Politics & Government

Seven things we learned from Tuesday’s primary election

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger wins close Republican primary

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger win close Republican primary for his 9th District seat.
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U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger win close Republican primary for his 9th District seat.

Tuesday’s primary election set the matchups for November’s congressional races and N.C. Supreme Court race despite a relatively low voter turnout of 7.8 percent.

Here are a few conclusions to draw from the results:

Voters aren’t promoting state lawmakers right now: Six current state legislators and a former state senator sought seats in Congress on Tuesday.

All of them lost.

Sen. Andrew Brock, Rep. Julia Howard, Rep. John Blust and Rep. Harry Warren were among the 17 Republicans running in the “Wild West” 13th District primary, where the redrawn district had no incumbent.

None of them came close to defeating Ted Budd, a political newcomer and gun store owner from Davie County. Blust finished in second place, but he still received just half the number of votes Budd did.

Brock, whose state Senate district includes much of the new 13th District, came in sixth place.

In the 12th District in Mecklenburg County, Rep. Tricia Cotham, Rep. Carla Cunningham and former Sen. Malcolm Graham finished well behind U.S. Rep. Alma Adams.

Past election cycles have been kinder to state lawmakers trying to move up. Adams and several other congressional incumbents who won their primaries Tuesday have served in the N.C. General Assembly, including Reps. Virginia Foxx and Patrick McHenry.

Opinion polls have shown low approval ratings for the General Assembly. But there’s good news for the defeated legislators: The law that set the June primary allowed them to run for Congress without dropping out of their legislative re-election bids. And with gerrymandered legislative districts, many of them will likely be victorious in November.

Voters like their register of deeds: One elected official fared better than a couple of the legislators in the 13th District Republican primary: Iredell County Register of Deeds Matt McCall.

McCall, who holds a record-keeping office responsible for birth certificates and marriage licenses, finished in first place in his county and fifth place overall.

Donald Trump can’t save you: The Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for president endorsed U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in the 2nd District, lending his voice to a recorded phone call on the weekend before the election.

The Ellmers campaign clearly hoped to motivate Trump voters who might have otherwise sat out the low-turnout primary.

It didn’t work: Ellmers lost by nearly 30 percentage points. The last-minute call from Trump didn’t improve her results from the early voting period, which took place before the endorsement.

Outside money makes a difference: Club For Growth Action PAC spent more than $500,000 on TV ads and other efforts to boost Budd’s campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Money isn’t everything, though. Howard, who came in fourth place, received more than $300,000 in ad support from the National Association of Realtors.

Club For Growth, Americans For Prosperity and other conservative groups also spent $1.2 million to defeat Ellmers in the 2nd District.

Anti-establishment sentiment isn’t hurting Republicans in Congress: With the exception of Ellmers – who was pitted against fellow GOP incumbent Rep. George Holding – the state’s Republican members of Congress survived primary challenges Tuesday.

Other than Rep. Mark Meadows and Rep. David Rouzer, each Republican incumbent faced challengers from within the party – typically arguing their congressman isn’t conservative enough.

Despite the success of Trump’s presidential campaign in North Carolina, none of the outsider challengers succeeded.

But Charlotte pastor Mark Harris did come close to unseating U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger. Pittenger leads by only 140 votes in a race that’s headed to a recount.

You’ve got to be a judge to be a judge: Voters overwhelmingly preferred candidates with judicial experience in a four-way race for N.C. Supreme Court.

Republican-backed incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds came in first place with 48 percent of the vote. He’ll face the second-place finisher, Wake County Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan, in November’s election.

The two other attorneys in the race hadn’t served on the bench and collectively received 18 percent of the vote.

Small towns are ready for alcohol: Three tiny towns in Randolph County held referendum votes on alcohol sales on Tuesday.

In Ramseur, 59 percent of voters said yes to an ABC store. In Seagrove, 63 percent supported the legalization of beer and wine sales. And voters in Franklinville approved three separate referenda on wine, beer and mixed drinks.

Colin Campbell

Send tips to dome@newsobserver.com.

Listen to our Domecast podcast

The N&O’s political podcast focuses on the primary.

Our panelists sort through U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers’ big loss Tuesday night to fellow incumbent Rep. George Holding. We also discuss other takeaways from the election results.

Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr joins the podcast to discuss his group’s efforts to promote nonpartisan redistricting. And we discuss how the presidential campaign drama surrounding Donald Trump is affecting the race for governor.

We wrap up, as always, with Headliners of the Week. Jordan Schrader of The News & Observer hosts, and Lynn Bonner, Craig Jarvis, Will Doran, Bryan Anderson and Colin Campbell of The N&O join the panel.

Find the podcast at nando.com/domecast57

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