One year almost half of North Carolina's 170 legislators got a free ticket to Raleigh, running unopposed in the primary and general elections. Usually, most face just token opposition.
Not this year.
A confluence of circumstances has led to some of the most competitive primaries in memory. Nearly two dozen lawmakers, including three in Mecklenburg County, are fighting for their jobs in the May 8 primary.
Credible challengers, scrambled districts and restless voters have led to a volatile election. Add to all that another factor: fewer runoffs. Candidates can now win with 30 percent of the vote, not 40 percent.
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"You've got a recipe for a lot of competitive primary races where incumbents could face stiff challenges," said Jonathan Kappler, executive director of the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation, which tracks legislative races.
In Mecklenburg, Sen. Joel Ford and Rep. Rodney Moore, both Democrats, appear to face the biggest primary hurdles. And Republican Sen. Dan Bishop is trying to fend off a well-financed GOP challenger.
Changes are guaranteed in a General Assembly where at least 18 lawmakers are retiring. Thirty-seven incumbents face primaries, including a handful who found themselves "double-bunked" and facing fellow legislators, according to Kappler.
And many are campaigning in districts dramatically reshaped as a result of court decisions.
Republican Sen. David Curtis of Lincoln County, for example, represents a district that had included much of Iredell County. Now he's lost Iredell but picked up all of Cleveland County, where one of his opponents is a former mayor of the county's largest city.
"It really is a challenge for me," Curtis said. "If I had kept my old district I'd have had a pretty easy primary . . . It's a real challenge."
Among other lawmakers facing a strong primary challenge are Republican Reps. Justin Burr of Albemarle and Jon Hardister of Guilford County as well as Sen. Tom McInness of Rockingham. Democratic Rep. Duane Hall of Wake County faces a primary challenger as well as allegations of sexual misconduct.
The primaries will shape November's elections, in which Democrats are trying to whittle away at Republicans' veto-proof legislative majorities.
In Mecklenburg, Ford faces four Democrats, including Tim Wallis and Roderick Davis, who got 48 percent against him in the 2016 primary. But Ford's strongest challenger in District 38 appears to be Mujtaba Mohammed, a former county Democratic Party official and assistant public defender endorsed by the Black Political Caucus and other groups.
Mohammed has criticized Ford for working with Senate Republican leaders. Ford, for example, was one of four Democrats who joined Senate Republicans last summer in voting for the final legislative budget. Mohammed says Ford "has been out of synch and out of step" with the district.
Ford argues that he can get more done working across the aisle.
"I am focused on . . . helping to provide solutions for my constituency and that sometimes runs counter to progressive ideas," he says. "I'm focused on delivering results and less about politics."
In House District 99, Moore faces not only three challengers but a state elections board investigation.
Officials have asked him for bank records after he failed to report at least 19 political action committee contributions totaling more than $10,000. Moore did not respond to requests for an interview.
"It is an issue," said challenger Priscilla Johnson. "What I'm hearing from my constituents is we want better representation."
Nasif Majeed, a former Charlotte City Council member who won the Black Caucus endorsement in the majority-black district, said voters know about the incumbent's issues with the elections board. He's focusing on his own message of jobs, education and raising the minimum wage.
Newcomer Jackson Pethtal said he's found district voters "ready for a new direction."
In Senate District 39 in southeast Mecklenburg, Republican Beth Monaghan is attacking Bishop's for his sponsorship of House Bill 2, the measure that required transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they were born with in government buildings. The controversial law, opposed by LGBTQ groups and many corporations, cost North Carolina millions in lost jobs and events such as NCAA championships.
A new TV ad for Monaghan, whose son is gay, says while she created jobs as accountant, "Dan Bishop destroyed jobs."
"No politician has done more to damage Charlotte," her ad says.
Bishop points to Monaghan's past support for Democratic candidates. Records show she donated to Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper in 2016 and the state Democratic Party last year.
Bishop could not be reached. But his website says, "Beth Monaghan. Bankrolling liberal Democrats. Sneaking into the Republican Primary."
In the end, incumbents are likely to be better-funded and, with proven operations, better organized. More may win than lose.
But, said Kappler, "My only surprise will be if all incumbents win.”