Primary election night Tuesday resulted in several upsets and close races in legislative contests in North Carolina, setting the stage for a competitive general election season this summer and fall.
Voter turnout was 35 percent, nipping at the heels of the record-breaking turnout of 37 percent in 2008, another presidential year. Voters largely were motivated to come out to the polls by a marriage amendment on the ballot that defined civil marriage as the union of one man and one woman, banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. It passed 61 percent to 39 percent. More than 2.1 million voters weighed in on the marriage amendment, several hundred thousand more than cast ballots for president, governor, or any other race.
“Over the past decade we’ve seen an uptick in turnout for elections,” said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University. “People have increasingly strong views about politicians and public policy. We’re in an era of polarized political parties. There is also a sense that things aren’t going quite as well as they should be, and that tends to bring out people.”
Among close legislative races, one of the most watched was between N.C. Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, and GOP challenger John Bell. LaRoque drew a primary following a series of reports questioned his business practices as head of two economic development organizations.
LaRoque lost by 54 votes, pending a final count of mail ballots. He outspent Bell 3-to-1.
An in-fight in the Democratic Party pitted Reps. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, and W.A. “Winkie” Wilkins, D-Person, against each other. Crawford and Wilkins were “doubled bunked” into the same district. Crawford lost to Wilkins, 36 percent to 56 percent, in the primary.
Crawford significantly outspent Wilkins in the race. He spent $130,343 to Wilkins’ $47,200. But Wilkins raised more campaign cash than Crawford, taking in $39,125 to Crawford’s $20,819.
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.
Rep. William Brisson, D-Bladen, was another moderate Democrat who sided with Republicans to pass the budget in House District 22. He staved off a challenger from fellow Democrat Matt Dixon, winning 52 percent to 48 percent.
In Senate District 2, Rep. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, beat Randy Ramsey, 52 percent to 32 percent. Ramsey, a first-time candidate for the General Assembly, was associated closely with Democratic candidates until he chose to run, as reported by Carolina Journal. Ramsey significantly outraised and outspent Sanderson.
In addition to the LaRoque-Bell results, several other legislative races were squeakers. For example, in House District 119 — an open seat — former Democratic state Sen. Joe Sam Queen bested fellow Democrat Danny Davis by 11 votes, again, pending the count of mail ballots.
The results of other key legislative races:
• Senate District 18 (Republican): Chad Barefoot (46 percent), Michael Schriver (40 percent), and Glen Bradley (14 percent)
• Senate District 27 (Republican): Trudy Wade (54 percent), Justin Conrad (34 percent), Latimer Alexander (10 percent), Sal Leone (2 percent)
• Senate District 33 (Republican): Stan Bingham (41 percent), Eddie Gallimore (38 percent), Sam Watford (21 percent)
• Senate District 41 (Republican): Jeff Tarte (38 percent), John Aneralla (36 percent), Troy Stafford (11 percent), Robby Benton (8 percent), and Donald Copeland (7 percent)
• House District 6 (Republican): Mattie Lawson (37 percent), Arthur Williams (36 percent), and Jeremy Adams (27 percent)
• House District 16 (Republican): Christopher Millis (65 percent), Tim Thomas (22 percent), and Jeff Howell (13 percent).
• House District 45 (Republican): John Szoka (58 percent) and Diane Wheatley (42 percent)
• House District 49 (Republican): Jim Fulghum (66 percent) and Russell Capps (34 percent)
• House District 50 (Republican): Rod Chaney (45 percent), Jason Chambers (32 percent), Thomas Samuel Wright (14 percent), Lewis Hannah (9 percent)
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.