Oct 25, 2022 - News

The race to the middle in North Carolina's "soccer mom district"

Photo illustration of Sydney Batch and Mark Cavaliero.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: North Carolina General Assembly and courtesy of Mark Cavaliero

Come Election Day, North Carolina's "soccer mom district" will serve as an indicator of which party broke through to some of the state's swingiest voters: suburban white women.

The district, better known as Senate District 17, nicknamed for its wealthy, family-friendly population, is currently represented by a soccer mom herself — Democratic state Sen. Sydney Batch — and it's home to some of the state's most educated and engaged voters.

Why it matters: It's one of a handful of races that may determine whether Republicans seize a supermajority in the legislature, which would give them the ability to usher bills into law without the support of a single Democrat.

  • A Republican win here will signal that the red wave, bolstered by rising inflation and frustration with President Biden, was too much for Democrats to overcome.
  • "If I lose, everyone loses," Batch told Axios as she zipped between her kids' soccer games and campaign events last Saturday. "We'll have [Republican] supermajorities in the House and in the Senate."

State of play: For a race with such high stakes, Batch, a three-time UNC grad, and her Republican opponent, retired U.S. Marines Corps Col. Mark Cavaliero, are running some of the most moderate state legislative campaigns.

  • Both are walking the line of driving their respective bases to the polls in a non-presidential year, while also appealing to the district's more moderate voters.

Batch, who lost an equally competitive state House race in 2020, has shifted her approach this year, campaigning on top Democratic issues like abortion while also emphasizing that she's a gun owner who has worked across the aisle and fought to lower taxes.

  • Speaking to a group of her supporters, Batch said that when faced with the choice over whether to go to her son's soccer game or a campaign event, she told her son, "Kiddo, I can go to your soccer game or save our democracy, but I can't do both."

Cavaliero has also sought to appeal to both his party's base and moderate voters.

  • On a recent weekend, while juggling his son’s weekend Boy Scout fundraiser, Cavaliero knocked on doors in Fuquay-Varina, introducing himself to voters and encouraging them to vote early.
  • "I'm a new generation of Republicans coming up," Cavaliero told one voter that day. "We're working real hard to get us on the right track."

On another doorstep, a voter told Cavaliero, "Trump won by a landslide" in 2020.

  • He listened, then responded gently: "There's a lot of controversy over that election. Hopefully we can straighten it out this year."

Between the lines: That moderate approach is driven in part because the district shifted more to the middle last year, when the Republican-led legislature redrew the district lines and liberal-leaning precincts in Cary were replaced with more moderate ones in other parts of Wake County.

  • The district is mostly white, and more than half of the district has a college degree. The median income is more than $100,000 — more than one and a half times the statewide median income.

What we're watching: The party that wins this seat will also reveal what issues were top of mind for swing voters, especially suburban women, on Election Day: inflation and the economy, abortion or crime.

Here are the other key state Senate races to watch:

Senate District 3: Democrat Valerie Jordan, who defeated the Democratic incumbent in May's primary, squares off against Republican state Sen. Bobby Hanig in this critical Northeastern North Carolina district that stretches from Warren County.

Senate District 7: Republican incumbent Michael Lee has stiff competition from Marcia Morgan, a retired Army colonel running as a Democrat.

  • The district includes almost all of New Hanover County, which made a rare flip by voting for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020.
  • Abortion has become a central issue in this race.

Senate District 18: Democrat Mary Wills Bode is taking on Republican E.C. Sykes in this suburban district that covers Northern Wake and Granville counties.

  • The race saw a late surprise last week when state Democrats alleged Sykes does not live in the district where he's running.

Senate District 19: Democrat Val Applewhite is running against Republican Wesley Meredith in a district that includes Fayetteville and a large chunk of Cumberland County.

  • N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper has been heavily involved in this race, putting his weight behind Applewhite in the Democratic primary to help her beat incumbent state Sen. Kirk deViere.

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