Candidates, party leaders discuss June 7 Primary

Jun 9, 2016

Most primaries for the 2016 election, took place nearly three months ago, but true to the election’s unorthodox form, primaries for U.S. House – among others – were delayed due to a change in congressional district maps.

It gave campaign staffers, and their candidates, extra time to get the word out and make their case for their respective offices.

Chris Thomas spoke to candidates and party leaders in the new, 3rd District – which includes Lenoir, Onslow, and Craven counties – about the June 7 primary.

Okay, let’s review.

On Feb. 5, a three-judge panel ruled two of North Carolina’s U.S. House districts were in violation of the Civil Rights Act because they relied too heavily on race.

“So their order was to redraw those congressional districts and they indicated that we could not hold elections for Congress until there was a new plan in place.”

Josh Lawson of the North Carolina Board of Elections.

“And that resulted in a redrawing of all the congressional districts throughout the state – not just those two or just the surrounding area but all the congressional districts.”

Later that month, the General Assembly presented a new map with more compact district lines.

The new map, like the old, was contested in court.

“So, if the current, new districts are put in effect, then there will be a separate election on June 7th.”

The new districts are in effect, though – making June 7th “Primary Election Day part II” in North Carolina.  Races for U.S. House and State Supreme Court judges will come into clearer view after most primaries – including President and Governor – were decided two-and-a-half months ago.

That worked just fine for Taylor Griffin, U.S. House Candidate and New Bern resident.

“Well, it gave us a lot more time to do direct, retail engagement with voters, for me to go knock on doors, and to actually meet voters in person and to ask for their votes (and) answer their questions. And we’ve talked to thousands of voters by knocking on their doors, or by calling them on the phone over the last 3 months and I think that’s been a huge asset for us as we go into next Tuesday’s election.”

Mr. Griffin is running for the second time to unseat Walter Jones, long-time 3rd District representative in the Republican primary. The district’s retained much of the territory it already had and counties it once shared with the 1st District – represented by Democrat G.K. Butterfield – now belong to it solely and vice versa.

The lines are clearer, which makes work easier for Carl Mischka – chair for the Craven County Republican Party – after the primaries.

“The most recent redistricting…put all of Craven County in District 3 – congressional district 3 – whereas part of the county had been in district 1. And that, for the last number of years, makes it easier for me to manage the Republican Party in Craven County because…I don’t have two districts I have to interface with. It makes it easier for my precinct leaders to know where they’re going to district meetings.”

But, as is the case with most congressional elections, getting out the vote has been challenging. According to stats from the State Board of Election, average voter turnout in congressional-only primaries is under 15 percent. Mr. Mischka said this could be even worse with an unusual primary date.

“The public is not aware – as aware as they could be – so what we’re doing to combat that is using social media. I’ve funded robo-calls. We are running ads in the Sun Journal, doing just about every we can to make sure everybody knows there is a congressional and a judicial race on the June 7 ballot.”

If long-standing voting patterns prevail, things will be even harder for Craven County Democratic Chair Bob Costanzo.

Reliable Democratic blocks – including racial minorities and university students – are among the least likely to vote in congressional elections. The 3rd District’s is also among the most reliably Republican districts in the nation.

Mr. Costanzo hopes to use the state’s semi-open primary system to rouse interest in the Democratic candidates – David Hurst and Ernest Reeves – among unaffiliated voters.

Reeves made an unsuccessful bid for Senate earlier this year.

“We’re working with our precinct chairs and they are responsible for the areas they control. We’ve encouraged them to go door to door – contact the registered voters in the area and try to interest them in voting, especially to reach out to the unaffiliated to suggest they should take a look at the Democratic candidates and take a Democratic ballot.”

But 2016 seems to be the year where anything is possible and incumbents have an especially bright target on their backs. Populism is in vogue and Jacksonville’s Phil Law – a Republican also running to unseat Rep. Jones – hopes a wave voter frustration with the status quo will land him a place on Capitol Hill.

“We see that with the rise of Donald Trump, this huge anti-incumbency wave. We’re tired, we’re fed up – everybody needs to go.”

Mr. Law also hopes he can develop a broad appeal for his platform – focusing on fiscal reform, immigration, and veteran’s affairs – among those truly independent voters.

“It’s that sweet 10 percent everyone is fighting for and that will happen on every single race.”

Even Rep. Jones – who has been the 3rd District’s representative for more than 20 years – concedes that old patterns probably won’t factor into this year’s elections. In the past, congressional candidates were often able to “ride the coattails” of popular, presidential candidates due, in large part, to party affiliation.

“I don’t think there will be coattails, I do not. I think every one of us in the House – I can’t speak for the Senate – will have to run our campaign…if we have to run on our own, then it makes it much more difficult in the November election. My thinking and my hope is that we will come out of the Convention in Cleveland and we will have a coordinated message that will excite the American people.”

Keeping a united front will be a challenge for both, major political parties – but North Carolina Republicans seem to be in especially dire straits in 2016.

Unlike their shrewd operation which helped them win control of the General Assembly and the Governor’s Mansion in 2010 and 2012, respectively – the current NC GOP is without a clear, chairman or a platform after their May 7 convention.  

Mr. Mischka said it was “disheartening.”

“It was a non-event…my first time attendees from Craven County kept looking at me, saying ‘Carl, why are we here? Why are we spending days of our time, hundreds of dollars?’ We accomplished none of the delegates business. Pure and simple, there’s nothing else to say about it. It was a disaster.”

On the other hand, Mr. Costanzo says North Carolina Democrats are keeping tight ranks this year. A far cry from the sexual harassment controversies and in-house friction that plagued the party in 2012.

State Democrats are scheduled to meet June 11 in Raleigh for their convention.

“It appears, to me, that, there is a lot of unity this year. We’ve got a good leader in Raleigh, our chair there, is excellent. We are meeting regularly, both in person and via teleconference and we have discussed many issues going forward. I believe the state strategy will prove to be very successful going forward into this November election.”

A lot of hype is reserved for Presidential elections, especially in a state like North Carolina that may play a crucial role in electing the republic’s 45th chief executive. But even a short glance at the news, and the Constitution, will make it abundantly clear that the President cannot get very far without a cooperative Congress.

Though those races may not get banner headlines – a U.S. House representative is one of 434 voting members – they can make the difference between a successful or disastrous 4 to 8 years for the President-to-be and the nation as a whole.

Early voting continues through Saturday and Election Day is Tuesday. You’ll be asked to show a form of national or state identification before receiving your ballot. Same-day voter registration is still available during the early voting period.

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Final results of June 7 Primary (source: Associated Press):

U.S. House Primary

3rd District, GOP:

[X] Walter Jones (incumbent) - 15,722 (65%)

-Phil Law - 4,929 (20%)

-Griffin Taylor - 3,599 (15%)

3rd District, Democrats:

[X] Ernest Reeves - 6,402 (55%)

-David Hurst - 5,323 (45%)

State Supreme Court

[X] Robert Edmunds (incumbent) - 234,142 (48%)

[X] Michael Morgan - 167,221 (34%)

-Sabra Faires - 58,588 (12%)

-Daniel Robertson - 27,220 (6%)

U.S. House District Map for the state of North Carolina as it stands now.
Credit North Carolina General Assembly