A primary election season like no other comes to a close Tuesday in North Carolina and across the country.
North Carolina voters choose nominees for Congress in the most volatile election in years. New districts, combined with low turnout and no runoffs, could threaten at least three incumbents.
There’s also a state Supreme Court justice who will be fighting for his job against a field that wasn’t even supposed to be there.
Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential race is expected to end with voting in a half-dozen states, including California and New Jersey, which could push Hillary Clinton over the top in her marathon contest against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Republicans also hold their final primaries. Though Donald Trump has locked up the nomination, he still has work to do to unite his party behind him.
Here are six things that we’ll be looking for Tuesday.
Will home-field advantage overtake incumbency in the 12th District?
Democratic U.S. Rep. Alma Adams had to move from Greensboro to Charlotte after lawmakers shrunk her district to Mecklenburg County. Three of her four challengers, meanwhile, tout their deep roots in the county.
In a campaign video, Malcolm Graham, a former state senator and Charlotte City Council member, tells voters, “I’ve always been there for you.” State Reps. Tricia Cotham and Carla Cunningham also stress their long community service.
But Adams talks about her record, including getting federal dollars for Mecklenburg and advocating for programs in areas such as education and social welfare that would benefit people throughout the district.
She’s also got a war chest that dwarfs her opponents’, thanks to contributions from political action committees representing corporations, trade groups and other members of Congress.
Will North Carolina lose an African-American in Congress?
Since 1993, two of North Carolina’s congressional districts – the 1st and the 12th – have been represented by African-Americans.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, congressman for the 1st district in the eastern part of the state, has no opposition in Tuesday’s Democratic primary and is the heavy favorite to win a seventh term in November.
But in the 12th? Incumbent Adams is black, as are three of her four rivals in the Democratic primary. But Cotham, who is white, also has support in the African-American community and is considered one of the stronger challengers.
African-Americans make up more than 20 percent of North Carolina’s population. But the state had not had a black member of Congress for a century when Mel Watt was elected in 1992 to represent a 12th District that then snaked from Charlotte to Durham. Over the years since then, the district has been the subject of repeated legal challenges – some that reached the U.S. Supreme Court – over the role of race in representation.
The 12th is still a mostly Democratic district, but its shape has changed again. That could mean not only a change in representative, but also a North Carolina congressional delegation with just one African-American. Only 38 percent of voters in the 12th are African-American compared with 57 percent under the old map.
How few votes will it take to win the crowded 13th District?
No district in the country has more candidates than the 22 in the redrawn 13th that stretches from Mooresville to Greensboro.
Seventeen Republicans and five Democrats are battling for the nominations. That means a Republican could theoretically win with around 6 percent of the vote. And that’s out of a maybe 5 percent turnout. Do the math.
Even so, outside groups have bet big on a couple candidates.
The conservative political advocacy group Club for Growth Action has spent nearly $500,000 for Davie County businessman Ted Budd. And the National Association of Realtors has spent $325,000 on behalf of state Rep. Julia Howard, also from Davie County.
The GOP race also features Vernon Robinson, “the black Jesse Helms,” and Kay Daly, who ran briefly in the 2nd District. There, she aired what Mother Jones magazine called “the craziest ad of the 2016 elections.” It showed her as a shotgun-toting hunter taking aim at “RINO” Rep. Renee Ellmers. RINO stands for Republican in name only.
Will conservatives oust a one-time tea party favorite?
Only two congressional districts in the country have seen more outside spending than North Carolina’s 2nd District. Outside groups have poured in more than $1.6 million, most of it against incumbent Ellmers. She could become the first GOP House member to lose their seat this year.
Ellmers found herself facing fellow Republican Rep. George Holding, who was drawn out of his 13th District, and two-time Senate candidate Greg Brannon.
An outspoken critic of President Barack Obama in 2010, she was elected with tea party and conservative support. But nowClub for Growth Action and Koch-sponsored Americans for Prosperity are spending big money to beat her.
Her sin? Supporting the 2016 budget and becoming, in the eyes of critics, too close to House leadership. Last week she told the Washington Post that she’s “become this poster child” for conservative anger at Washington.
Will 9th District Republicans pick an insurgent over an insider?
GOP voters in this recently redrawn district, which now stretches from southern Mecklenburg County east to Bladen County, are being asked to decide whether having experience working in Washington is a plus or a minus.
U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, who is running for a third term, is stressing his membership on the key House Financial Services Committee, which oversees banks, and his leadership role on a congressional task force focused on fighting terrorism. He’s been endorsed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and other top Republican leaders in Congress and has voted with for their conservative agenda and against that of Democratic President Barack Obama.
But in their bid to unseat Pittenger, GOP primary challengers Mark Harris and Todd Johnson hope to tap into Republican anger at Washington. They say Pittenger is part of a GOP establishment that has not done enough to cut spending, repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood.
Harris and Johnson said they’d be more like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and North Carolina’s own U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows – insurgents who have angered establishment Republicans by voting against raising the debt ceiling and against an omnibus budget bill. Pittenger’s answer is that those votes amounted to saying yes to shutting down the federal government and cutting back on the military.
Will California’s Democratic primary confirm or embarrass Clinton?
New Jersey and a few other states will vote earlier than California Tuesday. So Clinton could claim she has enough delegates to win the Democratic presidential nomination even before West Coast polls close.
But the Democratic results in California – with its 475 pledged delegates – will still matter. A lot.
A Clinton victory in the country’s biggest, most diverse state would let the air out of Sanders’ campaign. It would also set the stage for a July convention in Philadelphia that could focus on unifying Democrats and targeting GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
A Sanders win would not likely keep Clinton from getting the nomination, just as her defeat of Obama there in the 2008 primary did not deny him the ultimate Democratic prize.
But a Clinton loss in California would feed the narrative that Democrats are less-than-enthusiastic about her. It could also empower Sanders to continue his quest and turn the party’s nationally televised convention into a battleground between the Democratic establishment and Sanders’ devoted followers – not the best way to kick off a general election campaign.