As in SC, the runoff contests in NC have provided a relatively early night for political junkies watching the Democratic Senate race and a scattering of Republican House contests.
In what was expected to be a very close race, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall has beaten former state legislator Cal Cunningham comfortably for the right to take on Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who is theoretically vulnerable but has been free to raise cash while Democrats wrangled over their nomination. With nearly complete results in, Marshall won 60-40; the one public poll of the race, back in mid-May, had the two tied at 36%. Looking at returns from Wake, Durham, and Mecklenburg Counties, it appears Marshall was able to put together her vote with that of third-place primary finisher Ken Lewis (an African-American), though such characterizations must take into account the fact that total turnout was down more than 60% between the primary and the runoff. Clearly Cunningham’s aggressive runoff campaign, which focused on claims of superior electibility, did not strike many sparks; he made almost no geographic gains in the runoff. His landslide loss is rather humiliating for the DSCC, which recruited him for the race.
In any event, Marshall is well-known in the state; has won statewide four times (the first time defeating NASCAR legend Richard Petty); and having now twice faced nationally-recruited opponents in Democratic primaries (losing to Erskine Bowles in 2002), can claim some distance from the national party. But she’ll have to swim upstream to establish herself as a credible opponent to Burr in this year’s political climate.
The marquee race among House GOP runoffs in NC was in the 8th District, where Republicans consider incumbent Democrat Larry Kissell vulnerable, and to the disappointment of both Democrats and aficianados of china-shop-bulls, self-funded candidate Tim D’Annunzio was beaten soundly (61-39) by party establishment favorite Harold Johnson. In the 13th district, the news of Tim Scott’s SC victory will be burnished by tonight’s win by another African-American Republican, Bill Randall, who made news during the campaign by suggesting that the Obama administration somehow colluded with BP to create the Gulf Oil Spill. Randall, who had Tea Party backing, will be a distinct underdog to Democrat Brad Miller in November.
And in a much more heavily Democratic district, the 12th, 2002 and 2004 House candidate Greg Dority won the nomination to face Rep. Mel Watt on a message arguing that the USA “is being systematically looted by artificially low interest rates, endless government bailouts and a path toward socialism that strangles the initiative and prosperity of small business.” That’s quite a mouthful.
NC will get a lot of attention in November as one of three southern states carried by Barack Obama in 2008. But given the palpable sense of popular disinterest in today’s chance to exercise the franchise, candidates may have to get the attention of voters first.