North Carolina’s primary election is this Tuesday1, and it’s bound to be a weird one.
It’s the first primary since 1958 to not include any statewide offices or ballot issues 2. As such, turnout will likely be low, somewhere around 12-15 percent.
The real drama will be in November, with nearly every state House and Senate race contested for the first time in recent memory.
But there’s still plenty I’m watching for Tuesday. Thoughts below are in no particular order.
1) Are there any signs of enthusiasm for Democrats?
The biggest question in North Carolina politics this year is whether Democrats have a chance to win a substantial number of seats in the General Assembly and in the Congressional delegation. Will the blue wave we’ve seen in Pennsylvania and Virginia reach here?
While there won’t be a perfect answer Tuesday, there could be some signs. I’ll be taking a look at how many Democrats turn out in general, and especially in key primary races, like the 9th and 13th Congressional Districts, Comparing that with turnout in 2014 (the last midterm election) could give us an indication of how motivated people are.
2) Are there rumbles in the suburbs?
Any path the Democrats have to take back power in the General Assembly runs through the suburban areas around the state’s metro areas. These seats have traditionally been solid red, but polling and results from the 2016 election show that a few of them could be flipped.
It’ll be hard to gauge this in the primary, but one race to watch is Charlotte’s N.C. Senate District 39, where Sen. Dan Bishop faces a tough matchup against well-funded Beth Monaghan. She’s running in the Republican primary as a more moderate candidate. Should she win, it could be an indication that suburban districts are drifting leftward.
3) Is there any room in the center?
One of the side effects of our political polarization and gerrymandered districts is that it’s harder for moderate, centrist politicians to get elected. They tend to get weeded out in the primary, where more partisan voters tend to show up.
We’ve got a few more possible examples this Tuesday.
Sen. Joel Ford in Charlotte — who has a reputation as a maverick in the Democratic Party— faces a tough challenger from the left in Mujtaba Mohammed, who’s earned all the typical liberal endorsements.
Then there’s the trifecta of Rep. Larry Pittman, Rep. Michael Speciale and Rep. George Cleveland, all Republicans who are among the farthest right in North Carolina and say ridiculous things. So far to the right, in fact, that they failed to get the endorsement of the N.C. Chamber as “jobs champions.”
4) Will Rep. Duane Hall win?
Gov. Roy Cooper and the state Democratic Party called on Hall to step down earlier this year after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced. Instead, the Wake County Democrat put his head down and kept campaigning. Should he win, it will put his party in a super awkward position.
5) Do voters like tax reform?
Somehow, a Republican primary in Greensboro could be a referendum on tax reform. Rep. John Hardister faces a challenge from Mark McDaniel, who’s running as a one-issue candidate against the combination of income tax cuts and sales tax expansion passed over the past few years.
McDaniel is far from a nobody — he served in the state Senate in the 1990s. If McDaniel gets traction, it’s more than likely because the tax message worked.
6) Will this be the end of Mark Harris’s political career?
The 9th Congressional District Republican primary is a rematch of 2016, where U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger held of Charlotte pastor Mark Harris by just 134 votes.
Polling indicates that Harris is a heavy underdog this year. Should he lose soundly, it could be the end of his political career. Unless, of course, Dan McCready happens to upset Pittenger.
7) Will the new runoff law have any impact?
A new law goes into effect this year that lowers the threshold a candidate need to reach to avoid a runoff in a primary. Now they’ll only need to get 30 percent of the vote, instead of the previous 40 percent. It’ll be fascinating to see if any winners Tuesday fall in that 30-range.
8) How big an impact will GenX have in eastern North Carolina?
I think this will be a bigger issue in November, but at least one primary election features the GenX chemical as an issue. Rep. Frank Iler in Brunswick County faces a serious challenger in county commissioner Pat Sykes, who cited GenX as one of the reasons she jumped in the race.
[Longleaf story: What is GenX and how bad is it for North Carolina?]
9) Is Clark Twiddy a rising star?
The Dare County Republican and businessman had been eying the 2020 lieutenant governor race before turning his attention to Senate District 1. He’s primarying Rep. Bob Steinburg, who just got a scathing rebuke from a fellow lawmaker.
Twiddy has a lot of support and ton of money, though most of it comes from personal loans to the campaign. If he wins handily, Twiddy has to be seen as a potential future Republican leader.
10) Are there any deficit hawks left in the Republican Party?
U.S. Rep. Walter Jones was one of the few in North Carolina’s delegation to vote against the Trump budget, which increased the deficit.
It’s certain to be an issue in what he says will be his final campaign. Jones faces a challenge from Scott Dacey who has raised a ton of money — even making our list of 9 challengers with enough money to pull off an upset.
Dacey thinks that Jones’s vote against the tax bill will spell defeat. I’ll be interested to see.
11) Who will emerge to challenge George Holding?
The Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District is one of the more interesting races Tuesday. The top two candidates are Linda Coleman, who has run twice for lieutenant governor and just narrowly lost, and Ken Romley, an entrepreneur and businessman.
Romley has raised a ton more money and appears to be the front-runner. But Coleman has a well-organized campaign and is going harder to the left, saying her first job if elected is the impeachment of Donald Trump.
12) Can a conservative Democrat survive?
The Mecklenburg County sheriff’s office is a relic of the state’s past in that it continues to be dominated by conservative Democrats.
This year, however, Sheriff Irwin Carmichael faces particularly strong challengers from the Democratic establishment. We’ll see if he keeps his seat.