RALEIGH (AP) — While North Carolina experienced a predicted blockbuster political year in 2012, the details weren't as anticipated by some.
Charlotte hosted North Carolina's first-ever major party national convention in September, when the Democratic National Convention energized local party members to help President Barack Obama win in November. But their hopes fell short as state Republicans improved their political ground game.
A proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in North Carolina passed by a whopping 22 percentage points in May. Social conservatives won while gay rights supporters considered the question a bellwether on gay rights nationally and succeeded in other states six months later.
And although it wasn't shocking that former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory was elected governor, the ease of his victory was surprising, as was his Democratic rival — Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, not Gov. Beverly Perdue. Perdue's announcement in January not to seek a second term seemed to create a domino effect that ended with the party at a low mark never seen by veteran Democrats.
When combined with redistricting and a fundraising advantage, Republicans expanded their sphere of power on Election Day to control both the executive and legislative branches for the first time in more than 140 years.
"Just across the board, they were able to accomplish 99 percent of what they wanted on their list of resolutions" in 2012, said Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College in Salisbury. But for Democrats, "it was a tough year."
McCrory became the first Republican elected governor since Jim Martin in 1988 by beating Dalton by 11 percentage points. McCrory benefited from a narrow loss to Perdue in 2008 that raised his name recognition and cleared the way for him to earn his party's nomination. Dalton, meanwhile, was put at a large fundraising disadvantage by getting in the race late after Perdue withdrew and having to win a six-candidate primary.
"From the moment she announced that she wasn't running, I think the odds were 80/20 against any Democrat" becoming the next governor, said Gary Pearce, a longtime Democratic political consultant.
McCrory's coattails weren't that long. Although Republican Dan Forest beat Democrat Linda Coleman for lieutenant governor, all six Democratic incumbents seeking re-election to their Council of State positions won. These and other down-ballot races likely benefited from a close presidential race in which Republican Mitt Romney won North Carolina by only 92,000 votes over Obama.
Obama had won North Carolina in 2008 by just 14,000 votes, marking the first victory for a Democratic nominee since 1976. Although North Carolina was the only battleground state Obama lost in 2012 on the way to re-election, another close race means North Carolina is morphing into a competitive presidential state, Bitzer said.
The state Democratic Party was in disarray after the disclosure of a sexual harassment claim at headquarters involving former employees. Executive director Jay Parmley resigned but denied any harassment of a worker. Perdue, Dalton and others called on Chairman David Parker to step down for his handling of the situation, but party activists wouldn't accept his resignation.
It was in legislative and congressional elections where Republicans flexed their muscles thanks to winning control of both the state House and Senate in 2010. Legislative leaders drew new boundaries for General Assembly and U.S. House districts in 2011 that helped Republican candidates and put incumbent Democrats at a disadvantage. The redrawn maps contributed to Republicans expanding their state House and Senate majorities.
The changes were more dramatic in the U.S. House delegation, where Republicans enter 2013 holding nine of the 13 seats — compared with six the past two years. Democratic Reps. Heath Shuler and Brad Miller chose not to seek re-election and were succeeded by Republicans Mark Meadows and George Holding, while Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell lost to GOP challenger Richard Hudson. Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre survived, beating Republican David Rouzer by 654 votes.
The Democratic National Convention brought 5,556 delegates to Charlotte and tens of thousands of other visitors. Obama accepted the party's presidential nomination at Time Warner Cable Arena after the threat of severe weather prompted organizers to move his speech out of Bank of America Stadium.
Obama and Romney spent little time during the fall campaign in the state — Obama didn't return to North Carolina after the convention and Romney returned only once, leaving the campaigning to first lady Michelle Obama and dozens of other surrogates. The campaigns and their allies spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising leading to Election Day.
The outcome of the gay marriage vote reflected the state's urban-rural divide on social issues. The question passed in 92 of North Carolina's 100 counties, with Wake, Orange, Durham and Mecklenburg among those where the question was defeated. Religious leaders, including those in many black churches, led the pro-amendment forces.
Perdue's final year in office was marked by more acrimony between her and the Republican Legislature, which overrode four of her vetoes, including the budget bill for the second straight year.
The General Assembly also canceled her vetoes on legislation that authorized a form of natural gas exploration called fracking and narrowed a 2009 law creating a way for some people convicted of murder to have their death sentences reduced to life in prison if they can show racial bias influenced their sentences.
Dozens of legislators said goodbye due to redistricting, retirements and election defeats. Former GOP Speaker Harold Brubaker resigned from his House seat in July, while ex-Democratic Speaker Joe Hackney decided not to run for re-election. Four sitting legislators died, including former Speaker Pro Tempore William Wainwright, D-Craven.