Dems Gaining In Race For Senate Control

The last couple of weeks have been good ones for Democrats in the race for control of the U.S. Senate – at least according to the pollsters.

This week, Public Policy Polling released its latest North Carolina survey, showing incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan maintaining a four-point edge in her race against Republican challenger Thom Tillis. That’s unchanged from PPP’s previous survey – and recent surveys from other pollsters have found much the same thing.

PPP director Tom Jensen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck last week (before PPP’s latest survey was released).


Jensen says the GOP still has a good chance of retaking control of the Senate in the November midterm – merely by picking up Democratic-held seats in Republican-leaning states – but he says Democrats are looking stronger in the so-called “purple” states like North Carolina and Michigan. Indeed Michigan may no longer be a “purple” state at all: though governor Rick Snyder is a Republican, Jensen says Michigan in general is “increasingly out of reach for Republicans” trying to win statewide office.

And while the GOP is still looking to gain seats in the Senate, Michigan’s turn is a sign of good news for Democrats when it comes to the presidential race – not just in 2016, but also beyond. While former “swing” states like Michigan have become reliably Democratic in recent presidential elections, former GOP strongholds like Virginia and North Carolina have turned purple – and that, Jensen says, means it’s “harder and harder for Republicans in presidential elections.” That’s especially true in 2016, he says, at least assuming Hillary Clinton decides to run: nationwide, Clinton currently polls stronger than Barack Obama did in 2012, and Obama won reelection by a fairly wide electoral-vote margin.

November 4 is Election Day this year. If you’re a North Carolina resident, the voter registration deadline is October 10.

Click here for voter information.

2014: Gains For Dems In NC?

On the national level, Republicans are poised to make some gains in the November midterm election. But in North Carolina, could 2014 be a Democratic year?

Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen says it might. Dissatisfaction with the government is high this year, and that’s good for the opposition party – whichever party that should be. That means Republicans would benefit on the national level, but in GOP-dominated North Carolina, it’s the Democratic Party that stands to gain. Plus, Jensen says, NC Republicans were so successful in the 2010 and 2012 elections that there aren’t many winnable races left that they haven’t already won – so while Democrats are looking to pick up seats, the best Republicans can hope for is to hold the seats they already have. (In the race for U.S. Senate, incidentally, it’s the same story in reverse: all the seats up for election this year were last contested in 2008, a landslide year for Democrats.)

What will this mean in November? Jensen says it’s highly unlikely that Democrats will pick up enough seats to reclaim a majority in the State House or Senate – but they could win enough to cancel the GOP’s veto-proof majority. That in turn would strengthen the power of the governor’s office – giving Pat McCrory more of a chance to flex his moderate muscle in the short term (if he so chose), and elevating the importance of the 2016 gubernatorial election in the longer term.

Tom Jensen spoke with Aaron Keck on WCHL this week. In addition to the General Assembly race, they also discussed public opinion about a minimum wage increase – and (of course) the upcoming UNC football game.

Election 2014: Voters Unhappy, Outcome Uncertain

The 2014 midterm election is just a little more than two months away, but with so many close races nationwide, pollsters are finding it hard to predict how it will go.

At stake – among other things – is control of the U.S. Senate. Democrats currently hold a 53-45 edge in the Senate, but Republicans are poised to make significant gains this year, particularly with the impending retirement of some popular Democrats in otherwise right-leaning states. (Also noteworthy is that Senators are elected every six years – so the seats up for grabs this year were last at play in 2008, an unusually strong year for Democrats. A few Democrats won close elections in 2008 on the coattails of then-candidate Barack Obama – but the President’s approval rating today is low, so a close association with Obama could have the opposite effect this time around.)

But even though voters generally don’t approve of the President, they also dislike his opponents. Across the nation, voters are expressing disapproval of Democrats and Republicans alike – and that means it’s entirely unclear who will come out on top in November. (In spite of the uncertainty, Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen says this has been the least enjoyable election he’s ever covered, simply because the mood is so sour across the political spectrum.)

Jensen says he’s finding a similar story in many Senate races: the Democratic candidate is slightly more popular than the Republican, but that Democrat is being weighed down by his or her association with the unpopular president. If the election turns into a referendum on Barack Obama, Jensen says, Republicans will likely make big gains – but if voters cast ballots based on how they feel about the candidates themselves, it will be a Democratic year. (Or at least a more Democratic year.)

How does the Senate race look today? According to the website Real Clear Politics, Republicans will end the year with at least 46 Senate seats; Democrats will end the year with at least 45; and nine seats – Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina – are too close to call. (GOP-leaning South Dakota may join that list soon: a Public Policy Polling survey this week had that race tightening.) Depending on how things shake out in the next two months, Jensen says, 2014 could see virtually no change in the Senate – or it could be a historic sea-change election for Republicans. (Most of those nine toss-up seats are currently held by Democrats.)

Compounding the uncertainty, independent and third-party candidates are also drawing support in many of these too-close-to-call races – including North Carolina, where libertarian Sean Haugh is polling close to 10 percent in many surveys. Jensen says those candidates will likely see their support drop as the election draws nearer – but in a close race, even a few percentage points could turn the tide. (Looking ahead, Jensen says the unpopularity of the two major parties could open the door for an even stronger third-party movement in 2016. Such a movement, he says, would have to be well-funded and probably centrist. But it may also be due: by 2016, it will have been 24 years since a third-party candidate – Ross Perot in 1992 – drew more than 10 percent of the presidential vote.)

PPP director Tom Jensen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck on the air Friday.

AARP: Poll Shows Retirement Security Fears

AARP North Carolina reports a new election year poll revealing that voters 50 years and older who participate in November elections worry that a secure retirement could be out of reach for them.

According to the survey, voters 50+ worry the most about paying too much in taxes (60%); costs rising faster than incomes (55%); health expenses (49%); not having enough to pay for care for a spouse who needs daily assistance (44%); and not having financial security in retirement (44%).

50+ voters say they want to see candidates whose platforms include focusing on their financial security, according to the survey.

One component of the survey is the “Anxiety Index,” which indicates this year that older voters, particularly those who are not retired yet, feel anxious about their economic security.

The survey also revealed that 79% of non-retirees, most of whom are boomers, think that it will be hard to save for retirement. 52% of this pool say that they have postponed or are planning to postpone retirement.

The majority of older voters surveyed say they hold Social Security as a top priority, with 81% saying that it will influence their voting decision this year.
76% of older voters oppose candidates who would support cuts in Social Security to reduce the deficit, and 78% think that candidates need to elaborate more on their positions regarding Social Security reform.

77% of Social Security Beneficiaries say that their expenses are rising faster than their Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA).

Another key issue highlighted in the survey is the matter of independent living. The majority of survey participants want to live independently as they age and see this issue as a critical one, with 76% saying that candidates need to do more to explain their position on this issue.

77% of the 50+ voters who participated want to receive care in their homes rather than costly nursing homes when tasks become too difficult due to age or illness.

56% of voters 50+ have been or are caregivers. 25% say they expect to be caregivers in the future.

On the topic of age discrimination, an overwhelming majority of voters (81%) support he Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, which is designed to help older workers by restoring workplace protections under the law.

To view the complete results of the survey, you can find this story on our website,

Early Voting For Sheriff Concludes

Early voting is closed for Orange County’s next sheriff as 298 residents cast their ballots on Friday, and 282 voted on Saturday taking the total to 1,519 for early voting.

Saturday, Orange County Commissioner Mark Dorosin told WCHL that he organized about 100 citizens to join him in voting early, and led the caravan from Chapel Hill to Hillsborough.

Charles Blackwood and David Caldwell are in the runoff for the position after the two were separated by just more than 60 votes in the May 6 Primary. Since neither received more than 40 percent of the vote, the second-place finisher—Caldwell—was able to call for the runoff.

Only the Board of Elections Headquarters took votes in the early voting process because of the historically low turnout for runoffs. However, all 44 precincts open on Election Day, Tuesday, from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Candidate Profiles

Charles Blackwood

David Caldwell

Early Voting Thursday Check-In

Voting numbers remained flat Thursday as 156 Orange County residents cast their ballots early for the next sheriff.

Charles Blackwood and David Caldwell are in a runoff for the position after the two were separated by just more than 60 votes in the May 6 Primary. Since neither received more than 40 percent of the vote, the second-place finisher—Caldwell—was able to call for the runoff.

Only the Board of Elections Headquarters is taking votes in the early voting process because of the historically low turnout for runoffs. All 44 precincts will be open on Election Day, July 15.

The polls open each day this week from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Election Day is July 15, and all the polls open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The Orange County Board of Elections is located at 208 South Cameron Street in Hillsborough next to Orange County Financial Services.

Caldwell Confident In Sheriff Runoff Home Stretch

Orange County Sheriff Candidate David Caldwell says he’s feeling good about what he calls a “history-making election” in the upcoming second primary for the office, despite the typical low voter turnout for runoff races.

David Caldwell

David Caldwell

“The intensity is unbelievable,” Caldwell says. “The amount of people that are involved and more informed has really blown me away.”

That’s Orange County Sheriff candidate David Caldwell, comparing the first six-way Democratic primary for Orange County Sheriff back in May and the runoff election between himself and Charles Blackwood that comes up on July 15.

Nearly 6,000 voters cast ballots in the early-voting period leading up to that May primary, which could have determined the next person to take the job, since there are no Republicans running.

But no clear winner emerged. Blackwood received the most votes at 30 percent, but 40 percent was needed to avoid a runoff, and Caldwell was only a little more than 60 votes behind him.

Blackwood recently expressed concerns to WCHL that low-voter turnout in the runoff could spell trouble for his campaign.

Caldwell, however, told WCHL that he is optimistic after two days of early voting had been completed, and 481 votes had been cast at the Orange County Board of Elections office in Hillsborough.

He said that’s actually more than he expected, which is one of the reasons Caldwell said he feels so hopeful.

“I think this is going to surprise a lot of people,” Caldwell says. “I don’t think it’s going to be as low as they think. It’s going to be a history-making election.”

For another thing, he said, it will mark the first time residents have voted for a new sheriff in 31 years.

If elected, Caldwell would be the first African-American Orange County Sheriff in a history of the office that dates back to 1752.

“Another history-making event that makes this election so important,” Caldwell says. “I think that’s one of the reasons so many people are excited about it. It’s just going to be history-making all around.”

Retiring Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass has endorsed Blackwood, who began his career in the Sheriff’s Department in 1980 under Sheriff “Buck” Knight.

Caldwell is a lifelong Orange County resident who’s worked for the Carrboro Police Department, in addition to 22 years with the Sheriff’s Department. Between those two jobs, he served in the Army, in Germany and Grenada.

He told WCHL that his love for Orange County is what kept him coming back, and it’s what drives him in this race.

“Many people in my neighborhood that I grew up with and went to school with, they left Orange County and didn’t come back because they thought there was no opportunity, there was nothing here for them, and things of that nature,” Caldwell says. “I’d like to see Orange County be a place where the families did come back and did stay.”

Caldwell has picked up an endorsement from former primary opponent Andy Cagle. For a list of all of Caldwell’s endorsements, click here.

Day One: Nearly 300 Vote Early For Sheriff

Nearly 300 people cast their vote on the first day of early voting, showing the one-race election carries as much importance as you might expect.

Charles Blackwood and David Caldwell are in a runoff for Orange County Sheriff. Because no Republicans filed before the May 6 Primary, one of those men will take the place of Lindy Pendergrass, who has served in that role for 32 years.

Only the Board of Elections Headquarters is taking votes in the early voting process because of the historically low turnout for runoffs. All 44 precincts will be open on Election Day, July 15.

Comparing day one of this early voting period to day one of the Primary in May, 180 fewer voters cast their ballot on Thursday. The polls were closed Friday due to the July 4 holiday.

The polls open again Monday at 9:00 a.m.; they’ll be opened each day this week until 5:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Election Day is July 15, and all the polls open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

No Early Voting Friday

Don’t travel to Hillsborough Friday to place your vote for Orange County Sheriff.

Early voting for the runoff election is closed Friday for the July 4 holiday. The polls open again Monday at 9:00 a.m.; they’ll be opened each day next week until 5:00 p.m. They’ll open next Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Election Day is July 15, and all 44 precincts will open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

In Forum, Sheriff Candidates Find Common Ground

With early voting getting underway Thursday and Election Day itself just two weeks away, the two remaining candidates for Orange County Sheriff met at WCHL studios Wednesday for a forum that featured more agreement than disagreement.

Longtime law enforcement officers (and longtime colleagues) Charles Blackwood and David Caldwell were the top two vote-getters in the May primary; they’re facing each other in a runoff this month because neither got more than 40 percent of the vote. Technically the race is only for the Democratic nomination, but no Republicans are running, so the winner of the runoff on July 15 will be unopposed in November.

Visit the Orange County Board of Elections website for voting information, including early voting information.

In Wednesday’s forum, the strongest point of departure may have been on the issue of diversity. Caldwell called for stronger efforts to recruit a more diverse body of law enforcement officers, while Blackwood argued that the sheriff’s office already has a diverse staff – but even there, both candidates agreed on the need to recruit a diverse pool of officers, and the fact that diversity alone isn’t sufficient without an effort to make personal connections with the community.

Visit Caldwell’s campaign site.

Visit Blackwood’s campaign site.

And both candidates agreed as well on the need for more community outreach, closer collaboration with Orange County’s other law enforcement agencies, and – in an emotional exchange – the continued presence of school resource officers (SROs) in the public schools.

“The safety factor is the primary issue,” said Blackwood of SROs, “but the byproduct of this is, you’ve got a mentor for that student, for that child, that they may not have at home.”

Caldwell agreed. “I think we need to see more in there…not just (in) the security aspect, but being there when school is not in,” he said. “Not when you have your badge and uniform on, but being there when they’re relaxed. You’ll find they come to you with their problems.”

Listen to Part 1 of the forum, in which the candidates discuss their background, the legacy of outgoing sheriff Lindy Pendergrass, and issues ranging from drug control to domestic violence to response times to technology.

Listen to Part 2 of the forum, in which the candidates discuss community outreach efforts, collaborating with other agencies, the sheriff’s role in the public schools, crime prevention, diversity, disaster preparedness, and how to manage a busy department.