Some of us still haven’t put the 2020 elections to bed even as early voting has started for the 2022 primary elections. No doubt you’ve seen the mailers, TV ads and phone calls from candidates, but we don’t hear much buzz among voters. Are they perhaps worn out with politics and politicians or just keeping their politics on the down-low?
We don’t have presidential or gubernatorial primaries this year but there are important races, including contested primaries for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Richard Burr’s retirement, two of the seven North Carolina Supreme Court seats, four of the 15 N.C. Court of Appeals Judges, all 170 seats in the General Assembly, sheriff elections in every county and a number of municipal elections.
Originally the primary was to be held in early March, but legal challenges to redistricting maps drawn by the legislature compelled the move to May 17.
Here are some questions we hope to have answered. Who and how many will turnout for the vote? In the first three days of early voting some 66,000 cast ballots, compared to 37,400 in a similar time frame in 2018. Can we expect continued larger than normal totals? If so, what is driving the turnout? Some believe the leaked Supreme Court ruling on abortion essentially puts that issue on the ballot. We could easily anticipate women and Democrats en masse to vote, demonstrating their protests, but Republicans might also turn out to affirm the court decision. Could we see evidence of other concerns like inflation? Primary turnout could tell us much about what to expect in November’s General Election.
In North Carolina an unaffiliated primary voter can choose whether to select a Republican ballot or a Democratic ballot. Will we be able to see how unaffiliated voters, now larger in numbers than either political party, split between parties? And we always want to examine the sex and age of those who vote.
Finally, what will be the total turnout among our 7.2 million voters? In the 2018 mid-term election 14 percent voted in the primary; 16 percent did so in 2014. A turnout of 20 percent or more might demonstrate an engaged (and perhaps enraged) electorate. Conversely, smaller than 14 percent might tell us of voter fatigue and disgust.
Will Donald Trump be the kingmaker? The former president has been busy endorsing candidates and to date his batting average is pretty high, the latest being J.D. Vance who won the Ohio Republican Senate nomination. The next test is May 17, when both Pennsylvania and our state hold primaries. In the Keystone State Trump endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz for the senate. Here he chose Congressman Ted Budd.
Our Senate race has already been expensive, nasty and competitive. There are 11 Democrats and 14 Republicans vying to get the nomination. Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley is considered the frontrunner for Democrats, but it could be closer than many predict.
Many big-name disciples of Trump also endorsed “no show” Budd and an independent expenditure group has spent millions of dollars targeting former N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, whom they consider Budd’s biggest competition. Former congressman Mark Walker, himself a Trump supporter, is also in the mix. If no candidate gets the requisite 30 percent or more of the vote there will likely be a runoff, a strong repudiation of Trump’s kingmaking.
The Donald also endorsed Virginia Foxx in the 5th and Greg Murphy in the 3rd congressional districts, both considered safe bets. But he also endorsed Bo Hines in the 13th and “Goofy” Madison Cawthorn in the 11th congressional districts, although he reportedly was considering withdrawing the latter according to reports this week.
There are five Democrats and eight Republicans running in the 13th, in addition to Hines. Kelly Daughtry, on TV more frequently than pharmaceutical ads, and former Congresswoman Renee Ellmers could spell trouble for Hines.
In Western North Carolina’s 11th district, just about every day there are more negative revelations and challenges surrounding Cawthorn. Mainstream Republicans are lining up behind state senator Chuck Edwards. These three primaries could tell us about the soul of the Republican Party in our state.
Democrats also have some interesting congressional contests, including the nomination to replace longtime congressman David Price in the 4th district. Former American Idol star Clay Aiken, representative Valerie Foushee and Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman elected to office in our state, are locked in a race for this safe Democratic district. The 1st district congressional race finds state senator Don Davis and former state senator Erica Smith among the four Democrats trying to fill the shoes of longtime congressman G.K. Butterfield.
We will be looking intently to see if the two political parties move more toward the center or further to the extremes.
May 17 will be an important day for democracy in our state. We join the voices urging you to get to know the candidates, the issues, and then perform your civic responsibility by voting.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. Contact him at email@example.com.