News: CJ Exclusives

Races Take Shape as 2012 Primary Season Officially Gets Underway

Number of non-competitive seats is similar to ’10, '08

Candidate filing for the May primary closed at noon Wednesday with 40 percent of legislative districts — 68 seats out of 170 in the N.C. General Assembly — lacking either a Republican or Democratic challenger.

Foes of the new redistricting plan cite the number of non-competitive seats as proof of a Republican gerrymander. But filing records and election returns from four years ago show that partisan competition in this year’s primary is comparable to the primary in 2008, when North Carolina still operated under maps approved by a Democratic-run legislature.

Twenty seats in the state Senate lacked a major party competition in 2008. Fifty House districts met the same criteria the same year, for a combined total of 70 out of 170 districts.

Even in 2010 — a year when Republicans fielded a high number of candidates to run for state legislative office — 12 Senate districts and 40 House districts, for a total of 52 districts, didn’t have a partisan face-off. That election also was conducted under the Democratic-approved maps.

North Carolina’s primary will be held May 8, and the general election November 6. To recapture a majority in the legislature, Democrats would need a net gain of nine seats in the House and seven seats in the Senate.

De facto winners

For 34 candidates vying to win a seat in the state legislature, the election ended at noon Wednesday — and they all won. That’s the combined number of House and Senate candidates — nearly all of them incumbents — who weren’t challenged to a primary and who won’t have opposition in the general election.

On the Senate side, six Republicans and two Democrats are shoo-ins: Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow; Sens. Louis Pate, R-Wayne; Andrew Brock, R-Davie; Tommy Tucker, R-Mecklenburg; Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus; Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston; Dan Blue, D-Wake; and Josh Stein, D-Wake.

In the House, 26 candidates automatically secured their seats by facing no primary or general election opposition. Twenty-three of them are incumbents; the remaining three — Democrat Duane Hill in District 11, Republican Donny Lambeth in District 75, and Democrat Carla Cunningham in District 106 — are not.

Lambeth is chairman of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board. Information on Cunningham and Hall isn’t readily available.

Statewide races shape up

Filing closed with a bevy of candidates competing for statewide and congressional office in North Carolina. Thirteen candidates — six Republicans, six Democrats, and one Libertarian — have filed in the gubernatorial primary. Seven candidates — two Democrats and five Republicans — have thrown their hats into the ring for lieutenant governor.

A handful of down-ballot Council of State offices attracted almost as many candidates. Republicans have packed primaries for state auditor, superintendent of public instruction, and secretary of state. In a surprising development, no Republican will challenge Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.

At the federal level, 75 candidates have filed in North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts. The most crowded primaries: the 9th District, where 11 Republicans are competing; the 11th District, where six Republicans are competing; and the 8th District, where five Republicans are competing.

In the judicial sphere, one seat on the N.C. Supreme Court is up for grabs in the general election this fall as N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV, backed by Democrats, takes on incumbent Justice Paul Newby, backed by Republicans.

Elections also will be held for three seats on the N.C. Court of Appeals: Incumbent Linda McGee versus David Robinson; incumbent Wanda Bryant versus Marty McGee; and incumbent Cressie Thigpen versus Chris Dillon.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that there are 34 candidates total who are unopposed for House and Senate seats combined and a total of 75 candidates for congressional office.

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.