SCOTT MOONEYHAM: State House Control Up For Grabs
Labor Day has come and gone. Election season is upon us.
But no real marquee races will be on the North Carolina election ballot this year. No, 2006 is one of those so-called blue-moon election years when voters will choose neither the governor nor one of the state's two U.S. senators.
Still, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the fight for control of the North Carolina House is one of the top-10 Election Day battlegrounds.
Right now, Democrats enjoy a 63-57 majority in the House. Conventional wisdom has the margin perhaps tightening, but Democrats still retaining control once the votes are counted.
Conventional wisdom could be tossed out the voting booth once the dust settles.
The legal troubles of Democratic House Speaker Jim Black will mitigate to some degree Republicans' poor standing nationally. The question to be resolved on Election Day is how much.
Just 55 of the 120 districts will be contested. Short of any write-in candidates, incumbents and newcomer party nominees in the remaining 65 districts face no challengers.
In fact, though, far fewer races will be truly competitive.
N.C. Free, a nonpartisan organization that conducts political research for business, categorizes 18 House districts as competitive. In a few of those, incumbents face no general election challenges.
So roughly 14 or 15 seats are really up for grabs this year. And unless some overwhelming trend emerges come Election Day -- a strong anti-incumbent movement or a severe drop in turnout favoring one party over the other -- even fewer will actually be in play.
Some races that will be closely watched: Rep. Alice Underhill, D-Craven, taking on Republican Michael Speciale in District 3; Rep. Marian McLawhorn, D-Pitt, facing former Sen. Tony Moore, who switched from Democrat to Republican a couple of years ago, in District 9; Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, being challenged by former Rep. Alex Warner, another Democrat-turned-Republican, in District 45; Rep. Lorene Coates, D-Rowan, facing Republican Susan Morris in District 77; and Rep. Bruce Goforth, D-Buncombe, going up against Republican Eric Gorny in District 115.
Current Republican seats that will also be key: Rep. Bonner Stiller, R-Brunswick, going against Democrat Allan Dameron in District 17; the District 51 seat left open by Rep. John Sauls, R-Lee, in which Democrat Jimmy Love Sr. faces Republican Tim McNeill; and the District 10 seat now held by Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, which will require a new primary to determine whether he or Willie Ray Starling will face Democrat Van Braxton.
Of course, Black's race against Republican Hal Jordan will also draw a lot of interest. Could ongoing investigations undo a sitting House speaker, even minus any criminal charges?
Even when throwing in the handful of other districts that could be competitive, it's clear that Democrats hold more seats that have a chance to change hands.
The Democrats will likely lose a few of those seats. Republicans will do well not to suffer a couple of losses as well.
The two-month countdown has begun.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com
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