News analysis: Does local election signal statewide rebuke of 'McCrory-Tea Party axis'?

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Democrats were able to celebrate across Charlotte last night after reelecting Mayor Anthony Foxx, improving their majority on the City Council, and getting two of their preferred candidates elected to the school board. To statewide Democratic leaders, those results were not in a vacuum — they were part of a trend with huge implications going into the 2012 presidential race.

“What happened in Charlotte is a very, very, big deal,” said David Parker, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. “Pat McCrory handpicked those candidates, particularly for City Council, and campaigned for them. And the whole McCrory-Tea Party axis got shot down."

Calling N.C. Democrats "more optimistic" and "the true patriots," Parker said Foxx best represents what voters are looking for. By contrast, Parker said, McCrory — who plans to run again for N.C. governor in 2012 — is "someone campaigning for the past, who has a very jaded view of North Carolina’s potential.”

Charlotte was not the only city with huge Democratic gains. Several other cities elected new Democratic mayors, including tiny West Jefferson. In other areas — including Buncombe, Durham and Orange counties — voters approved tax increases to pay for education, mass transit and economic development.

“I think that this should send a strong signal to Pat McCrory and his friends in the legislature that they really need to be governing based on what North Carolina wants,” said Parker. “And I think North Carolina spoke pretty loudly that they want good schools, as they voted in sales taxes and bonds in order to try to make up locally for what the General Assembly has inflicted on them at the state level."

In Wake County, a hotly contested race for the county's school board resulted in the Democrats taking back a majority as moderate incumbent Kevin Hill held off challenger Heather Losurdo in a runoff. Losurdo was a Tea Party favorite and had the backing of Art Pope, a kingmaker in North Carolina Republican politics.

“The Republicans need to get their act together and realize that North Carolina is not some fantasyland created by Art Pope and Rush Limbaugh," Parker said. "When August came and parents sent their kids to school, and lots of teachers were gone, parents realized what happened — the Republicans had fired all those teachers."

To Democratic veterans of previous election cycles, last night’s results were positive indications that the Republican takeover of 2010 could be shortlived, and that Democratic voters will be ready to take them on in the crucial next cycle, where North Carolina will be a serious battleground state.

“It looks like Democrats are fired up and went to the polls, which I take as a good sign as we get closer to a presidential election year where North Carolina is going to be ground zero,” said Cal Cunningham, a 2010 candidate in the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate and later co-chair of the Democratic Coordinated Campaign that year.

“I’m certainly proud of the way the party turned out in Charlotte,” said Cunningham. “In Greensboro a moderate supported by Democrats, Robert Perkins, beat incumbent Bill Knight. That tells me Democrats have woken up, gotten organized and turned out. Tonight shows that when Democrats vote, good people win. We need to take this momentum and continue it on into 2012.”

With Charlotte now a predominately blue city, and soon to be host of the Democratic National Convention, it would seem that the deck is stacked in Democrats' favor in terms of who has the advantages going into 2012. However, Democratic leaders realize that last night’s major victories came mostly in cities with large populations of minorities, liberals and college educated voters. In order to recreate their successes of 2008, Democrats will have to find a way to win again out in the country, where there are more Bluedog Democrats, and where God, guns and gays are greater issues.

“If you look at the results in the small towns last night, it looks like the Tea Party people running in the small towns were losing,” said Parker. “I think the folks out there in North Carolina looked at the candidates and saw the Tea Party on one hand, and Democrats and independent moderates on the other, and chose the more responsible candidates.”

With that being said, last night was only a skirmish compared to what we can expect a year from now, when the stakes will be higher and the campaigns will be even better funded. One thing is for sure after last night, the lines have been drawn and both sides know they need to get to work.

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