Politics & Government

Christensen: For electoral excitement, NC is not your primary source

Shhhhhh. Quiet please. We don’t want to wake up any of the voters.

With two weeks to go before the North Carolina primary March 15, this election has generated about as much statewide buzz as a college basketball game between High Point and Gardner-Webb. I’m sure that would be of great interest to the schools, but tens of thousands of North Carolinians would not be checking their smart phones for the score.

If this primary had a corporate sponsor it might be Red Bull, the energy drink: You need one to follow the races.

Here are six reasons why the 2016 primary has put us to sleep:

1. Little television advertising. With the decline of traditional organization, TV advertising drives voter interest in modern politics. But there has been little of it in the major statewide races, for governor and the U.S. Senate. And so far, there’s not much in the presidential race. The lack of advertising reflects a lack of competitiveness (GOP primaries for governor and Senate) or money (Democratic Senate primary). The presidential campaigns are spending their money in other states.

2. Few debates. In fact, there was only one, a tepid, half-hour Democratic Senate debate broadcast by WRAL-TV in Raleigh. Former state Rep. Deborah Ross of Raleigh would not agree to more unless all candidates were included. In the Democratic primary for governor, Attorney General Roy Cooper would not agree to any. And no debates were scheduled in North Carolina for the presidential candidates. So there is not only no “paid media,” as advertising is called, but precious little “free media.”

3. Confusion over the congressional primaries. There had been spirited GOP primaries involving 2nd District Rep. Renee Ellmers and 3rd District Rep. Walter Jones. But those races have been thrown into turmoil by a court ruling declaring the state’s congressional district lines unconstitutional. That probably will mean a separate primary in new congressional districts June 7. But the old congressional seats will still be on the ballot March 15. If that is not confusing, what is?

4. No overpowering issues. In the state races, the Democrats and Republicans generally agree on the major issues. Even the powerful anti-incumbent mood isn’t strongly in play, because in most of the competitive primaries there are no incumbents. Incumbency could be a powerful issue in GOP primaries involving Gov. Pat McCrory and Sen. Richard Burr, but their opponents are badly underfunded.

5. Little-known candidates. There are few big names in the field. It is hard for Democrats to get excited about a Senate primary when 75 percent to 81 percent of the voters don’t know the candidates, according to Public Policy Polling. Nearly half of the voters don’t even have an opinion of Cooper, the best-known Democratic candidate for governor.

6. Presidential no-shows. Although the legislature moved the presidential primary from May to March 15 in an effort to make North Carolina more relevant, there has been little campaigning in the Tar Heel State. Only in recent weeks did the campaigns of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders open offices in the state.

But all indications are that North Carolina is a strong Clinton state, just as South Carolina was. She is leading in statewide polls, and she has captured most of the key endorsements. Clinton has strength among African-American voters similar to what she had in South Carolina, according to polls.

Meanwhile, it is not clear how much the Republican candidates will campaign in North Carolina because its votes are awarded proportionally, unlike the winner-take-all states.

Five states will hold presidential primaries March 15, including the winner-take-all states of Florida and Ohio. Florida is a home-state must-win for Sen. Marco Rubio, and Ohio is a must for its governor, John Kasich. The other states are Missouri and Illinois.

The legislature had hoped that North Carolina would be a center of the presidential primary process, with candidates camped out here for a couple of weeks. If you still think that’s going to happen, you may want to lay off the Red Bull.