Final primary thoughts

Republican candidates for U.S. Senate debate during the John Locke Foundation's 2022 Carolina Liberty Conference.

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  • Early voting runs through Saturday, May 14. Check the N.C. State Board of Elections website for a site near you.
  • As of May 11, 323,439 ballots have been cast in the primary election, a combination of early voting and mail-in.

Next week voters will finally decide which Republicans and which Democrats will be on the general election ballot. As part of the important spring cleaning at “The Woodshed” here are some final thoughts going into the primary day, and what we will be watching.

The Delay Hurt Voters

It is hard to identify exactly what races were most impacted and which candidates were put at a disadvantage but there is not a doubt in my mind that the delayed primary due to redistricting litigation did the voters no favors.

The North Carolina legislature originally passed districts in early November, with the candidate filing period set for early December and closing on December 17.

If the districts would have remained unchanged most primary election campaigns would have run from November 6 to March 8, a full four months difference. Instead, the courts approved or imposed districts just hours before a brief second filing period in March. While Democrats were concentrating on lawsuits, they neglected to field candidates in many races.

Many candidates did not know where or even if they were running until March 5. Only then were many candidates able to start organizing and raising campaign funds. The freeze in the election calendar was a huge advantage to incumbents and better-known candidates. By the time many candidates had any resources to begin persuading voters, early voting was already taking place.

In addition, the courts imposed an incredibly uncompetitive congressional district map, where 12 to 13 of North Carolina’s 14 U.S. House seats will be decided in the primary. The delay in the primary cheated voters out of robust campaigns and more competitive congressional districts.  Democrats are still likely to be steamrolled in November, and we have predicted that if the November election were held today, Republicans would easily claim veto-proof legislative majorities in both legislative chambers.  The Democrats were gifted a couple of congressional seats by the courts that they would not have had otherwise, but that will make little difference when Republicans reclaim a sizeable U.S. House majority this fall.

No matter how the districts are drawn there are many deep red and deep blue areas of North Carolina where the primary winner of a particular party is a November shoo-in. However, voters were cheated out of a primary season they deserved. 

U.S. Senate GOP Primary

Club for Growth Action, the conservative group that has spent lavishly on independent advertising to boost the candidacy of Congressman Ted Budd clearly believes they have won the race for Budd.

As reported by Bloomberg:

“The difference is that along with Trump’s endorsement, millions of dollars in TV ad spending from the Club for Growth PAC gave Budd a roughly 15-to-1 outside spending advantage over his primary opponents. That’s helped Budd coast with a double-digit polling lead over the past month, while a poll conducted for the Club’s political action arm last week found him ahead by 20 points.

“Is the Club support helpful? Absolutely,” said Jonathan Felts, a Budd campaign adviser. “We make no apologies for it.”

Bloomberg added:

“Money, more than Trump, is responsible for what’s happening in the race, according to the McCrory campaign.

“If the Club doesn’t spend $15 million, this isn’t even a race,” McCrory adviser Jordan Shaw said.

In early March the Club, having already spent $5 million from the summer of 2021 until the end of the year, announced they would spend a massive $10 million to boost Budd in the final 10 weeks of the campaign. The spending was so massive in March and early April, that Budd raced to a massive lead. The Club has recently canceled some ads and will likely end up spending around $10-11 million in the race, still a massive and decisive amount. However, the drop in Club spending clearly shows the organization believes Budd is well on his way to a double-digit victory. We will see if they are right.

A couple of other factors have helped Budd in the race. Congressman Budd clearly was able to convince key people and some large donors, who are wary of Trump’s influence in the party, that while he had earned the support of the former president, Budd himself is a reasonable mainstream conservative that can work with Sen. Mitch McConnell and the GOP Senate leadership.

Also, sources tell Carolina Journal that when North Carolina native Lara Trump declined to run for U.S. Senate she urged the former president to back Budd. With Lara’s help, Budd was able to earn Trump’s endorsement early and without considerable public courting of Trump and without having to comment on or adopt some of his more controversial statements and positions. The Trump endorsement ended up being all gain and no pain for Budd.


North Carolina’s one true swing Congressional District will provide the clearest measure of Trump’s continued influence on the GOP. Had the district existed in 2020, President Biden would have won it by 1.5%, while Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson also would have won the district. We believe in the current political environment the GOP nominee will be favored in November.

A total of eight Republicans are running for the nomination in the May 17 primary, which includes southern Wake County, all of Johnston and parts of Wayne and Harnett. There are several qualified and interesting candidates in the race, including military veteran Kent Keirsey, longtime Johnston County GOP activist DeVan Barbour, former preacher Chad Slotta, and former Harnett County Congresswoman Renee Ellmers.

However, the airwaves are being dominated by Johnston County attorney Kelly Daughtry and former N.C. State football player Bo Hines. The race is a dog fight between the two of them. Daughtry has flooded the airwaves with positive ads about herself and has attacked Bo Hines for his youth, inexperience, and for residing outside the district. Johnston County GOP members have also spoken out against Hines’s candidacy. Hines is endorsed by President Trump and has constantly promoted that in television ads. Daughtry has been attacked for her previous donations to Democrats.

The Woodshed has analyzed data in several key races across the state, including the races and candidates Trump is most closely connected with including Budd in the Senate race, Hines in the 13th, and Madison Cawthorn in the 11th. We believe that a Trump endorsement along with some money to inform GOP voters of that endorsement results in about 30% support for that candidate. If a candidate is the top vote earner with at least 30% of the vote, they win the primary. Starting at 30% makes those candidates hard to beat. We conclude that none of those three races will go to runoffs because of the base level of support the Trump-aligned candidates have. Can Daughtry match Hines’s 30% Trump loyalists and then overtake him down the back straight? We predict a photo finish.

NC-13 Democrats

Wake County Democrats are the key voting block in the Democrat primary in the 13th, where two of the leading candidates; current NC State Sen. Wiley Nickel and former State Sen. Sam Searcy both reside.  Nickel has raised more money and is more of a doctrinaire liberal than Searcy. Nickel has run a tough, hard-hitting professional campaign and likely has the advantage in the Democrat primary.

NC-1 (Democrats)

As reported by the John Locke Foundation’s Dr. Andy Jackson, the Democratic nominee would be heavily favored to win in the 1st District in a typical year. The district, located in the northeastern part of North Carolina, is D+5 (lean Democratic), according to analysis by the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation. In other words, the Democratic nominee should expect to get about 55% of the vote in a typical election year against an evenly matched Republican.

However, if the GOP has a tsunami of s red wave election, the GOP could pull an upset here. Former state Sen. Erica Smith is running as an unabashed progressive, running hard to the left on issues such as abortion and the Green New Deal. Her main rival is state Sen. Don Davis, who has cultivated a more moderate reputation. Davis has been endorsed by retiring Democrat Congressman G.K. Butterfield. We believe that will put Davis on top and give the Democrats the best chance to hold this seat in November.

NC-1 (Republicans)

We think this race comes down to former GOP nominee Sandy Smith vs Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson. Mayor Roberson has been running catchy TV ads that try to win voter support while at the same time keep voters from confusing him with Sandy Smith and another candidate with a similar name Brent Roberson. We think this race avoids a runoff, but we are not 100% confident on that. We think GOP voters will nominate one of the two Sandy’s in the race. Due to his heavy TV presence, we are inclined to think Mayor Roberson edges this one out. However, we think the possibility of name confusion in this race is real and we are not confident in making a prediction.

NC 11 (Republicans)

North Carolina’s far western NC-11 will elect a GOP member of Congress in the fall.

As noted by Carolina Journal’s Ray Nothstine:

“Despite a rapid political ascendency, the scandals are piling up around Congressional incumbent Cawthorn. He’s called it a slow drip but it’s more like a waterfall at this point.”

Sen. Chuck Edwards is gaining ground in recent polling.  Cawthorn’s former GOP District Chair Michele Woodhouse has developed a grassroots following and has been a fierce critic of Cawthorn’s.  

Despite the rash of negative news stories several factors still work in Cawthorn’s favor. Again, Cawthorn can win with as little as 30% of the vote if he is the top vote earner.  We think he has a floor of about 30%.  Edwards is closing the gap with Cawthorn fast.  We think if the primary was another few weeks away, Edwards would overtake Cawthorn. As of now, we think this race is too close to call.

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