Build the wall, or end Well Fare. Either one will work for me...

Election's rural-urban divide could hurt N.C.

Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

North Carolina's urban-rural divide grew to a chasm in this month's election — at least in the state legislature.

Republicans suffered huge losses in urban counties, likely leaving the party with only two or three representatives from the two biggest counties: Wake and Mecklenburg. But Democrats fared poorly in many rural legislative districts, despite spending big money in races considered competitive. Outside of the urban areas, the expected "blue wave" was just a tiny ripple.

This shift has big policy implications for our state. Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte will have diminished clout in the new legislature with hardly any members of the majority party there to represent urban interests. The House will have a new top budget writer after Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, was defeated.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto can stop major legislation that's opposed in the cities, but he doesn't have veto power over "local bills" that affect only a few counties. That tool will give the legislature authority to overturn local government ordinances if Republicans object to actions by liberal city councils and county commissions.

But rural communities should be equally concerned about the state's political polarization along geographic lines. Democrats could eventually take the majority in the legislature, and then you'd have a state led almost exclusively by urban lawmakers.

Rural North Carolina could fall farther behind if its legislators lacked power to direct money and resources toward agricultural needs, broadband internet expansion and underfunded schools.

Some of this divide is driven by population trends, but the political parties deserve the blame too. Past election trends show that some suburban districts in Wake and Mecklenburg were winnable for Republicans, while Democrats had a shot in some of the more moderate rural districts.

But many of this year's legislative campaigns featured cookie-cutter ads dreamed up by young staffers sitting in a Raleigh office. The GOP tried to nationalize some legislative races by focusing on immigration (even though it's an issue for Congress and the president). The immigration message may have helped Bob Steinburg win a rural Senate district by motivating Trump supporters to vote, but it likely turned off the suburban moderates that Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, needed to keep her seat.

Ads for Democrats, meanwhile, largely had the same message across the state: We need to do more for education and healthcare. No one's likely to disagree with that, but skeptical undecided voters might have wanted more specifics.

The successful candidates who bucked the overall urban-rural trends made their campaigns more local. Along the South Carolina border, Rep. Ken Goodman — one of the last moderate Democrats — won another term with ads calling for more lottery revenue going to public schools. That's not a common topic in Raleigh, but it's apparently a concern in his district. He also appealed to moderates by pledging to avoid partisan politics.

In Mecklenburg, the only House Republican incumbent left standing (at least as I write this: a recount is possible) is Rep. Bill Brawley. Brawley's best known in his suburban district for a controversial proposal to let towns run charter schools. He's made enemies on the county's school board, but he's popular among local families who think their kids are being bused to too-distant schools.

Brawley and Goodman offer good examples for the political parties as they gear up for 2020. Democrats won't be able to win a majority in the House or Senate unless they do better in rural districts. And Republicans won't regain a foothold in urban districts unless they can find local issues that matter to moderates instead of simply parroting President Donald Trump.

If the parties can't correct their mistakes, look for the canyon between urban and rural in North Carolina to widen even more in future elections.

Colin Campbell is editor of the Insider State Government News Service. Follow him at NCInsider.com or @RaleighReporter. Write to him at ccampbell@ncinsider.com.


Humans of Greenville


Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Op Ed

December 13, 2018

In the January 1953 edition of the magazine If: Worlds of Science Fiction, a fan of the genre from Texas, Marilyn Venable, made her debut as an author. “Time Enough at Last,” Venable’s story of a bookish man who survives a nuclear holocaust, made such an impression that Twilight…

john hood.jpg

December 13, 2018

Prosecutors investigating President Trump made big news recently, but it wasn't about Russia. Rather, in their sentencing recommendation for fixer Michael Cohen, lawyers with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York wrote that in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign,…

Byron York

December 12, 2018


How appropriate would it be for a major publicly held American company to hire a person with a history of having publicly made the following statements and many others like them? (In the interest of brevity, I shall list only four.)

"The world could get by just fine with zero black people."…

Walter Williams

December 12, 2018

When I heard the news of the arrest in Canada of Wanzhou Meng, Huawei's chief financial officer, my thoughts turned to Al Capone.

Capone was targeted for running Chicago's underworld but was ultimately brought down for tax evasion. Canadian authorities detained Meng on what appears to be Huawei's…


December 11, 2018

Here we are, two years later.

We've taken many, arduous, often tedious steps, only to return to where we began, having gone nowhere.

In late 2016, as Gov. Roy Cooper was preparing to take office, the General Assembly decided it would change the makeup of the Bipartisan Board of Elections and Ethics…

John Trump

December 11, 2018

Have the Republicans running the legislature gone soft?

Their lame-duck session has been lacking the fireworks I'd expected in the last hurrah of veto-proof GOP rule. The main agenda item was voter ID. And with a newly inked constitutional amendment to back it up, I fully expected Republicans to…

Colin Campbell

December 10, 2018

How should we respond to the urban-rural divide? The question has legions of politicians, scholars, journalists, and businesses scrambling for answers.

I respect their efforts. But I feel compelled to point out, respectfully, that the question is poorly conceived. Most people live in neither truly…

john hood.jpg

December 10, 2018

Orange County, California, Register

For too long, Congress has abdicated its constitutional obligations with respect to war powers.

On Nov. 28, the Senate took an important step toward reasserting this authority by voting 63 to 37 in favor of moving ahead on a resolution directing the removal of US…

December 10, 2018

It makes no political or geopolitical sense for President Trump to cozy up to the Saudis or Russians to the extent he has. It does make economic sense — for him, his family and his family enterprises.

Follow the money was the mantra used by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl…


December 09, 2018

There's something uncomfortably sterile about life-expectancy rates.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that average American life expectancy shortened by a tenth of a year, as it did last year, it's forgivable if the problem isn't immediately obvious. Sure, we might have…

Robert Gebelhoff
324 stories in Op Ed. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 33
        Next Page»   Last Page»