Primary Surprises may Give Little Guidance About Fall Campaign, Expert Says | Eastern North Carolina Now

Several incumbents and establishment-backed candidates lost in the May 8 primary, but those results may not signal a trend

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    Publisher's note: The author of this post is Dan Way, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.

Appeals to ideological bases may not work with general election voters, NCFEF executive director Kappler says


    Several incumbents and establishment-backed candidates lost in the May 8 primary, but those results may not signal a trend. Or offer any broader message about this fall's general election, an expert on state voting patterns said in a post-election event.

    "I think we should caution against thinking that because eight incumbents lost in a primary that there was some anti-incumbent mood out there," Jonathan Kappler told Carolina Journal on Wednesday, May 9. "I don't think it was a generic throw-the-bums-out situation."

    "Redistricting, candidate-specific issues, local issues, uneven turnout because of the 'blue moon' election cycle, those kinds of things all contributed" to those losses, Kappler said. Many were considered surprises.

    He made those comments after giving a post-election analysis to lobbyists, political enthusiasts, state lawmakers and candidates. Predicting results was tricky in part because of the "blue moon" factor - no U.S. Senate or gubernatorial races were on the primary ballot, the first such cycle since 2006.

    Incumbent Republican losers were Sens. Dan Barrett, District 31; David Curtis, District 44; Shirley Randleman, District 45; and House members Beverly Boswell, District 6; and Justin Burr, District 67.

    Democratic incumbent losers were Sen. Joel Ford, District 38; and Reps. Duane Hall, District 11; and Rodney Moore, District 99.

    Education, gun rights, and other issues were in play across the state, Kappler said during his presentation. Some voters weighed the longevity, effectiveness, and philosophy of incumbents. They also considered candidates' stands on GenX chemical releases and other local or regional issues.

    Campaign finances affected some of the outcomes. About a half-million dollars in outside spending was used in 40 legislative races, and outside organizations supported some campaigns. Spending totals rise when final reports are filed, Kappler said. Even more will be spent by November.

    Voters rejected candidates striking moderate tones, preferring rhetoric appealing to each party's ideological base. Some candidates characterized their primary opponents as being more in line with the opposite party because of their bipartisan work on issues.

    President Donald Trump's presence was felt in North Carolina and nationally, Kappler said. Many voters will go to the polls in November with the same goal they had in May: Elect candidates who either restrain or embolden the president.

    Republicans featured Trump more often than Democrats did because most GOP candidates want to tie themselves to the president. The pattern may reverse in the general election, Kappler said. Republicans may need to take more independent stances to appeal to middle of the road voters.

    Other issues that may influence voters include changes in the economy, Gov. Roy Cooper's standing with voters, candidate recruitment of campaign workers, and fundraising. Voter enthusiasm matters, too.

    Green Party candidates will appear on general election ballots, and unaffiliated candidates will be certified in coming weeks.

    "The Constitution Party has indicated they are close to getting on the ballot as well," Kappler said.

    Republican challenger Mark Harris' 814-vote win over three-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger was a big surprise. The loss effectively made the 9th Congressional District an open seat.

    Some pollsters now view the district as a toss-up in November rather than leaning Republican. Kappler said Harris, without the perks of incumbency, might be more vulnerable than Pittenger.

    Moreover, Democrat Dan McCready won his primary handily, and has $1.3 million in the bank compared to Harris' $90,000.

    "Democrats are making quite a bit of hay out of that. He won more votes in his Democratic primary than all three of the Republicans combined," 37,823 to 35,494, Kappler said. Clarence Goins was the third GOP candidate.

    The 13th Congressional District also looks competitive, Kappler said. Freshman GOP incumbent Ted Budd did not have a primary challenge. Democrat Kathy Manning easily dispatched her primary opponent, Adam Coker, and has $1 million cash on hand.

    She's seen as a tough challenge for Budd, Kappler said. Budd hasn't made a big impression on district voters and incumbents always are most vulnerable in their first re-election race.

    Kappler said the primaries created awkward politics in the short legislative session starting next week because legislative leaders backed two losing challengers over sitting lawmakers.

    Republican Rep. Bob Steinburg did not seek re-election to his House District 1 seat so he could run for Senate District 1. He defeated Clark Twiddy by a 16 percent margin even though the Republican establishment openly endorsed Twiddy, and some of Steinburg's legislative colleagues questioned his temperament, Kappler said.

    Three-term Rep. Duane Hall of Wake County limited public appearances after facing allegations of sexual harassment, Kappler said. But Hall lost in the Democratic primary for House District 11 to political newcomer Allison Dahle. Top Democrats pressured Hall to resign. The allegations continued throughout the primary, and Dahle won by a 40-percent margin.

    The Senate District 39 Democratic primary was the closest race - five votes. Chad Stachowicz led Ann Harlan 5,219 to 5,214.

    The most people voted in the Senate District 13 Democratic primary -21,096. John Campbell won with 14,585 votes over Bobbie Jacobs-Ghaffar.
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