Despite his recent stumbles in Colorado and Minnesota, Mitt Romney is still the favorite to win the Republican nomination for president. As Democratic and Republican strategists begin to work on their general-election strategies, swing states such as North Carolina will be their main focus. But the presiden-tial race, as important as it is, won’t be the only political story that focuses on battleground states.
Republican hopes to hold their majority in the U.S. House and win control of the U.S. Senate will hinge on the fate of key races in a handful of states. Some but not all of these are also battleground states in the presidential race. Similarly, Republican efforts to secure their newfound power in state capitals will focus on at least four gubernatorial races and battles for control of legisla-tive chambers in about a dozen states.
The indispensable website RealClearPolitics lists 25 seats in the U.S. House as most likely to flip from one party to another. Three states have multiple seats in play: Illinois with five, and California and North Carolina with four each. Our state’s most competitive House races will be in 7th, 8th, 11th, and 13th districts, all currently held by Democrats but made more competitive for GOP candidates by GOP-led redistricting. These four districts span the length of the state, with the 7th District covering Southeastern North Carolina, the 8th District stretching from the Sandhills to the outskirts of Charlotte, the 13th District including parts of Wake County and Eastern North Carolina, and the 11th District covering the western mountains.
These House races partially make up for the fact that our state has no Senate race this cycle. Nationally, Republicans need four seats to win a major-ity in the upper chamber. The GOP is currently favored to pick up Democratic seats in North Dakota and Nebraska. No current GOP seats are in similar danger. Of the eight Senate races rated as toss-ups, six are Democratic and two (Massachusetts and Nevada) are Republican.
At the state level, Republicans spent 2009, 2010 and 2011 achieving their greatest political victories since the 1920s. At the start of the year, Republicans held 29 of the nation’s governorships, with 20 in Democratic hands and one independent (Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island). There are 27 Republican leg-islatures, 15 Democratic ones, seven splits, and one nonpartisan (Nebraska). Republicans hold 53 percent of state-senate seats and 54 percent of state-house seats.
In 2012, it’s fair to say that Republicans will be playing offense in state-wide races while Democrats will be playing offense in legislative races. Only one Republican governorship — a Wisconsin recall election for Scott Walker — appears to be in danger in 2012, while Democratic governorships in Washington, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina are all very much in play. As for legislative politics, the impact of redistricting, demographic shifts and local political and economic factors has yet to be fully analyzed. Nevertheless, it seems likely that there will be spirited battles over control of at least one legislative chamber in Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, among others.
Add all this up, and here’s one way to think about the various electoral battlegrounds for 2012:
• Triple-crown states will host competitive races for president, competitive races for either U.S. Senate or multiple U.S. House seats, and competitive races for either governor or legislative control. There are four triple-crowns at the moment: Montana, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
• Double-crown states will host competitive races for president as well as key federal or state contests. They include Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Of the triple-crown states, I figure that North Carolina and Wisconsin will draw the most national attention, the former because of this year’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte and the latter because of last year’s high-profile battle over labor union power.
So if you are a political junkie, a political journalist, a po-litical operative, or a purveyor of political advertising, North Carolina is a wonderful place to be at the moment.