Dozens of candidates stood in line Tuesday to place their name on the ballot in the first hours of the elections filing period, with many saying the early date has left challengers up and down the ballots with little time to build recognition.
State lawmakers moved the primary date for all 2016 contests from the usual May to March 15, pushing the candidate filing period up to Dec. 1 to Dec. 21. So while many voters are more focused on holiday shopping than political contests, candidates were already eager to begin making their cases.
Gov. Pat McCrory was among them. While he didn’t submit official paperwork, the governor announced his re-election bid in a video message posted Tuesday afternoon. It was no surprise – his campaign has been active for months. His leading Democratic opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper, kicked off his campaign in October with a rally in Rocky Mount.
In the video, McCrory narrates what will be a campaign theme: That he has steered the state out of a difficult economic time.
“I’m running for governor not because of what we’ve accomplished,” he says. “I’m running for governor because our comeback story isn’t over.”
In all, about 600 people filed to run for office in local and statewide races on Tuesday, according to the State Board of Elections, with nearly 2,000 more expected to file by the Dec. 21 deadline.
A.J. Daoud, a Republican running against Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, was first in line at the State Board of Elections in Raleigh Tuesday. He’d arrived at 7 a.m. the day before, spending the night outside the office. Other candidates did not start lining up until 8 a.m. Tuesday.
“I only had to wait 30 hours in the parking lot to get number one,” he boasted to fellow candidates as elections officials called his name at noon.
Daoud said he camped out to raise awareness for Council of State races, which will get little attention alongside hotly contested races for governor and president.
“These races are just as important as the president’s race and the governor’s race,” he said.
While State Auditor Beth Wood, a Democrat, announced her bid for a third term months ago, she said she’s heard from many supporters who thought she was stepping down. They apparently had her confused with another Council of State member, state treasurer Janet Cowell.
Wood said she wanted to file for reelection at the start of the filing period “just to show voters that I am running again.”
“We have done some great things in the last two terms, and we’ve got a lot left to do,” she said.
Tuesday marked the formal start of the 2016 campaign season in North Carolina, but many candidates – particularly those looking to unseat a powerful incumbent – launched their bids months ago.
Phil Law is one of two challengers facing 11-term Congressman Walter Jones in the March Republican primary. The 34-year-old Marine Corps veteran has been campaigning since March, traveling the Eastern North Carolina Congressional district in a tour bus he calls the “Philmobile.”
“We didn’t know about the early primary when we first started, and I’m glad we did announce early,” Law said.
Ron Sanyal, a Democrat who’s challenging Republican Congressman George Holding of Raleigh, said he’s been working on his campaign since losing his 2014 bid for the seat.
Sanyal says he knows he’ll face an uphill battle in GOP-leaning District 13, which stretches from suburban Raleigh to Rocky Mount and Goldsboro. “Everyone’s afraid to run, because here is a million-dollar man,” he said, referring to Holding’s fundraising totals. “It’s a David and Goliath race.”
Sanyal’s description applies to many Congressional and state legislative races in North Carolina, because many districts were drawn to strongly favor either Democrats or Republicans.
That’s not stopping underdogs like Sanyal from running. Challengers have so far launched campaigns against at least 26 incumbent state House members, seven incumbent state senators and six members of Congress. Six challengers – three from each party – are in the race against U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. Former state Rep. Deborah Ross, who has backing from top Democrats, was among them.
And while the first filing day gave political newcomers a chance to introduce themselves, McCrory’s re-election announcement drew attention back to the governor’s race, which is expected to be a close contest. A more formal announcement from McCrory is planned for Wednesday.
The video also generated a flurry of criticism from his opponents.
The national Democratic Governors Association released a video critical of McCrory, and the liberal advocacy group Progress NC issued a statement calling him “a secretive special interest politician whose policies have made it harder on average working families.”
Staff writer Craig Jarvis contributed to this report
Folwell running for treasurer
Dale Folwell, a former legislator who leads the state Division of Employment Security, filed Tuesday to run for state treasurer.
Folwell, a Republican, is seeking the post currently held by Democrat Janet Cowell, who surprised many when she announced recently that she won’t seek another term.
Folwell has resigned his current post in Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration effective Tuesday.
“I spent my entire personal and professional life looking for the next right thing to do,” Folwell said in a news release. “Applying to be the next state treasurer for North Carolina is it.”
Earlier this month, McCrory announced that the state has restored its unemployment insurance reserve to more than $1 billion, accomplished by curtailing benefits for the jobless and imposing a surcharge on employers in order to repay the debt. The governor credited Folwell’s leadership.
As he filed paperwork at the State Board of Elections, Folwell told The News & Observer that he wants to tackle debts in the state health and retirement system, and he said his experience with unemployment insurance will help. He described the challenge as a “$30 billion unfunded healthcare debt crisis.”
“The voters need someone they can trust to conserve,” he said.
Ron Elmer, a Democrat from Cary, has announced announced plans to run for treasurer.