North Carolina’s primary produced similar headlines across the state. Former President Trump’s influence in North Carolina clearly matters. However, there is much more to unpack.

In general, the data bodes well for Republicans heading into November.

Overall, 758,000 registered Republicans and registered unaffiliated people voted a GOP ballot in the primary election. That’s 146,000 more than the 612,000 who voted a Democrat ballot.

Much of that can be attributed to the fact the GOP had a high-profile U.S. Senate race that was heavily advertised on TV, while the Democrats coronated Cherie Beasley as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.

Turnout was strong across North Carolina.

NC’s 2022 primary final turnout was 19.66% of registered voters. That’s the highest turnout for a midterm election in two decades. Only one primary election in the last 32 years had a higher turnout; the 2002 primary hit 21.21% in the first major election after September 11, 2001.

Republicans can’t win statewide elections with just GOP voters. They need a majority of unaffiliated voters and a slice of registered Democrats. The fact that 62% of unaffiliated voters, who can vote in either primary but not both, picked GOP ballots is a good sign.

In 2016, 75% of unaffiliated voters who voted in the GOP primary went on to vote for Trump and other GOP candidates.

Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper believes that both the high overall turnout and the high number of unaffiliated voters selecting a GOP ballot in the NC-11 race were factors that worked in Chuck Edward’s favor in his successful efforts to defeat freshman U.S. representative Madison Cawthorn.

“What we saw on the Republican side of that 11th Congressional District primary was almost the exact same turnout that we actually had in a presidential year,” Cooper told Blue Ridge Public Radio.

Yes, endorsements mattered

Two of the most popular figures in each political party in North Carolina were largely successful in their political efforts in the primary.

The former president went 2-3.  His endorsement was key in Congressman Ted Budd’s commanding victory over former Gov. Pat McCrory in the GOP U.S. Senate race.

Trump’s last-minute appeal to voters to give Congressman Madison Cawthorn a second chance did not save the controversial far western North Carolina Congressman, but it kept it close, and one can hardly blame Trump for Cawthorn’s defeat.

In our final pre-primary column, we stated:

“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”

Congressman Budd was unknown to most voters outside of his congressional district when former President Trump endorsed him in early June of 2021.

By January, the Trump endorsement had earned Budd about 34% of the vote when polled in a two-way race with McCrory. In January, Budd was pulling 19% of the vote  After a new round of commercials in early March reminding voters of the Trump endorsement Budd hit that magic 30% against all candidates according to the Civitas John Locke Foundation poll and others.

With that 30% Trump base secure, millions of dollars in negative advertising from the Club for Growth brutally attacked McCrory along with further boosting Budd, leading to an easy victory.

In the 13th Congressional race, Trump-endorsed Bo Hines earned 32% of the vote based almost solely on the Trump endorsement. The 32% was enough to advance to the general election.

In the 1st Congressional District, the most Trump-aligned candidate, Sandy Smith, pulled 31% of the vote, enough in the multi-candidate field to win.

According to a Chuck Edwards internal poll released in early April, Cawthorn appears to have dropped 20 points in the last six weeks of the campaign, as a cascade of negative news stories and advertisements hit the area. However it’s worth noting that the Cawthorn collapse halted around the 30% mark in part based on Trump renewing his endorsement the weekend before the election and recording phone messages for Cawthorn. However, in Cawthorn’s case the 32% he earned was 1300 votes too few to beat state Sen. Chuck Edwards.

North Carolina’s trend of the 30% Trump endorsement boost is mirrored in other states.

Ahead of the Georgia Governors primary, former U.S. Senator David Perdue is polling right at 30% after being endorsed by Trump, but he is way behind incumbent GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, who is polling well over 50% and will easily defeat Perdue next week.

In the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate primary, Trump backed Dr. Mehmet Oz won 31% of the primary vote. He has a narrow lead in a race headed for a recount.

In Idaho Trump-backed Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin won 32% of the vote in a primary against sitting Gov. Brad Little who easily defeated her with 53% of the vote.

Author J.D. Vance, who earned Trump’s endorsement in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary, won the GOP contest with 32% of the vote.

Republican voters in Nebraska picked University of Nebraska regent Jim Pillen as their nominee for governor over Trump-endorsed Charles Herbster.

Pillen won with 34% of the vote, but Trump’s pick, despite allegations of sexual misconduct still pulled 30%.

On the Democratic side, Gov. Roy Cooper’s political execution of  Fayetteville State Sen. Kirk deViere was ruthless, but successful.

Cooper appears to have worked behind the scenes to help defeat State Senator Ernestine Bazemore who represents several northeast North Carolina counties. She was defeated by Cooper Department of Transportation board appointee Valerie Jordan.

The establishment is not dead

Established elected leaders still have influence.

“The influence and involvement of “the establishment” was most clearly seen in the NC-4 Democratic primary and the NC-11 Republican primary, according to Dr. Susan Roberts , professor of political science at Davidson College.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis went all in for Chuck Edwards. He condemned forcefully the unlawful and immature behavior by Cawthorn. The Tillis aligned PAC, Results for NC, spent heavily to defeat Cawthorn. The fact is, Edwards does not win without Tillis.

In NC-1 retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield endorsed Don Davis over Erica Smith, helping Davis pull away to a big victory. Smith was seen as the more progressive candidate, while Davis was the more mainstream Democrat. Davis gives Democrats the best chance to win in November.

NC-4 was an open deep blue Democratic seat following the retirement of Representative David Price. Nida Allam, a 26-year-old serving as a member of Durham County Board of Commissioners and the first Muslim woman elected to political office in North Carolina, ran a progressive campaign with endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Elizabeth Warren.

However, State Senator Valerie Foushee was supported by more establishment Democrats, such as Attorney General Josh Stein, Congressman G.K Butterfield, and Congresswoman Alma Adams.

Victories by Foushee, Chuck Edwards and Don Davis prove the establishment of each party is not dead.

Grassroots and community service still matter in elections

Lots has been written, here, here, and here about how big money, much of it from 3rd party groups impacted various races. No doubt it is true.

However grassroots and community service still matter. GOP activist and previous NC-1 candidate Sandy Smith defeated Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson. Mayor Roberson spent considerably more down the stretch, but Smith has been working the district on the ground for years and that made the difference.

While he did not win, Johnston County’s Devan Barbour came in second while spending a fraction of the money of other candidates who finished behind him. His “happy warrior campaign”, matched his years of community service through civic organizations, church, and his longtime service to the Republican party.

Finally, while there were many factors in Madison Cawthorn’s defeat, it is worth noting that Cawthorn won 11 of 14 counties in the district. However, Edwards performed fantastically in Transylvania, Henderson, and Buncombe counties — counties he currently represents in the state Senate. His previous service to his voters was key in the victory.