A flurry of last-minute filings Monday brought more competition as well as some familiar names to 2016 political races in Mecklenburg County and across North Carolina.
Nearly 1,900 candidates had filed by the noon deadline, setting the stage for hundreds of primaries and general election battles.
It will be an election marked by dramatic turnover in the N.C. General Assembly, with several of the legislature’s most senior and powerful lawmakers choosing not to run.
Statewide, about a third of the 170 lawmakers drew no competition at all, guaranteeing an easy walk to re-election. That includes four of Mecklenburg’s 17 lawmakers – Republican John Bradford and Democrats Rodney Moore, Becky Carney and Carla Cunningham.
Mecklenburg County commissioners Jim Puckett, a Republican, and Democrats George Dunlap and Dumont Clarke also face no opposition.
But there will be March 15 primaries for everything from U.S. Senate to governor to county register of deeds, though local and state primaries could be eclipsed by the presidential campaign. Iowans start that contest on Feb. 1; North Carolinians vote six weeks later.
“All of the energy and attention and focus is going to be on the presidential primaries,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College. “This is going to require more of a ground-level campaign than … an air war.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr will defend his seat against three GOP challengers, including Greg Brannon, a tea party favorite who lost last year’s primary to now-U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. Four Democrats are also vying for the seat.
Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, drew two Republican primary challengers, including former state Rep. Robert Brawley of Mooresville. On the Democratic side, Attorney General Roy Cooper faces Durham businessman Ken Spaulding for the nomination.
Three Charlotte-area members of Congress, U.S. Reps. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte, Patrick McHenry of Lincoln County and Alma Adams of Greensboro, all face primaries as well as general election opponents.
Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson of Concord drew a last-minute Democratic opponent in Democratic blogger Thomas Mills of Carrboro.
In the General Assembly, Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews, who co-chairs the Finance Committee, joined 22 other lawmakers deciding not to run or trying to jump to other offices. That includes GOP Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville, the Senate’s top enforcer, and Concord Republican Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, the chamber’s senior member.
In the House, veteran GOP lawmakers Paul Stam of Wake County and Leo Daughtry of Johnston County are leaving. So are two Mecklenburg representatives: Democratic Rep. Tricia Cotham of Matthews and Republican Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer of Charlotte.
Like dominoes, their departures create a series of openings.
Running for Rucho’s seat is Rep. Dan Bishop. He’ll face former Mecklenburg commissioner Lloyd Scher, a Democrat, in November.
Charlotte City Council member John Autry is running against fellow Democrat and former council member Billy Maddalon in the primary for Cotham’s seat.
In the race for Schaffer’s seat, former school board member Tim Morgan faces a Republican primary against two-time mayoral candidate Scott Stone. The winner will meet Democrat Connie Green-Johnson, a retired nuclear medicine administrator.
And Republican Andy Dulin, a former Charlotte City Council member, is running for Bishop’s seat. He’ll face Democratic newcomer Peter Noris.
Fodder for critics
But 32 percent of the General Assembly was essentially re-elected Monday. An additional 16 lawmakers face no opposition after the primary. To critics, that’s more reason to change the system.
Reform advocates put the blame largely on districts drawn to protect lawmakers or their parties.
“True democracy is about citizen involvement and hard-fought general elections, not low-turnout, one-party primaries,” said former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, co-chair of a group called North Carolinians to End Gerrymandering Now.
“For too many years now – first under Democratic, and now under Republican control – we’ve ‘gerrymandered’ our way out of meaningful, competitive November elections. We need to change that.”
Two Mecklenburg senators – Democrat Jeff Jackson and Republican Jeff Tarte – had been unopposed but found themselves with general election competition Monday. Jackson will face Republican activist Bob Diamond and Tarte faces Libertarian Chris Cole and Democrat Jonathan Hudson in the general election.
In the race for Mecklenburg commissioner, Republican incumbent Matthew Ridenhour drew opposition from Democrat Marc Friedland, and Republican commissioner Bill James faces a primary against Joel Levy, who bills himself as the conservative in the race.