A number of incumbent legislators faced primary challenges Tuesday, and some appeared in danger of losing their seats in partial, unofficial returns.
Rep. Robert Brawley, a Mooresville Republican and critic of House Speaker Thom Tillis, was trailing challenger John Fraley by 105 votes. Brawley quit as co-chairman of the House Finance Committee last year after a conflict with Tillis.
State House and Senate Republicans high in the political pecking order faced primary challenges Tuesday. Most of those incumbents were leading their opponents in early returns.
Sen. Ralph Hise, a Republican from Spruce Pine, was being outspent by the political action committee associated with the State Employees Association of North Carolina. The state employees’ PAC made Hise its top target, but Hise was leading his opponent, McDowell County commissioner Michael Lavender, in early returns with 61 percent of the vote to Lavender’s 39 percent.
Sen. Bob Rucho, a Senate Finance co-chairman, was ahead of Charlotte lawyer Matt Arnold in the race to represent the Mecklenburg County district with 55 percent of the vote to Arnold’s 45 percent, according to unofficial returns.
Vote-watchers were advised to disregard some of the information on the State Board of Elections website. Josh Lawson, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, said the display of precincts reporting on the board’s website incorrectly included numbers for absentee ballots, causing the number of precincts reported to be inflated. The Board of Elections was working on the problem Tuesday night.
Though most influential Republican incumbents appeared to be on their way to winning, some Democratic legislators were losing, according to early returns.
Six-term Sen. Clark Jenkins, a Tarboro Democrat and confidant of former Senate leader Marc Basnight, was trailing the leader in a three-way primary in the Eastern North Carolina district.
Howard Hunter III of Ahoskie was leading incumbent Democratic Rep. Annie Mobley, who is in her third full term. Hunter is seeking election to the seat his late father held. He was leading 65 percent to 35 percent in early returns.
The winner will have a general election opponent in November. But many of Tuesday’s primary winners will have their passage to legislative seats next year all but sealed after Tuesday’s results are final.
Twenty-four legislators will be elected this primary season because they have no opponent in the fall. In nearly a third of legislative districts, elections were essentially decided at the end of the candidate filing period in February. Fifty-five legislative candidates had no primary or general election challenger.
Some candidates, such as Rep. Bill Brisson of Bladen County, for example, had no primary challenger but face an opponent in November.
Most legislative districts were created to favor Republican or Democratic candidates. There are few districts considered “swing” seats where a member of either party is considered to have a reasonable chance of winning. Republicans hold a 33-17 advantage in the Senate and a 77-43 advantage in the House. The GOP is expected to keep control of the legislature next year.