Governor’s race to feature Cooper v. Forest; Runoffs on tap for R’s and D’s in a handful of congressional and council of state contests; Superintendent Mark Johnson defeated in run for Lt. Gov.
Former Vice President Joe Biden was the clear choice of North Carolina Democrats in yesterday’s Super Tuesday presidential primary election. The former vice-president and U.S. senator led Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by a margin of 43% to 24% with all of the state’s 2,670 precincts reporting.
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren trailed with 13% and 10% percent of the vote, respectively.
Sanders did win a few North Carolina counties over Biden: Watauga, Mitchell, Madison, Buncombe and Jackson, but in the end, it appears overwhelming support from Black voters and a last-minute groundswell following Biden’s surprisingly large win in South Carolina over the weekend helped propel Biden to victory.
Biden’s sudden surge in North Carolina – several polls had shown him running neck and neck with (or even trailing) Sanders and Bloomberg as recently as last week – was part of a startling national comeback that ended up producing wins for the former VP in as many as 10 of the 15 primaries contested on Super Tuesday (at press time, Maine was still too close to call).
In other results, it was a less surprising night as front runners in the races for several of North Carolina’s top offices also won their primary races. Gov. Roy Cooper easily defeated his challenger, Ernest Reeves, for the Democratic nomination, and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest swamped state Rep. Holly Grange in the race for the Republican nod.
Cooper and Forest are expected to go toe-to-toe in what promises to be a hotly-contested and expensive contest for control of the governor’s mansion. Cooper, who narrowly defeated former Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016, has found himself embroiled in a series of partisan battles with Republican state lawmakers that began even before he took office, including efforts to reduce the powers of the governor’s office itself. He gained footing, though, after the 2018 mid-term election in which Democrats broke the Republican legislative supermajorities and he was able to sustain several of his vetoes.
The Democratic Governors Association was one of the first to congratulate Cooper in his win Tuesday.
“In his first term, Gov. Cooper has made workforce development a key focus and tens of thousands of jobs have been created across the state,” said association Chair and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. “Gov. Cooper has courageously fought for Medicaid expansion and North Carolina public schools, and this is only the beginning. In his second term, Gov. Cooper will fight tirelessly for a stronger and safer North Carolina. I look forward to continuing to work together in 2020 and beyond.”
Forest, who is popular among religious conservatives, gave his victory speech at the North Carolina Republican headquarters in Raleigh. He said his and Cooper’s race would be the top gubernatorial election in the nation to watch.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, but voters decided last night that he will face Republican Jim O’Neill this fall.
O’Neill, Forsyth County’s district attorney, received just over 46% percent of the vote to challengers Sam Hayes’ and Christine Mumma’s 31% and 22%.
O’Neill has criticized Stein for not moving faster with the state’s backlog of rape kits and for not supporting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies.
The races for Congress
In the U.S. Senate race, former state Senator Cal Cunningham bested four other Democrats in Tuesday’s primary, earning the right to face off against Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) in November.
Cunningham took a commanding lead early on Tuesday and ended up with 57% of the vote.
State Sen. Erica Smith finished with just under 35%. Her campaign may have suffered as the result of a controversial effort by a conservative super PAC tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to boost her candidacy through TV ads throughout the primary.
More moderate on some issues than Smith, Cunningham has widely been seen as the greater threat to Tillis.
In a victory speech Tuesday night Cunningham, an Army reservist, referred to the oath he took to serve his country.
“My word, the same word I gave when I took that oath, is I will always listen first,” Cunningham said. “I will always honor your North Carolina story first and I will take that story to Washington, D.C. to be your champion too.”
Cunningham characterized his general election campaign as one for all North Carolinians, signaling he wants to appeal to voters all along the political spectrum – whether they voted for another Democrat in Tuesday’s primary or even if they voted Republican.
“It’s okay if we don’t agree on all of the issues,” Cunningham said.
“I’m going to go places that haven’t seen a candidate and certainly haven’t seen a Democrat and talk to people who don’t always agree,” Cunningham said. “Because that’s what it means to be a United States Senator in this great democracy.”
In the Democratic primary for the open U.S. House seat in District 6, Kathy Manning swept
to an easy win with 48% of the vote .
The Greensboro immigration lawyer and philanthropist enjoyed broad name recognition from years of fundraising for liberal causes and the arts in the Triad area. Also, she previously ran for the House in 2018, narrowly losing to Sen. Ted Budd (R).
Rhonda Foxx finished with 19%. Foxx, a first time candidate, struggled both with lesser recognition and stories about an assault charge from 2018 that involved an altercation with a neighbor. Though the charges were ultimately dropped, Foxx addressed the incident online in late January.
Republican Lee Haywood won the right to take on Manning in November, easily topping Laura Pichardo, a more moderate candidate, in the GOP primary.
The newly redrawn District 6 seat, being vacated by Rep. Mark Walker (R), is expected to go to a Democrat. But Haywood, who has served as GOP chairman of the 6th Congressional District the last two years, said he doesn’t intend to let the Democratic candidate have it by default.
In the newly redrawn and Wake County-focused 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Deborah Ross defeated three other Democrats with nearly 70% of the vote. Ross will face Republican Alan Swan, the only GOP candidate who filed in the district.
Ross is a former N.C. House member and former leader of the state chapter of the ACLU who many voters remember from an unsuccessful Senate race against Sen. Richard Burr (R) in 2016.
Veteran Wake County school board member Monika Johnson-Hostler took 22% in Tuesday’s Democratic race.
In the 4th Congressional District, Republican Robert Thomas will be the GOP standard bearer against long-time incumbent Rep. David Price (D).
Thomas took 48% of the vote in the GOP primary. That’s more than double the showing of his nearest challenger, Debesh Sarkar, at 23%.
A run-off will be needed in the Republican contest for the 11th Congressional District – the seat being vacated by Rep. Mark Meadows (R).
With the seat considered safely Republican, Meadows’ departure attracted 12 candidates. None were able to garner 30% of the vote Tuesday, which would have allowed them to avoid a run-off between the top two.
Lynda Bennett led the pack with just under 23% and was followed closely by Madison Cawthorn with 20% and Jim Davis with 19%.
Democrat Moe Davis will face the victor of the Republican run-off in November, having won comfortably in a race with four other Democrats with 47%.
Davis, an Air Force veteran and former Guantanamo Bay chief prosecutor, has acknowledged the race is an uphill one for a Democrat but is expected to be more competitive than it has been in years.
Other Council of State races of note
In one of the more surprising results Tuesday, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson’s bid to become the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor came to a screeching halt.
Johnson finished third with just 12% of the vote in a crowded GOP field.
Mark Robinson of Greensboro claimed the GOP nomination in a stunning upset with 32% of the vote. State Sen. Andy Wells of Hickory trailed far behind with just 14%.
Robinson’s victory stands out because he is a political newcomer. But he gained notoriety in 2018 after giving a passionate speech before the Greensboro City Council in support of gun rights. The speech has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online.
Robinson will face the eventual Democratic nominee – the winner of a runoff between Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley (26%) of Wake County and state Sen. Terry Van Duyn (20%) of Asheville – in the Nov. 3 General Election.
Meanwhile, Jen Mangrum (33%), an associate professor in the School of Education at UNC Greensboro, is the Democratic nominee for state superintendent. Mangrum edged Keith Sutton (26%), chairman of the Wake County Board of Education, who finished second in the five-way race for the Democratic nomination.
On the Republican side, the favored state Rep. Craig Horn (43%) of Union County was upset by Catherine Truitt (56%), chancellor of Western Governors University North Carolina.
Truitt will face Mangrum in November for the seat currently held by Johnson.
In recent months, Johnson has been roundly criticized by North Carolina’s teachers and others because of his leadership style. Many of them took to social media Tuesday night to celebrate his defeat.
“I’m pleased to report that Mark Johnson has lost the primary for NC Lt. Governor,” Dov Rosenberg, a Durham educator wrote on his Facebook page.
Within minutes, more than a dozen people chimed in, all expressing joy at Johnson’s defeat.
Johnson’s rocky tenure has been marked by controversy.
After taking office in 2017, Johnson immediately found himself embroiled in a power struggle with the State Board of Education (SBE) that resulted in a lengthy legal battle.
The state Supreme Court eventually upheld the constitutionality of House Bill 17, which rearranged the responsibilities of the superintendent and transferred certain powers of the state board to Johnson.
More recently, Johnson and the SBE butted heads over an “emergency” contract Johnson awarded Istation to provide K-3 reading assessments as part of the state’s Read to Achieve law.
Eric Boyette, the former CIO for the Department of Information Technology (DIT), ruled there was no emergency, cancelled the contract and forced the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to resubmit the bid through proper channels. Istation was again awarded the contract.
Litigation is still pending over Johnson’s initial contract award to Istation in August.
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