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2024 North Carolina primary elections: Breaking down races in the state House, Senate

A graphic with a purple background that reads: North Carolina Primaries 2024 Races To Watch: Legislative
Elizabeth Baier

Early in-person voting for the primaries begins Feb. 15, and Election Day is March 5.

New redistricting lines for the state legislature will mean few swing districts in November’s general election — most districts strongly favor either Democrats or Republicans. In some of those districts, the action will be taking place in the March primary.

A group of Democratic Party incumbents are facing strong challenges, with opponents blasting them for working too closely with the legislature’s GOP majority.

And the departure of several veteran legislators — including House Speaker Tim Moore — has created crowded primary contests to replace them.

Here’s a look at a few races to watch:

New lawmakers likely selected in these primaries

With district lines that often strongly favor one political party, the successors to several departing state legislators will likely be chosen in the primary — a dynamic that has drawn lots of candidates to open seats.

Here’s a look at some of the most interesting contests.

  • Guilford County: With veteran Republican Rep. John Faircloth retiring, five GOP candidates are facing off to represent House District 62 in northwestern Guilford. Faircloth has endorsed High Point City Councilman Britt Moore. Former N.C. Rep. John Blust is running to return to the House, with financial support from prominent GOP donor Bob Luddy and N.C. Rep. Mitchell Setzer. Former Oak Ridge Mayor Ann Schneider is also running, and charter school educator Michelle Bardsley has so far raised the most money of the candidates. And at just age 20, mechanical contractor Jaxon Barber would be the youngest state legislator if elected.
  • Cumberland County: With longtime Democratic Rep. Marvin Lucas retiring, four Democrats are seeking the House District 42 seat to represent northwestern Cumberland. Lucas has endorsed funeral home director Mike Colvin, who’s the brother of Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin. Former N.C. Rep. Elmer Floyd is also running, and he’s accused Lucas of changing district lines to allow Colvin to run for the seat, according to CityView. Lucas denies the claim, saying he sought to revise the district to make it more compact. Floyd has the most campaign cash of the candidates far, largely because he loaned his campaign $20,000. His donors include Cumberland County Sheriff Ennis Wright. The other two candidates are Fayetteville City Councilwoman Courtney Banks-McLaughlin and Naveed Aziz, a Spring Lake doctor who has run unsuccessfully for the legislature before.
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore takes a question from a reporter in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, as the Court heard arguments on a new elections case that could dramatically alter voting in 2024 and beyond.
Andrew Harnik
FILE — North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore takes a question from a reporter in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

  • House Speaker’s seat: With Moore running for Congress, his House seat representing Cleveland and Rutherford counties west of Charlotte is open for the first time in more than two decades. Four Republicans are running: Kings Mountain City Councilman David Allen; Paul Brintley, a pastor who boasts an endorsement from Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson; former Kings Mountain Mayor Scott Neisler; and Paul Scott, a Rutherford County school board member and pastor.
  • Craven/Lenoir/Beaufort counties: With Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, stepping down, former N.C. Rep. Michael Speciale of New Bern is running to return to the General Assembly. Speciale was known as a firebrand Republican who helped found the House Freedom Caucus and filed a proposed constitutional amendment to remove the section that bans secession. He faces New Bern Alderman Bob Brinson, an attorney who is self-funding with a $25,000 loan to his campaign.

Incumbents could get pushed out

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

Is there room in the legislature’s Democratic Party caucus for legislators who sometimes join with the GOP?

A few Democrats broke with their party last year on issues like charter schools, healthcare access for transgender teens and environmental regulations. Some of them also voted yes on the GOP budget bill, and they voted to override some of Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes.

Factions within the party think those moves should cost them their seats, and some groups are backing challengers who are less likely to stray from Democratic Party leaders.

Among those fighting for their political lives in the primary:

  • Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, who faces Obama administration alum and investor Sophia Chitlik. Woodard recently lost his campaign for Durham mayor.
  • Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, who faces former High Point NAACP President James Adams
  • Rep. Michael Wray, D-Northampton, who faces criticism from his opponent, Halifax County social studies teacher Rodney Pierce, that he’s voted with the GOP more than any other Democrat.
  • Rep. Shelly Willingham, D-Edgecombe, who faces Abbie Lane, a vice chair of the Edgecombe County Democratic Party.
  • Rep. Carla Cunningham, D-Mecklenburg, who faces Vermanno Bowman, a military police officer in the N.C. National Guard.

The Progressive Caucus of the N.C. Democratic Party has endorsed all five of the challengers.
The most competitive challenge to an incumbent on the Republican side is in Cabarrus County. County GOP Chairman Brian Echevarria narrowly lost a bid for state House against a Democrat in 2022, and he’s making another attempt.

But because district lines have changed, he’s not running for a rematch with his old opponent but is instead challenging a fellow Republican, Rep. Kevin Crutchfield. Crutchfield’s campaign responded with an ad that calls Echevarria a “mistake” who voted for President Barack Obama. House Speaker Moore and other GOP legislators are backing Crutchfield with campaign funding.

The race to take on a party switcher

Representative Tricia Cotham announces she is leaving the Democratic party and is joining the Republican party.
Matt Ramey
At an April 2023 press conference, Representative Tricia Cotham announces she is leaving the Democratic party and is joining the Republican party.

Democrat-turned-Republican N.C. Rep. Tricia Cotham’s bid for re-election will easily be the most-watched general election race in the legislature. It’s the first time she’ll face voters since her April 2023 party switch, and her redrawn district is a close split between the two parties.

Three Democrats are facing off in the primary, vying for the opportunity to take on Cotham:

  • Yolonda “Dr. Yo” Holmes, who came in second place to Cotham in the 2022 Democratic primary.
  • Nicole Sidman, director of congregational life at Temple Beth El.
  • Terry Lansdell, a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission and executive director of BikeWalkNC.

WUNC Digital Producer Mitchell Northam contributed to this story. This election season, check out WUNC's Races To Watch stories for everything you need to know about candidates in statewide, congressional and legislative elections. Subscribe to WUNC's Politics Podcast, check out our new “Main Street” series, listen to Due South’s election preview, and follow Capitol Bureau Chief Colin Campbell on social media. Additionally, reporter Rusty Jacobs has you covered on all things related to redistricting and election integrity.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.