House Republicans were still unable to clinch a supermajority, significantly underperforming their own predictions. Days before the election, House Republican Majority Leader John Bell gushed about being on-track to win 74 or 75 seats of the State House. Instead, they won 71 – one shy of a supermajority. In the Senate, Republicans won a supermajority by just 1 seat, hinging on 1,700 votes in New Hanover county. Republicans were only able to secure supermajority control of North Carolina’s state government through the post-election duplicity of Mecklenburg’s Tricia Cotham.
As we’ve written about previously, Republicans face feasible, but long, odds of winning twin supermajorities in the legislature again. To do so, they will need to essentially run the table in the 2024 elections. By contrast, Democrats have a much wider path to blocking a supermajority in the House, and even odds of breaking it in the Senate. The election maps in force (so far) for 2024 are very egregiously slanted in Republicans’ favor – a fact they themselves have admitted. Yet even with this advantage, winning another supermajority will be difficult.
5. Very close election matchups
The marquee elections for President, Governor and Attorney General in North Carolina will all be extremely close.
Partisans on both left and right can make arguments for why their side is favored. Some of these arguments are sensible, and many are self-serving nonsense. Anyone counting on a blowout victory for their side is going to be disappointed. One needs only to look at the trajectory of election results in North Carolina to make a strong guess that the 2024 election will be similar: a margin of victory of 1 or 2 points (at the outside) for the victor, whoever that is.
President Biden could turn North Carolina blue, or Donald Trump could eke out another narrow win. Mark Robinson could overcome his critics and be elected Governor, or Josh Stein could win his third statewide election (or Mike Morgan his second). Many partisans on both sides are shocked that these elections could possibly be as close as they are, and yet, they are – and will be. Anyone claiming confidence that one side will surely win is not engaged in anything like real analysis.