Thursday, May 15, 2014 —
RALEIGH – The polls closed, the votes were counted and the May 6 primary is officially in the books. There will be some runoff elections across the state following the primary, but for the most part ballots are now set for the general election.
The marquee primary was the Republican competition in the U.S. Senate race. Eight candidates were vying for the chance to take on first-term Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, and all eyes – in North Carolina and across the country – were on N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis and his ability to secure the nomination without a runoff.
As the results were tallied it soon became clear that Tillis would eclipse the 40 percent threshold and secure the nomination outright. When all ballots were counted, Tillis ended up with around 90,000 more votes than his next closest competitor, physician Greg Brannon.
Tillis and Hagan will now square off in what is sure to be a costly, competitive and, most likely, nasty campaign. Hagan faced a couple of lesser-known candidates in a Democratic primary herself, and, perhaps surprisingly, she only garnered 77 percent of the vote in that three-way race. Despite that, her winning the primary was never in question and she was able to amass a fairly significant war chest heading into the general election.
The other statewide primary was for the N.C. Supreme Court. In the past, these judicial campaigns had been relatively quiet affairs, but not this time. Incumbent Justice Robin Hudson was being challenged by two opponents – Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson and attorney Jeanette Doran. Outside interests spent over $1 million in this race trying to beat Hudson, which included airing an extremely negative ad accusing her of siding with child molesters.
Despite the deluge of outside money targeting her, Hudson advanced to the general election with relative ease, securing more than 42 percent of the vote. Levinson finished second with 37 percent, leaving Doran in a distant third with 21 percent. Hudson and Levinson will now face each other in the general election, which, unfortunately, is sure to feature more outside spending and negative attacks.
The congressional primaries didn’t bring many surprises. All of the incumbents survived their primary challenges and, as of this writing, Clay Aiken was clinging to a narrow lead in the District 2 Democratic primary. But with the sudden death of opponent Keith Crisco, there’s uncertainity as to what will happen next.
Finally, in the General Assembly, four incumbents had their hopes of reelection dashed by losing their party’s primary, while another handful were reelected outright on May 6 since they face no opposition in the general election.
Unfortunately, all of these races were decided by only a fraction of the voters in the state. While voter turnout improved over the 2010 numbers, the last non-presidential primary year, it still fell just shy of 16 percent. That’s less than one in five North Carolina voters participating in what was a very important election.
We are bound to see higher voter participation in November, but if history is our guide, it will still hover around only 50 percent of all registered voters.
With the primary in the books, voters may get a summer reprieve from the onslaught of television ads before the general election heats up this fall. Then again, with the outside money we’ve already seen spent in 2014, and the competitive U.S. Senate and N.C. Supreme Court races, we might be in for a long year.
Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to TheVoterUpdate.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.