The widening urban-rural divide and other thoughts

Published November 10, 2022

By Thomas Mills

In North Carolina, the election turned out about like I expected. Ted Budd beat Cheri Beasley, the GOP took control of the Supreme Court, and Republicans added seats in both houses of the legislature. On the bright side, Wiley Nickel won the state’s one competitive Congressional seat and Democrats prevented a veto-proof majority in the state House. It’s tough to be a Democrat in North Carolina these days. 

Most disheartening for me is watching the rural-urban divide increasing in our state. Republicans won Anson County, where I grew up, for the first time in my lifetime. They won other once reliably Democratic counties like Gates, Perquimans, and Pasquotank in what we used to refer to as “the northeast corner.” Democrats only won twelve rural counties, and that includes Watauga, which is more of a college town than a rural community, and Chatham, where the more populous northern part includes Chapel Hill addresses. 

Just as Republicans run up margins in rural counties, Democrats are running them up in urban counties. Durham delivered 80% of its vote for Beasley. Counties in the west, those without many African American residents, delivered 75% or more for Budd. Those divides aren’t healthy and are creating bubbles that prevent either side from empathizing with the other. 

Nationally, last night was a victory for Democrats. They stopped the cycle of midterm waves that began in 2006. They likely held the U.S. Senate and could possibly hold the House, though Republicans will most likely have a thin majority there. Election deniers lost up and down the ballot. As I write this, Lauren Boebert looks poised to lose her seat in Colorado. Trump took it on the chin as his favorite candidates went down in flames. 

Senate races in Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona are still too early or too close to call. Republicans would need to win two of them to win the Senate. In Georgia, Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock holds a narrow lead over Herschel Walker, but is under 50% which means the race would likely go to a runoff. Warnock would likely be the favorite in a head-to-head with nothing else on the ballot since Walker probably benefitted from Governor Brian Kemp’s substantial victory. In Nevada, a lot of mail-in ballots have yet to be counted. While Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Castro trails Republican Adam Laxalt, Nevada political observers believe there are enough votes left for Cortez Castro to hold her seat. In Arizona, Democrat Mark Kelly leads Republican Blake Masters by more than 100,000 votes but only 66% have been counted. Kelly should hold on. 

Abortion proved to be a big concern of voters, offsetting fears of inflation and crime. In states where it was on the ballot, pro-choice measures won and helped drive out the vote. California, Vermont, and Michigan passed measures to add abortion rights to their constitutions and even conservative Kentucky rejected an anti-abortion measure. Moving forward, I suspect Republicans will be cautious about introducing stringent anti-abortion measures, especially where they can put them on the ballot. 

I suspect people rejected GOP candidates that they saw as threats to democracy, those most aligned with Donald Trump. Staunch election deniers lost across the country. Republicans would be wise to move away from Trump and their election denialism. 

Also, I think Biden’s success during the summer is underrated. While his job approval is still underwater, it’s been steadily heading in the right direction. He delivered on his promise of bipartisanship with the infrastructure, gun safety, and CHIPs bills. He was forceful in his defense of his record down the stretch and he called out Republicans for everything from threatening democracy to threatening social security. People want the president to succeed and they’re glad that he’s done what he’s done, even if they aren’t too happy with inflation and are wary about the economy. 

I think last night showed that the country, as a whole, wants the middle back. They’re tired of Trump and celebrity candidates like Mehmet Oz and Kari Lake. Inflammatory may still work with the base, but not so much with rank-and-file voters. In North Carolina, Republicans are dependent on an uneducated rural base continuing to move to the right. They can drive up margins in a low turnout year like this one, but they’ll probably have a harder time winning in high turnout years like 2024. Overall, their base is shrinking and the Democratic base is growing, albeit very slowly.