Colin Campbell: Four Things We’ll Learn From NC’s Sleepy Primary

Colin Campbell

RALEIGH — A lot of North Carolina voters might have forgotten there’s an election primary coming up on May 8. TV viewers have seen few, if any, campaign ads. Only a few races have drawn news coverage, and none are statewide contests.

Early voting turnout has been anemic so far. Sure, there’s a heightened interest in politics these days — particularly among Democrats upset by President Donald Trump — but that doesn’t necessarily carry over to primaries.

The potential for partisan change won’t arrive until the November election. And voting in obscure primary contests can be a painstaking process — oftentimes, you find yourself researching candidates with nearly identical platforms.

But it’s still a worthwhile exercise. If you want your party to win in November, you have to help them pick the best candidate now. Embarrassingly low turnout in the primary is how we get leaders who’ll later make you cringe and ask “how did that idiot manage to get elected?”

So get to know the candidates and do your part (you can find a sample ballot at www.ncsbe.gov). The May primary election results won’t determine the balance of power, but they’ll offer some interesting lessons for the state Republican and Democratic parties.

Here’s what to watch for on election night:

Which shade of blue will win? Democrats are extra energized to run for office this year, so lots of them face competitive primaries. In some races, candidates aligned with the liberal Bernie Sanders wing of the party are facing more moderate, traditional candidates.

The 2nd Congressional District primary is one example. Wendy Ella May, a transgender veteran who served as a Sanders delegate in 2016, is running as the underdog. She faces Ken Romley — a moderate businessman who wasn’t a registered Democrat until last year — and Linda Coleman, a longtime figure in the party who ran for lieutenant governor twice and is backed by the Congressional Black Caucus. The winner will take on Republican U.S. Rep. George Holding in a district drawn to favor the GOP.

Will GOP voters keep backing Trump-esque lawmakers? Three N.C. House Republicans — Michael Speciale, Larry Pittman and George Cleveland — often make headlines with controversial statements.

Speciale strongly backed Alabama’s Roy Moore and questioned the sexual abuse allegations against him. Pittman once compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler and is the leading proponent of arming teachers. Cleveland joined the other two last year in proposing a constitutional amendment to remove the section that bans secession. They’re often at odds with the House’s more mainstream GOP leadership.

For the first time in several election cycles, all three have GOP primary challengers. We’ll find out if voters in their deep red districts back their brash, shoot-from-the-hip brand of conservatism.

Will Senate leader Phil Berger’s allies keep their seats? Berger’s Senate GOP caucus is a close-knit group without much dissent, but key lieutenants like Sens. Andy Wells, Tom McInnis and Dan Bishop seem to have unusually competitive primaries this year. And Senate leadership’s favored successor to retiring Sen. Bill Cook, Dare County businessman Clark Twiddy, faces a strong challenge from Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan. Cook has bashed Steinburg as “not well liked in the Legislature.”

Will the #MeToo movement bring down a prominent Democrat? After multiple allegations of sexual harassment, Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, is resisting calls to resign from Gov. Roy Cooper and other party leaders. He faces a primary challenge from political newcomer Alison Dahle, but he’s still blanketing his district with campaign mailers. We’ll find out if the average voter thinks the allegations should disqualify Hall.

That should be plenty to keep us political junkies entertained as the primary results roll in.

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Colin Campbell is editor of the Insider State Government News Service. Follow him at NCInsider.com or @RaleighReporter. Write to him at [email protected]