North Carolina House caucus leaders for the two political parties are taking different approaches to contested legislative primaries, with some Democrats opting to endorse in races that have multiple candidates from their party – while the House majority leader says he'll stay neutral in GOP primaries.
Contested primaries pose a conundrum for party leaders: Backing one candidate can make it seem like the party is snubbing other candidates, but waiting until after the primary to get involved could put the party's candidate at a disadvantage.
On Thursday, three of the top House Democrats were scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Terence Everitt, who's one of three Democrats running in the district currently represented by Rep. Chris Malone, a Wake County Republican. House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson is listed on the invitation along with Reps. Grier Martin and Graig Meyer, who are heading up their party's candidate recruitment efforts.
Martin said multiple Democrats running is "a great problem to have" but "does present us with some dilemmas."
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"The general rule is that the party itself can't endorse in a primary," he said. "That rule does not apply to individual Democrats or individual Democratic elected officials. ... It wouldn't be right for us to endorse a candidate in a primary in our official capacity." Martin said he and his House colleagues aren't participating in the Everitt fundraisers in their caucus leadership roles, although Jackson's title as Democratic leader appears on the invitations.
"Terence proved in 2016 that he was a spectacular candidate," Martin said. "He came up just short in the end. Terence did everything right, he worked his tail off and got out and met his voters. He's proven without a doubt that he knows how to run."
Everitt received 47 percent of the vote when he faced off with Malone in 2016.
The other two Democrats in this year's race, Army aviator Joe Longoria and small business owner Adam Wright, haven't run for the legislature before.
Asked about the Everitt fundraiser, Wright didn't voice any concerns about the legislators' participation. "Darren Jackson has been a mentor, and advocate for success in the upcoming 2018 elections," he told the NC Insider. "My focus is and will continue to be on defeating Chris Malone in November, period. I'm united with my fellow Democrats as we gear up to break the GOP majority in our state assembly."
House Majority Leader John Bell, a Wayne County Republican, likely won't be showing up at any fundraisers in contested GOP primaries. He issued a statement Thursday saying he "has a standing policy not to attend or be involved in any event in a primary contest in which there are two Republican candidates as to avoid any appearance of supporting one candidate over another."
Matt Bales, a spokesman for House Republicans, said other caucus leaders have similar policies, although he noted that House Speaker Tim Moore isn't considered a caucus leader because he's elected by the entire chamber.