RALEIGH – I don’t know that 2006 will feature more movie sequels than ever before. I can’t find a comprehensive guide with which to test the proposition. But it wouldn’t surprise me. There are dozens of sequels and remakes scheduled for release this year, either in theaters or direct-to-DVD, including both the sublime (Pirates of the Caribbean 2, X-Men 3: The Last Stand, and Bambi 2) and the ridiculous (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Police Academy 8, and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer).
That last title might also be an apt description of a 2006 sequel closer to home: primary- and general-election contests for the General Assembly. It is truly amazing how many races pit the same candidates against each other who ran two years ago. And many of these match-ups will make everyone’s list of the most competitive and compelling political contests of the cycle.
In the House, for example, a number of Republican primary rematches reflect the continuation of the conflict over Richard Morgan’s past and future role in the GOP. In 2004, Michael Speciale defeated incumbent and Morgan ally Michael Gorman in the 3rd District Republican primary, but then went on to lose to Democrat Alice Graham Underhill, daughter of former Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham, whom Gorman had defeated in 2002. This year features all three faces again in this coastal NC race: Speciale vs. Gorman in the primary, winner to face Underhill.
Similarly, Republican activist George Cleveland defeated incumbent and Morgan ally Keith Williams in 2004 in Onslow’s District 14, though unlike Speciale, Cleveland went on to win the general election. Williams is making a comeback bid this year (and the winner could well face the same Democratic nominee as two years ago, Kever Clark, who is likely to win that party primary).
Three other GOP rematches have Morgan implications. In District 10 in and around Kinston, Republican Rep. Steve LaRoque, a Morgan ally, fended off a challenge two years ago from Willie Ray Starling. He’ll have to do it again. To the west, Rep. Julia Howard of Davie County will again face former Rep. Frank Mitchell of Iredell. She’s the pro-Morgan candidate. And even further west, in the mountains, Rep. Philip Frye in District 84 will once again battle the man he previously defeated, former Rep. Buck Buchanan, in a GOP primary. Buchanan is close to Democratic Speaker Jim Black.
Over in the Senate, sequels also abound. In District 3 down east, incumbent Democrat Clark Jenkins will face former Rep. Shelly Willingham in a primary, as in 2004. In District 24, centered on Alamance County, it is quite possible that incumbent Republican Hugh Webster will again run against Democrat Tony Foriest in November, though both must win primaries. Ditto in District 49, in the Asheville area, where incumbent Democrat Martin Nesbitt defeated Republican R.L. Clark in 2004. Clark is running this year, but he does have a primary first.
Another key rematch to watch in the Senate will be District 47, encompassing several mountain counties, where former county commissioner Keith Presnell, a Republican, defeated Democratic incumbent Joe Sam Queen in 2004 in a race that really sucked up the campaign cash. Democrats spent an astounding $635,000 trying to defend Queen, while Republicans spent about $150,000. The 2006 contest is again Presnell vs. Queen. Will Democrats spend the same or more money on the race? It’s a moderately Republican district, so they’ll have to in order to prevail.
There are many other legislative races to watch this year, and I’ll be writing about them soon. But the sequel theme must predominate in any initial survey. As the campaigns unfold, expect a lot of talk, some of it scary, about what incumbents did last summer.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.