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More N.C. Republicans switch parties following Capitol riot, impeachment trial

More N.C. Republicans switch parties following Capitol riot, impeachment trial

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RALEIGH — More than 15,000 registered Republicans switched parties since the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, with 85% of them becoming politically unaffiliated.

Eighteen percent of those voters left the party on or after Feb. 14, the day after former President Donald Trump’s second acquittal in a Senate impeachment trial.

For the last two months, the party has faced one controversy after another beginning with the attack on the Capitol that many blame on Trump.

Since then, the state party censured U.S. Sen. Richard Burr for finding Trump guilty of inciting the riot. Burr was one of 57 senators, including seven Republicans, to cast a guilty vote.

The State Board of Elections publishes monthly changes to voter registration on its website. The last update came Monday.

N.C. GOP spokesman Tim Wigginton said that small swings in a pool of more than seven million registered North Carolina voters is not that concerning to the party.

“We are confident that as voters observe the Republican America First Agenda compared to the Biden Administration’s America Last agenda more North Carolinians will vote Republican during the 2022 midterm election and the 2024 Presidential election continuing to keep North Carolina red,” Wigginton said in an emailed statement. “The Republican Party has always stood for personal liberty, family values and economic prosperity.

“As Democrats wage war on these core American values with the Biden-Schumer-Pelosi Agenda no one should be surprised when voters pick Republican candidates this November.”

Since Burr’s censure on Feb. 15, Republicans had a net loss of 1,786 voters compared to Democrats’ net gain of 58 voters. Among voters who left the two major parties, the majority — 3,158 — changed to unaffiliated registrations.

Former NC Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr was one of those voters. “Just made it official,” Orr tweeted on Feb. 17. “After 45 years as a registered Republican, I am now an unaffiliated voter.

“I leave the GOP having won 4 statewide elections in NC as the Republican nominee. Only 3 others in NC history have won more.”

Orr had told The News & Observer of his intention to leave the party after the Capitol riot but didn’t do so until after Burr’s censure.

Similarly, Kimrey Rhinehardt, a former Burr staffer who worked on Capitol Hill and has spent her adult life as a Republican, told The News & Observer in January that after seeing the riot play out on TV she felt she had no choice but to change to an unaffiliated voter.

On Feb. 15, she tweeted that if Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law and a former North Carolina resident, runs for Burr’s seat as rumored, Rhinehardt would also run.

She said Wednesday she is strongly considering a run but to be on the statewide ballot without a political affiliation requires 84,000 signatures and she is trying to figure out a way to make that happen without risking people’s health during a global pandemic.

Rhinehardt was one of the 5,855 voters who left the NC Republican Party in the first two weeks following the Capitol riot that left five people dead, 140 injured and more than 300 charged with crimes. Through Monday, the number of Republicans leaving had grown to 15,765.

Since Jan. 7, Republicans gained 3,844 voters from other parties, for a net loss of almost 12,000.

Democrats during the same period had a net loss of 134 people. The unaffiliated category gained 11,491 new voters.

Overall, Democrats now comprise 35.2% of all registered voters, followed by unaffiliated voters with 33.4% and Republicans with 30.6%. Those rates have changed only slightly since the November general election.

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