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North Carolina: Marshall, Cunningham in Senate runoff

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

May 5, 2010

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall came in first with 37 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Democratic Primary for the US Senate to former state Sen. Cal Cunningham’s 27 percent, in unofficial but near-complete returns. Marshall and Cunningham will now face off in a June 22 runoff in which Democrats will choose a nominee to challenge freshman US Sen. Richard Burr (R) in November.

Marshall had hoped to cross the 40 percent threshold that would have given her the nomination outright, but the higher-than-expected 17 percent that went to Ken Lewis, a prominent African-American attorney, helped keep her numbers down. Three other candidates combined received 19 percent of the Democratic vote.

Now Lewis and his prominent black supporters, including the state’s two African-American members of Congress and former US Senate nominee Harvey Gantt, are likely to be the key factors in the runoff. Should Lewis and most of his key backers go with Marshall, who already has some black support, she is all but guaranteed a victory in the runoff. However, if they end up with Cunningham, a young, aggressive former legislator who studied at the London School of Economics and was backed by the Democratic National Senatorial Committee, the runoff could be a hard-fought donnybrook that could go down to the wire.

On the Republican side, Burr swamped three unknown opponents, garnering 80 percent of the GOP primary vote. With the returns from 93 of 100 counties complete, the hard-fought, high-profile Democratic Primary garnered some 420,585 total votes, to 372,011 in the relatively low-key GOP contest. This suggests a more motivated Republican electorate, at least at this early stage.

In congressional contests in two potentially competitive districts, the 8th (Salisbury, etc.) and the 11th (Asheville, etc.) the Democratic incumbents faced significant, but losing, challenges from party liberals. And on the GOP side, there will be runoffs in both districts to determine the Republican nominee, which could divide this year’s highly energized Republicans.

In the 8th District, freshman Larry Kissell (D) was renominated by a tepid 63 percent of the vote to 37 percent for school teacher Nancy Shakir, an African American running as a liberal alternative to moderate Kissell. Just what Shakir’s supporters will do in November remains to be seen. If the labor-backed third party, North Carolina First, manages to collect 85,000+ valid signatures statewide by May 17 and nominates a congressional candidate by July 1, it could spell major trouble for Kissell. On the GOP side, wealthy businessman and pro-gun activist Tim D’Annunzio – he held “machine gun socials” to raise campaign funds – and former sportscaster Harold Johnson led the six-candidate field and are headed for a runoff. D’Annunzio, who lent his campaign more than $800,000, came in first with 37 percent. Johnson, who is well known in the district, was second with 33 percent.

In the 11th, second-term US Rep. Heath Shuler (D), like Kissell in the 8th District, felt the backlash of disappointed Democratic liberals. Shuler received a lukewarm 61 percent to 39 percent for Aixa Wilson, an archeologist and supporter of the healthcare legislation that Shuler opposed. Here again, if a liberal North Carolina First candidate gets on the November ballot, it could hurt Shuler. On the Republican side, businessman and civic leader Jeffery Miller, who led with 40.15 percent of the vote, is the apparent winner of the hotly contested primary. Miller, a business-oriented Republican, defeated his nearest opponent, TEA Party activist and ophthalmologist “Dr. Dan” Eichenbaum, who had 34 percent. There were six candidates in the race.


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