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Went to Bed Early Last Night? Here's How North Carolinians Voted In The Primary

Despite a rainy afternoon, LaDonna Clark hands out a candidate brochure at Parkside Elementary School in Morrisville, NC, on March 3, 2020.
Leoneda Inge
Despite a rainy afternoon, LaDonna Clark hands out a candidate brochure at Parkside Elementary School in Morrisville, NC, on March 3, 2020.

Dozens of nominations for federal, state government and legislative seats appeared on primary ballots below the high-profile choices for president that brought massive candidate operations and advertising to North Carolina in recent weeks.

At the top of the ticket, Joe Biden won the state's Democratic presidential primary, and President Donald Trump won on the Republican side.

I couldn't make my mind up on the presidential candidate and I wanted to see how it worked out, so I've waited until the last minute. -Susan Hauser

The former vice president was the clear favorite here early on, but had wavered recently. A slew of presidential contenders made stops in the state in the past week trying to make their case as the most viable alternative.

Raleigh voter Susan Hauser held off on making her choice.

"I couldn't make my mind up on the presidential candidate and I wanted to see how it worked out,” she said. “So I've waited until the last minute."

Voters also winnowed the fields for lieutenant governor, schools superintendent and other Council of State positions.

All but two of North Carolina's nearly 2,700 polling places closed at 7:30 p.m. State election officials allowed only one site in Bertie County to extend its closing time by 30 minutes due to a printer installation issue, while another in Forsyth County stayed open 40 minutes longer because election workers briefly ran out of a version of a Democratic ballot.

Here's a recap of the races:

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham reacts to supporters during a primary election night party in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, March 3, 2020.
Credit Gerry Broome / AP
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham reacts to supporters during a primary election night party in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

U.S. Senate Race

Former Democratic state lawmaker Cal Cunningham has advanced to a general election challenge against GOP Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

Cunningham was the candidate favored in the primary by his party's leaders in the U.S. Senate. He's a former state senator and Iraq War veteran.

Cunningham defeated state Sen. Erica Smith and three other Democrats. Smith was trying to become the first African American female senator ever elected from the South.

Tillis' victory over three lesser-known Republican rivals came despite the initial skepticism of party activists who once questioned his loyalty to President Donald Trump.

State GOP Chairman Michael Whatley addressed a crowd Tuesday night at North Carolina Republican Party Headquarters in Raleigh.

"We feel that this is going to turn on a discussion about socialism versus economic freedom," he said.

Cunningham was the leading fundraiser in the primary. He was endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and benefited from more than $9 million in outside spending from two super PACs.

Unaffiliated voter Bob De Andrade, 64, of Durham, said he voted Tuesday for Cunningham because he believes he would stand up to Donald Trump or whoever is president.

"I thought he was offering the change I'd like to see," said De Andrade, a tour bus driver. "He's not accepting the status quo of allowing the president to run roughshod over the institutions."

Some of the super PAC ads sought to counter pro-Smith commercials paid for by an unusual source: a group linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The GOP effort was designed to weaken Cunningham among progressive voters by pointing out he didn't support the Green New Deal or Medicaid for All.

"My impression is that she's a very progressive candidate, and I like that," statistician Marie Coffin, 57, of Cary, said after voting for Smith.

Meanwhile, Tillis was ultimately spared from an expensive race against well-funded challengers who either didn't run or pulled out. Questions about Tillis' loyalty to President Donald Trump by hardline Republicans have subsided in recent months, particularly during Trump's impeachment.

Tillis "had made some stumbles" previously when it came to his allegiance to Trump, retired Highway Patrol leader Sidney Cummings, 77, said after voting in Cary, but "he's better than a Democrat."

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.
Credit David Baron / Flickr, Creative Commons
Flickr, Creative Commons

Congressional Challenges

Three North Carolina members of Congress with challengers from their own party this year all won primaries on Tuesday.

Rep. David Price defeated Daniel Lockwood in the Democratic Party’s 4th Congressional District primary and will face Tuesday’s Republican primary winner. Price first went to Congress in 1987 and has served continuously except for two years in the mid-1990s.

Rep. Patrick McHenry won his Republican primary in the 10th District over David L. Johnson and Ralf Walters and will face Democrat David Parker in the fall. McHenry was first elected to Congress in 2004, rising to the post of chief deputy whip when Republicans recently held the U.S. House majority.

Democratic Rep. Alma Adams defeated Keith E. Credle in her 12th District primary and will take on Republican Bill Brewster in the fall. Adams is seeking her fourth full term in Congress. She had been in the state House for 20 years before her 2014 congressional election.

In western North Carolina, a Republican primary runoff is looking likely this spring for the U.S. House seat being vacated by GOP Rep. Mark Meadows.

Lynda Bennett, a real estate company owner from Haywood County, was the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s 11th Congressional District primary. But unofficial results showed her falling short of winning the more than 30% of the votes needed to win the 12-candidate primary outright.

Second-place finisher Madison Cawthorn, a real estate investment company CEO, must officially ask for a May 12 runoff for the election to occur. State Sen. Jim Davis finished third, according to unofficial results.

The runoff winner will take on Democrat Moe Davis, who won his party’s primary over four other rivals. Davis is a retired Air Force colonel and former prosecutor at military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

Libertarian and Green Party nominees will compete against the Democratic and Republican primary winners in the November general election.

Meadows, the former head of the House Freedom Caucus and a close ally of President Donald Trump, announced in December he wouldn’t seek reelection. Meadows, who hinted at a future job working with the president, endorsed Bennett in the primary. The far-western 11th District remains a Republican-leaning district despite recent redistricting.

Meanwhile, two other congressional seats are expected to go blue in November.

Under court guidance, state lawmakers drew new congressional maps for the 2020 elections -- and Republican Congressmen George Holding in the 2nd and Mark Walker in the 6th chose not to run for re-election. 

The new boundaries place the 2nd district squarely in Wake County. Deborah Ross took the Democratic nomination there. She's a former state legislator and a former director of the North Carolina ACLU. She'll face Republican Alan Swain and Libertarian Jeff Matemu in November.

In the new 6th District encompassing the Triad, attorney Kathy Manning rose to the front of the Democratic pack. She will face Republican Lee Haywood.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper (left) will face Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (right) in the November general election.
Credit Ben McKeown for WUNC & AP
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper (left) will face Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (right) in the November general election.

NC Governor's Race

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper won his party's primary and will face Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in the November general election as he seeks a second term.

It's a race that Forest has long been preparing for. Cooper enters that matchup flush with cash and hoping his reelection could help Democrats take back one or both General Assembly chambers.

Cooper defeated primary challenger Ernest Reeves, who ran a low-key campaign and reported raising little money.

Forest had the fundraising and organizational advantages over state Rep. Holly Grange in the Republican primary. While Forest won statewide elections for lieutenant governor in 2012 and 2016, Grange questioned his electability in November against Cooper, who had a whopping $9.5 million in his campaign coffers a few weeks ago. Forest had $750,000.

Forest, a favorite of social conservatives who strongly supported the state's 2016 divisive "bathroom bill," has used his position to promote broadband access and financial literacy for K-12 students among other policies. Grange said Forest was divisive.

Lieutenant Governor

Nine candidates were splitting the vote, but it looks like Mark Robinson will win the GOP primary for lieutenant governor and advance to the general election without a runoff.  

Robinson is a former factory worker and day care operator whose gun rights speech before a North Carolina city council vaulted him to prominence among conservatives. The first-time candidate of Greensboro got the most votes and exceeded the 30% threshold needed to win outright and avoid a runoff.

Current state Sen. Andy Wells was second in a primary that also included current Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, former U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers and ex-state Rep. Scott Stone.

On the Democratic side, state Representative Yvonne Lewis Holley is leading, but has not reached the 30 percent threshold to avoid a runoff. She has nearly 27% of the vote with votes in from nearly 99 percent of precincts statewide.  

State senator Terry Van Duyn looks to be the runner up who would be eligible to call for the runoff.

State Superintendent

Two lifelong educators will compete to become the next state superintendent of North Carolina.

Republican Catherine Truitt and Democrat Jen Mangrum won their party's nominations. Both are former classroom teachers who now work in higher education.

Truitt was former Governor Pat McCrory's education adviser and is currently the chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina. Mangrum is an education professor at UNC Greensboro.

Current state superintendent Mark Johnson lost his bid for Lieutenant Governor.

Photo: The North Carolina General Assembly's Legislative Building
Credit Jorge Valencia

NC General Assembly

About two dozen General Assembly incumbents also faced primary rivals on Tuesday. All 170 House and Senate seats will be on November ballots. Republicans currently hold slight seat advantages in either chamber.

State Attorney General

In the GOP primary for state Attorney General, Forsyth County Jim O'Neill will likely face Democratic incumbent Josh Stein.

NC State Auditor

Democratic State Auditor Beth Wood and Republican insurance Commissioner Mike Causey both won their primaries. Wood beat Democrat Luis Toledo while Causey defeated Ronald Pierce, as he did in 2016.

Wood will take on Republican Tony Street, who won Tuesday's nomination over Tim Hoegemeyer. Former Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, now the state Democratic Party chairman, is his party's nominee to challenge Causey. Causey unseated Goodwin in 2016.

NC Labor Commissioner

Republican Josh Dobson, a state legislator, defeated Chuck Stanley and Pearl Burris Floyd for the nomination for labor commissioner. Current Commissioner Cherie Berry isn’t seeking reelection. Dobson will take on Democrat Jessica Holmes.

NC Secretary of State

Republican E.C. Sykes beat Chad Brown and Michael LaPaglia to win the nomination for secretary of state. Incumbent Elaine Marshall is the Democratic nominee.

NC Agriculture Commissioner

The Democratic challenger to Republican Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler will be Jenna Wadsworth, who defeated fellow Democrats Donovan Alexander Watson and Walter Smith.

NC State Treasurer

In the Democratic primary for state treasurer, Ronnie Chatterji narrowly defeated Matt Leatherman, and Dimple Ajmera. The Republican nominee is incumbent Dale Folwell.

Reporters Leoneda Inge, Rusty Jacobs, Will Michaels, Liz Schlemmer, Jeff Tiberii and Editor Amy Jeffries contributed to this report.

Elizabeth “Liz” Baier is WUNC’s Supervising Editor for Race, Class and Communities. She has two decades of experience than span print, audio, and digital reporting and editing.
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