3. The Obama effect: It wasn’t just that Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1976. It’s that his candidacy spurred a convergence of ongoing demographic changes to shift partisan and gender politics. Blacks (a record 72 percent) for the first time voted at a higher rate than whites (69 percent). Women also had a higher turnout rate than men and voted in greater numbers. Voters elected the state’s first female governor, Democrat Beverly Perdue, and a record 44 women to the state Legislature. Another successful campaign was Kay Hagan’s, who defeated incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole to break the Republicans’ 35-year grip on a seat previously held by segregationist Jesse Helms.
4. The Tea Party wave: The 2010 midterm elections were an anti-government conservative reaction to 2008, giving Republicans control not only of the U.S. House of Representatives but also of a majority of state legislatures, including North Carolina’s. Republican voters in the state turned out at 51 percent, Democrats dropped to 45 percent and independents voted at 33 percent. White voters turned out at a higher rate than blacks, although black voting in the past few North Carolina midterm cycles has risen faster than that of whites.
Republicans took control of both chambers of the state Legislature for the first time in more than a century. GOP lawmakers then began to aggressively combat the agenda of Democratic Gov. Perdue, causing her popularity to rapidly decline. Perdue, eyeing the strong headwinds, did not run for re-election in 2012.
5. Blacks outvoted whites again: A reinvigorated GOP narrowly prevented Obama from winning the state again, largely because of momentum created by former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory’s gubernatorial victory. McCrory became the first Republican governor elected in two decades. Yet strong minority turnout, particularly through expanded measures for voting, gave Republicans cause for concern. The Obama campaign machine helped blacks outperform whites at the polls for the second straight presidential election cycle.
The number of registered Latinos, who voted overwhelmingly for Democrats, increased by roughly 40 percent. More than half of all voters, including 70 percent of blacks, again used early balloting. Same-day registration added 97,000 to the rolls and allowed another 150,000 to stay eligible. And some 61,000 voted on the Sunday before Election Day, especially through the Souls to the Polls program run by black churches.
Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., is a former national correspondent at NPR and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and other news organizations. Follow him on Twitter.