By: Carl Sukow ’21
On November 6th, citizens of North Carolina will go to the polls to elect thirteen Representatives in the United States Congress, 120 Representatives to the North Carolina State House, and 50 Senators of the North Carolina State Senate. For the town of Davidson, the State House and State Senate elections are expected to be modestly competitive, while the United States House election, in a heavily Democratic district including Charlotte, is expected to remain in blue hands. All three elections have Democrats and Republicans running. When asked about these contests, political leaders at Davidson College from all affiliations and points of view expressed agreement that the results will impact the local community in ways meaningful to the student body.
Starting at the state level, Davidson lies at the crossroads on State House District 98 and State Senate District 41. In House District 98, Democrat Christy Clark is running against incumbent Republican Representative John Bradford. In Senate District 41, Democrat Natasha Marcus is challenging incumbent Republican Senator Jeff Tarte.
Kate Bock ‘19, President of the College Democrats, described these state races as her group’s priority this fall. Bock explained that this concentration is strategic because Davidson’s House and Senate Districts are two of the “most flippable ones in North Carolina right now.” She put these potential flips in the context of the ultimate Democratic goal of breaking the Republican supermajority in Raleigh, which would require flipping four State House districts or six State Senate districts. Bock expressed personal investment in Christy Clark’s campaign because of her policy in favor of gun control legislation.
On the other side of the aisle, Andrew Coyner ‘20, President of the Davidson College Republicans, has special interest in State Senate District 41. He described how historically College Republicans have worked to elect Jeff Tarte who has held the 41st District since it was drawn after the 2010 Census. Coyner said the group will probably work with Jeff Tarte again “to some extent,” but did not anticipate widespread efforts by College Republicans to campaign for many other candidates in the district. However, Coyner did point to other ways the group has participated politically without heavy campaigning efforts, such as assisting in the 2017 Davidson mayoral election, planning to distribute information about registering to vote in North Carolina, and holding voter registration drives this fall.
Stepping back to a national level, the sheer lack of competitiveness of North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District, which encompasses Davidson and is the most Democratic in the state, has lowered interest in that election from all political groups. Bock, affirmed with regards to the 12th District that incumbent Democrat Alma Adams “has it on lock down.” Coyner did not even name the Republican candidate Paul Wright.
Outside the 12th District, Bock and the Democrats plan to participate in the United States Congressional elections. Although the town of Davidson situates inside the 12th District, it is less than a mile from the northern border of the 13th District. College Democrats members Grant Koehl ‘19 and Emma Tayloe ‘19 have been campaigning and neighborhood canvassing for Kathy Manning, the Democratic nominee in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District. They hope to flip the currently Republican-held 13th District, which includes Mooresville, Iredell County, and even Lake Campus. North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, stretching from South Charlotte to Fayetteville, is also Republican-held and may see some efforts to change that from the Davidson College Democrats this fall as well.
All political groups on campus thrive on student engagement and participation. As such, these organizations must answer the question: “so what?” They must make the case as to why elections matter to college students and what impact they have in Davidson. Even nonpartisan groups that neither endorse candidates nor have defined electoral goals, such as the Center for Political Engagement (CPE), must answer this question.
Matthew LeBar ‘19, Chair of the CPE, warned against underestimating “what might seem like small, local legislation” and the effect it can have on people’s lives. LeBar used the example of zoning and housing policy – relevant to Davidson’s clearly split wealthy and poor neighborhood divide – to evidence his point. Most zoning policy is not federal and comes from lower level; lower-level policy does not correlate with lower-importance policy, LeBar argued.
Bock also made a case on behalf of the College Democrats as to why these elections matter to students. Most generally, she argued that “Davidson’s ideology is not accurately represented by its elected officials,” since it is a Democratic town in Republican districts. She spoke specifically of gun control legislation as something that Davidson students could see the effects of after the election if her preferred candidate, Christy Clark, were to win. Bock mentioned the high rate of guns found in public schools in Charlotte, and argued that Davidson students should care about political efforts to mitigate gun violence in Mecklenburg County because those efforts begin by electing candidates who support gun control.
Coyner chose not to use a specific policy example on behalf of the College Republicans as to why these elections matter to students, reflecting on the diversity of opinions within his group and not wanting to speak for all students active within the College Republicans. However, he did mention the value of voter turnout in local elections, making a similar case to LeBar’s about not underestimating electoral consequences, even in lower-level politics.
Bock, Coyner, and LeBar all struck resonant tones on one issue: the importance of student participation, from education about candidates to registration, to walking into town hall and casting a ballot. Practicing what they preach, College Democrats, Republicans, and the CPE will be registering voters up until the October 12th deadline. Coyner and Bock made almost interchangeable statements to students on this issue, with the Republican stating that “getting out the vote’s the most important thing” and the Democrat asking students to “get out and vote, get registered.” From a nonpartisan viewpoint, LeBar implored students to “go out there, have conversations, and inform yourself on the issues.” On the issue of student participation, there is hardly a voice of dissent from Davidson’s political leaders.