Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — North Carolina could see a cluster of runoff elections this summer due to the high number of candidates seeking their party’s nomination for state and federal offices.
If a candidate fails to garner 40 percent or more of the vote in the primary May 8, his or her second-closest opponent may request a runoff scheduled either for June or July. Seventy-five candidates have filed in the state’s 13 congressional districts, and 54 candidates for governor and the nine-member Council of State.
Primaries with more than three or four candidates are expected to result in a runoff, said Catawba College political science and history professor Michael Bitzer.
“What this means for the campaigns and the candidates is that they need to finish in the top two in May to make the secondary summer primary — and that might factor into where their base of support is and how they view outside that base to gather the necessary votes,” Bitzer said.
At the congressional level, four of North Carolina’s primaries, all Republican, have four or more candidates competing: the 2nd, 8th, 9th, and 11th districts.
In the primary for governor, six Republicans and six Democrats have filed, plus one Libertarian. In addition, five Republicans are seeking the nomination for lieutenant governor, superintendent of public instruction, and state auditor, respectively. Four Republicans have filed for secretary of state.
In the legislature, four Senate primaries (two for Democrats, two for Republicans) have four or more candidates running: Districts 12, 21, 27, and 41. On the House side, GOP primaries in districts 50 and 109 have drawn four competitors each.
Jonathan Kappler, research director at the pro-business N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation, warned that a high number of candidates doesn’t guarantee a runoff. For instance, challengers to Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in the 2nd Congressional District and Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory are unlikely to muster enough votes to force a runoff.
“The blanket rule would be a situation where you have lots of well-known candidates or lots of not well-known candidates,” Kappler said. “That would lend itself to a runoff.”
Voter turnout for primaries typically is low. In 2008, when Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were locked in a tough nomination battle for president, turnout for the May primary was 37 percent. In 2010, that number dropped to 14 percent.
The presence of the marriage amendment on the ballot this year should drive turnout closer to the 2008 numbers, Bitzer said.
A little history from 2010: Six Democrats sought their party’s nomination for U.S. Senate, leading to a runoff between Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham. The same year on the Republican side, candidates in the 8th, 12th, and 13th congressional districts forced runoffs as well.
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.