Under the Dome

Top 5 state Senate races to watch in North Carolina

With another General Assembly election year just weeks away, the Insider is naming its top five state Senate races to watch. The chamber is expected to remain under super-majority Republican control but Democrats are angling to pick up a few seats. The list is compiled from interviews with political consultants, candidates and campaign aides. Take a look:

Senate District 1 (Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank, Perquimans): The 2012 election in this Outer Banks district once held by Marc Basnight says it all. After recounts, Republican Sen. Bill Cook defeated Democrat Stan White by 21 votes out of more than 87,000 cast there. Cook is expected to announce early next year whether he will run again, while two Democrats, including White, have announced intentions to run for the seat. Look for another close contest.

Senate District 9 (New Hanover): Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Republican attorney from Wilmington, enjoys high name recognition because of a radio show, law practice and political experience. But Goolsby's not in a landslide district for Republicans, and those who dislike him do so passionately. Former state Sen. Julia Boseman, a lawyer and Democrat, has opened a campaign to run against him. She has held that seat before, so she is pretty well-known -- and controversial, like Goolsby. Other Democrats are also expressing interest, including a former school board member, Elizabeth Redenbaugh, and Goolsby's 2012 opponent Deb Butler, who lost by 8 percentage points. No matter who gets the Democratic nod, expect more interesting campaign ads, like Butler's "transvaginal wand" ad from 2012 (Google it).

Senate District 19 (Cumberland): Democrats hope they can swipe this Fayetteville-area seat from Republican Sen. Wesley Meredith, who is in his second term. In 2012, he received 54 percent of the votes but spent 11 times more money than his opponent, Democrat George Tatum. Meredith apparently is gearing up for another challenge in 2014. His campaign raised $132,000 in the first half of 2013. Democrats say they are focusing attention and resources on that area.

Senate District 25 (Anson, Richmond, Rowan, Scotland, Stanly): Republicans already hold a 33-17 advantage in the Senate, and some GOP insiders acknowledge that this could be the only Senate seat they realistically could steal from a Democrat in 2014. Democrat Gene McLaurin, an oil company president, holds the seat. In 2012, McLaurin dramatically outspent the Republican candidate, Gene McIntyre, yet McIntyre received 47 percent of the votes. Democrats will work hard to defend that district - the closest race won by a Democrat in 2012.

Senate District 50 (Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain): Election days have been anything but easy for Republican Sen. Jim Davis, who rode to victory in 2012 with the help of an anti-Obama wave in the western part of the state and $950,000 in campaign cash, most from the Republican Party. In 2010, he won the closest Senate race in the state. Davis plans to run for a third term, and the difference in 2014 will depend on who the Democrats put up -- they say they are working hard to field a strong candidate there -- and how much outside money gets dropped in the mountains.