RALEIGH — Dan Forest is leading Tony Gurley more than a 2-to-1 margin in early returns of the runoff election to decide who will represent Republicans this fall in the lieutenant governor’s race.
Forest, an architect and first-time candidate, had nearly 70 percent of the vote with a big lead in Mecklenburg County, which was expected to have higher turnout because of a congressional runoff.
In the Republican race for insurance commissioner, Mike Causey, a farmer and retired insurance broker, is leading former state House Speaker Richard Morgan by about 20 points with 60 percent, according to preliminary results. Other candidates poised to win: John Tedesco in GOP state superintendent’s race; Ed Goodwin in GOP secretary of state race; and John Brooks in Democratic labor commissioner race.
Turnout is near an all-time low for a primary election and early estimates suggest Tuesday’s turnout will rival the record low – 2.5 percent, said Gary Bartlett, the state’s elections chief. Bartlett said that even a 3 percent turnout is likely out of reach.
“There are small pockets of 4 and 5 percent turnout, and those are all around the Congressional districts,” Bartlett said shortly before polls closed. “Everywhere else in the state is just pitiful, 1 or 2 percent.”
The turnout left candidates for some of the state’s highest posts to scrounge for votes like they were searching for loose change in the couch.
Gurley, a Republican Wake County commissioner, found a steady trickle of voters Tuesday morning at Lead Mine Elementary School in Raleigh. He stood in the heat for an hour to shake hands with less than a dozen voters.
A county poll worker said it was the most active voting spot in Wake County with about 60 votes registered at 10 a.m. “That’s why I’m here,” said Gurley, sweating in a white dress shirt and red striped tie.
The May contests to select Democrat and Republican candidates for the fall election drew one of the highest primary turnout’s ever, at 2.2 million, or 34 percent.
“What’s lacking [in the runoff] is a top of the ticket like a gubernatorial or U.S. Senate race,” Bartlett said. “It’s really sad to see the turnout being what it is.”
Bartlett said the runoff election will cost about $6 million to 8 million.
Anne Campbell, 81, gave a simple answer to why she ventured into the heat to vote. “I think it’s my civic duty,” she said outside her Raleigh precinct. “You can’t complain if you don’t go vote.”
North Carolina is one of eight states that require runoff elections for all races. If the top vote-getter didn’t receive 40 percent in the May primary, the second-place finisher could ask for a runoff. And this year a new state law delayed the election by a month to account for military ballots from overseas, pushing it deep into summer.
The runoffs will determine candidates in five statewide contests, as well as numerous congressional and legislative districts.
In 2010, only 4.5 percent of those registered voted in a runoff election with a Democratic U.S. Senate race and three Republican congressional primaries. In 2008, only 1.8 percent went to the polls a second time.
Faith Carlton, 79, said she prefers a runoff election to a winner-take-all approach on the first ballot. “I think it’s fairer,” she said Tuesday at her precinct.
Forest and his wife, Alice, voted about 7 a.m. at Wood Valley Swim & Racquet Club in Raleigh.
There were six poll workers with glazed eyes and nothing but time on their hands. The Forests were vote two and three of the day at the club.
Such conspicuously small crowds have forced candidates to take the every-vote-counts mantra even more seriously.
Much of the campaign attention is focused on the Charlotte area, where two Republican Congressional races are at stake, and turnout is expected to be slightly higher.
Tedesco, a Wake County school board member running for the GOP nomination for state superintendent, is spending the day campaigning in the area. And Forest left for Charlotte soon after voting.
The statewide Republican ballot includes four races for Council of State posts: lieutenant governor, superintendent, secretary of state and insurance commissioner.
But on the Democratic side, the ballot is far shorter. Only the labor commissioner nomination remains unsettled.
Brooks, who held the post from 1977 to 1993, is seeking a comeback after he was ousted in the wake of a deadly chicken plant fire in Hamlet. He faced Foster, a first-time statewide candidate.
Eli Kleinman, 74, didn’t even know about the runoff election until Monday evening. “I said, ‘Whoa. This needs more advertising,’ ” he said.
But he did a quick Internet search and headed to the polls. “I felt my civic duty,” he said.