Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — Republicans could strengthen their grip on the North Carolina legislature and recapture a majority in the state’s congressional delegation in 2012, due in large part to a friendly redistricting plan. The first major step is the primary May 8, when the political parties will nominate candidates to compete in the fall.
Meanwhile, Democrats are playing defense in key districts and hope that a strong ground game from President Obama’s re-election campaign in the Old North State will trickle down to help their state-level candidates.
By the close of the filing deadline in late February, 75 candidates had filed for congressional office, 54 candidates for executive-level office, and 413 for legislative office. Due to retirements or candidates seeking another elected position, 44 seats in the legislature, two executive-level posts, and three seats in Congress are without an incumbent.
The highest profile open seat is for governor. Gov. Bev Perdue announced in late January that she would not seek a second term. Although he has five challengers in the primary, former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory is a shoo-in for the GOP nomination. But the line-up is more competitive on the Democrats’ side, where six candidates have filed.
Another factor sure to drive turnout in the primary is Amendment One, the only constitutional amendment referendum on the ballot. It would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, banning civil unions and state recognition of same-sex marriages.
Adding to the equation, the Republican nomination fight for president might still be ongoing by early May, driving higher turnout among GOP voters.
No path to victory
At the federal level, Democrats hold a 7-6 majority in North Carolina’s 13-seat congressional delegation, but Republicans will be competitive in four districts now occupied by Democrats.
In the state legislature, Republicans have a 31-19 seat majority in the Senate and a 68-52 seat majority in the House. Given the fact that redrawn maps favorable to the GOP will be used for the elections this year, political analysts say that no clear path exists for Democrats to retake a majority in either legislative chamber.
“Democrats would literally have to have all the planets in exact alignment for it really to even press in the right direction,” said Michael Bitzer, a political science and history professor at Catawba College in Salisbury.
Connie Wilson, a former Republican state legislator who now works as a lobbyist in Raleigh, agreed. “The general consensus that I’m hearing from political insiders is that the party membership should remain about the same in both chambers,” she said.
“The maps are drawn to drive Republicans’ advantage to the max,” said Ferrell Guillory, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and founder of the Program on Public Life. “It has had the effect of depressing competition in a lot of districts.”
Guillory doubted that Democrats could blaze a trail to victory this year. “It may take another cycle for Democrats to figure out how to make advances under the maps as they were drawn,” he said. “They need to get a sense of the dynamics of each district and get campaigns organized.”
Council of State
A high number of executive-level offices have attracted attention from Republicans, partly because Democrats control seven of the nine posts on the Council of State and the GOP sees an opportunity to make the races competitive. Five Republicans have filed for lieutenant governor, superintendent of public instruction, and state auditor, respectively. Four Republicans have filed for secretary of state.
On the Democratic side, two candidates have filed to challenge Steve Troxler, the Republican agriculture commissioner, and three candidates have filed to take on Cherie Berry, the Republican labor commissioner. Only one Democratic incumbent in the Council of State — state treasurer Janet Cowell — drew a primary challenge from her own party.
One surprise: Attorney General Roy Cooper, a two-term Democrat, did not draw a Republican opponent, meaning that he is the de facto winner of the election.
Following the Republican redistricting plan, four of North Carolina’s seven congressional seats occupied by Democrats are in play for the GOP.
Mike McIntyre, a Democrat first elected in 1996, is the incumbent in the 7th Congressional District, which now stretches from Wilmington to Johnston County. Ilario Pantano, the GOP’s nominee in 2010, and David Rouzer, a state senator, are the top Republican contenders to take on McIntyre in the general election.
In the neighboring 8th Congressional District — stretching from the sandhills to Charlotte — Democratic incumbent Larry Kissell faces a perilous path to a third term. Five Republican candidates have filed in the district. Richard Hudson has the most GOP establishment backing, including endorsements from former U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth and current 5th District U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx.
Encompassing the mountainous regions west of Asheville, the 11th Congressional District is an open seat due to Democrat Heath Shuler’s retirement. Three Democrats and eight Republicans have filed to run. Shuler has endorsed his chief of staff, Hayden Rogers, for the post.
On the Republican side, Mark Meadows has gained the most backing by establishment Republicans and recently won the Buncombe County GOP straw poll.
Another open seat, the 13th Congressional District, has attracted fewer candidates but plenty of political heat. Five-term Democrat Brad Miller is retiring after the district was redrawn to favor the GOP. Two Democrats and three Republicans are vying to replace him.
On the Republican side, George Holding, Paul Coble, and Bill Randall have filed. Holding is the former U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of North Carolina, well known in political circles for prosecuting former U.S. Sen. John Edwards and former Gov. Mike Easley. Coble is a former Raleigh mayor and current chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. Randall ran for the seat in 2010 but lost to Miller.
Pundits are keeping a close eye on two races — House District 2 and House District 22 — likely to attract attention and money from outside the region.
In the first race, Republicans drew Reps. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, and W.A. “Winkie” Wilkins, D-Person, into the same district. Most times when two incumbents are “doubled bunked,” one retires or seeks another office. But in this case, both incumbents are in the running.
Crawford is one of five Democrats in the House who sided with Republicans to override Perdue’s veto of the state budget in 2011. Crawford also stepped across the isle to help override Perdue vetoes on several other key measures. In contrast, Wilkins voted with Democrats to sustain Perdue’s veto of the budget.
In House District 22, Rep. William Brisson, D-Bladen, faces a primary challenge from fellow Democrat Matt Dixon. Like Crawford, Brisson parted ways with Democrats and supported the GOP budget.
Two Senate districts, once relatively safe for Democratic incumbents, have become competitive after redistricting.
In Senate District 18, three Republicans have filed for a chance to take on Sen. Doug Berger, D-Franklin, in the general election. Under the old maps, the district was composed of rural Franklin County and stretched up to skirt the Virginia border. Now, 68 percent of the district encompasses eastern Wake County, where more Republican voters were packed in.
Senate District 25 is another swing seat. Sen. Bill Purcell, D-Scotland, is retiring after seven terms in office. Four candidates, two Republicans and two Democrats, are competing to replace him.
The district still has a large share of registered Democrats, but they tend to vote for Republicans. Purcell barely staved off a Republican challenger in 2010.
PRIMARIES TO WATCH
COUNCIL OF STATE
• Superintendent of Public Instruction (Republican): Ray Martin, Mark Crawford, Richard Alexander, David Scholl, and John Tedesco
• Secretary of State (Republican): Mike Beitler, AJ Daoud, Ed Goodwin, and Kenn Gardner
• State Auditor (Republican): Debra Goldman, Greg Dority, Joseph Hank DeBragga, Fern Shubert, and Rudy Wright
• District 7 (Republican): Ilario Pantano, David Rouzer, and Rany Crow
• District 8 (Republican): Scott Keadle, Vernon Robinson, John Whitley, Richard Hudson, and Fred Steen
• District 10 (Democrat): Terry Bellamy, Patsy Keever, and Tim Murphy
• District 11 (Republican): Spence Campbell, Jeff Hunt, Chris Petrella, Vance Patterson, Mark Meadows, Kenny West, Ethan Wingfield, and Susan Harris
• District 13 (Republican): George Holding, Paul Coble, and Bill Randal
• District 1 (Republican): Bill Cook vs. Jerry Evans
• District 12 (Democrat): Brad Salmon vs. James Clark
• District 12 (Republican): Don Davis, Tim McNeill, Daniel Glover, and Ronald Rabin
• District 18 (Republican): Glen Bradley, Michael Schriver, and Chad Barefoot
• District 25 (Democrat): Gene McLaurin vs. Daniel Wilson
• District 25 (Republican): Gene McIntyre vs. Jack Benoy
• District 27 (Republican): Justin Conrad, Trudy Wade, Latimer Alexander, and Sal Leone
• District 41 (Republican): John Aneralla, Jeff Tarte, Troy Stafford, Robby Benton, and Donald Copeland
• District 44 (Republican): Chris Carney, David Curtis, and Karen Ray
• District 1 (Republican): Bob Steinburg vs. Owen Etheridge
• District 2 (Democrats): Jim Crawford, W.A. “Winkie” Wilkins, and Jason Jenkins
• District 3 (Republican): Wayne Langston, Michael Speciale, and Clayton Tripp
• District 4 (Republican): Jimmy Dixon vs. Efton Sager
• District 6 (Republican): Arthur Williams, Mattie Lawson, and Jeremy Adams
• District 9 (Republican): Jack Wall vs. Brian Brown
• District 10 (Republican): Stephen LaRoque vs. John Bell
• District 16 (Republican): Christopher Millis, Jeff Howell, and Tim Thomas
• District 22 (Democrat): William Brisson vs. Matt Dixon
• District 35 (Republican): Chris Malone vs. Duane Cutlip
• District 45 (Republican): John Szoka vs. Diane Wheatley
• District 49 (Republican): Russell Capps vs. Jim Fulghum
• District 50 (Republican): Lewis Hannah, Rod Chaney, Thomas Samuel Wright, and Jason Chambers
• District 59 (Republican): Jon Hardister, Sharon Kasica, and Timothy Cook
• District 63 (Republican): Roger Parker vs. Steve Ross
• District 82 (Republican): Larry Pittman vs. Jay White
• District 92 (Republican): Tom Davis vs. Charles Jeter
• District 94 (Republican): John Goudreau, Jeffrey Elmore, and John Reavill
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.
[Editor's note: This story has been revised to reflect that Dan Miller, a Democrat, is no longer running in Senate District 27. The Guilford County Board of Elections confirmed that, before the filing deadline, Miller withdrew from the legislative race to run for county commissioner.]