Commentary

Christensen: 7 NC primary races will be worth watching

rchristensen@newsobserver.comMarch 25, 2014 

In six weeks, North Carolina primary voters will go to the polls. They will cast their ballots for individuals, but they will be making other choices as well: tea party vs. establishment, celebrity vs. businessman, male vs. female, Charlotte vs. Greensboro, and other choices. Many of the most famous names in American politics are weighing in.

Here are seven races worth watching.

GOP Senate primary: North Carolina may decide which political party controls the U.S. Senate next year, which is why millions are being spent here to oust Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. Hagan is not a strong candidate, but the GOP field is particularly weak. House Speaker Thom Tillis is the favored candidate of Karl Rove, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who have watched the GOP lose Senate seats when it nominated candidates viewed as too ideologically extreme by suburban swing voters. But some conservative voters don’t trust Tillis. Some tea party members support Cary physician Greg Brannon, who also has the support of Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah. Other Republicans are supporting the Rev. Mark Harris, a social conservative who led the effort to ban gay marriages in 2012; among them are former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Although Tillis has the lead in most polls, a runoff seems likely.

2nd Congressional District Republican Primary: Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn should be breezing easily toward renomination. She has a voting record to the right of Michele Bachmann, she has been embraced by the House GOP leadership, and her challenger is underfunded and little known. But Ellmers has ticked off some of her conservative base, particularly over immigration. This, at least in theory, gives radio talk show host Frank Roche some daylight. He also has been endorsed by Ann Coulter and some tea party groups.

2nd Congressional District Democratic Primary: Normally, Democrats would draw straws to see who would face Ellmers in such a red-leaning district, but not this time. There is a spirited race between singer Clay Aiken and Keith Crisco, the retired textile manufacturer and former state commerce secretary. Crisco is on the air with TV ads, and his signs are all over the district. But Crisco cannot rely on any “Keithmates” for help.

3rd Congressional District Republican Primary: Every election, rock-ribbed Republican conservatives vow to take out maverick GOP Rep. Walter Jones, and every time they fail. Taylor Griffin, a former aide to President George W. Bush, believes he has a better chance than past challengers because the district has been reshaped to make it less friendly to Jones. Griffin says ratings show Jones among the least conservative Republicans in the House. But Jones is campaigning as an independent and supporter of Rand Paul.

7th Congressional District Republican Primary: The state legislature designed the district for then-state Sen. David Rouzer, but after he failed to take down incumbent Democrat Mike McIntyre in 2012, some GOP leaders – including former state Chairman Tom Fetzer – looked for an alternative. They are now backing Woody White, chairman of the New Hanover County commissioners. Rouzer has the advantage of having run last time and has the support of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

6th Congressional District Republican Primary: With nine candidates vying to replace Rep. Howard Coble, who is retiring, this one is headed to a runoff. The three candidates with the best chance of getting there: District Attorney Phil Berger Jr., son of the state Senate leader; businessman Bruce VonCannon, who has been on the air with TV ads since January; and Greensboro City Councilman Zack Matheny.

12th Congressional District Democratic Primary: Eight candidates are vying to replace Mel Watt, who took a job in the Obama administration. The two candidates with the best chance are state Sen. Malcolm Graham, who is helped by the district’s Charlotte-centric geography, and state Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro. Graham has been endorsed by Harvey Gantt, a former Charlotte mayor and Senate candidate, and Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines. Adams is winning the endorsement competition with the backing of Emily’s List, the AFL-CIO, the NCAE, the National Women’s Political Caucus, Planned Parenthood, former U.S. Rep. Eva Clayton, and State Auditor Beth Wood.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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