RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republicans can never remember soaring so high in state government with Pat McCrory entering the Executive Mansion and expanding GOP majorities at the Legislative Building come January.
Democrats can't remember sitting so low.
As the dominant force in North Carolina politics for over a century, Democrats almost always held all the strings of power in Raleigh. They'll all be cut after last week's election. The Democrats' 20-year winning streak for governor is over. They'll hold barely one-third of the Legislature's seats, and Republicans remain the majority on the state Supreme Court.
Democrats also took hits in federal races. North Carolina was the only battleground state President Barack Obama lost in his successful re-election campaign. And Democrats lost at least three U.S. House seats.
"The Democratic Party in North Carolina is as weak as it has ever been as a political power force," veteran North Carolina political researcher John Davis said.
It's left Democrats wondering how they'll maximize what little influence they'll have and how to rebuild their brand in the state. But they're also nervous about whether 2012 was an aberration in a competitive two-party state or the start of a long-term hiatus.
"We're at a crossroads. I don't think anybody knows the answer to this question," said former Democratic Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker, but "there's no question the Democratic Party is going to be going through a retooling process."
The first crack in Democratic dominance in state government opened 40 years ago when Jim Holshouser was elected the first GOP governor since 1901. GOP Gov. Jim Martin served for eight years a decade later, and the state House went Republican in the mid-1990s. The big moment came two years ago, when Republicans won a majority in both legislative chambers for the first time since 1870.
Democrats lost another nine seats in the House and one seat in the Senate on Election Day, meaning Republicans now hold veto-proof majorities in each chamber. Democrats, with just 61 seats in the 170-member Legislature, will have no way to stop GOP policies as long as most Republicans and McCrory are in agreement.
Democrats offer several explanations for their recent setbacks — some out of their control and others self-inflicted.
The slowly recovering economy and low approval numbers for outgoing Gov. Beverly Perdue put Democratic gubernatorial nominee Walter Dalton deep in a hole against McCrory, who narrowly lost to Perdue in 2008. Republicans also got to redraw district maps for the House and Senate and the U.S. House delegation.
"It shows the power of the pen — meaning the redistricting pen — and the power of the purse — meaning having tremendous access to a large amount of campaign money," said Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, a minority whip. Democrats and their allies have challenged the legality of the maps.