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Politics
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Seven Challengers And One Incumbent Vie To Be Their Party's 2016 Nominee For U.S. Senate

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March 15 is, of course, primary day here in North Carolina. And the ballots will list more than just the presidential candidates.

Morning Edition host Marshall Terry and WFAE reporter Tom Bullock discuss the primary races for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Richard Burr.

MT - Let’s start with incumbent Senator Richard Burr and the three Republicans vying to replace him.

TB - Republican Richard Burr is seeking his third term in the U.S. Senate. And he says this will likely be the last, after serving for more than 20 years in either the U.S. House or Senate. Burr known as something of a policy wonk, and serves as the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

His Republican primary challengers are Greg Brannon, an obstetrician who’s never served in public office but has been a conservative force in state politics – including a key proponent of the state’s same sex marriage ban.

Then there’s Greensboro businessman Larry Holmquist – who’s running on a defund Obamacare plan. And Attorney Paul Write, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2012.

MT -  And Senator Burr is the favorite going into Tuesday’s primary.

That’s correct. And the most well funded of all the candidates for senator. But there haven’t been a lot of polls on the North Carolina Senate primary races. What has been done shows Burr with a large double digit lead over his closest rival, Greg Brannon. The other two candidates were only in single digits.

This seems to be Burr’s race to win or lose. But think of this following scenario: Brannon is running as a tea party outsider. In a year where the top two republican candidates are outsider Donald Trump and tea partier Ted Cruz. And images of both men appear in Brannon’s 'why I’m running' video on his website. And his volunteers were handing out Brannon signs at the Trump rally in Concord this week. So Burr is the favorite, but there could be a surprise if Brannon can get those Trump and Cruz voters on his side. This will be an interesting race to watch.

MT - Lets move to the Democrats where there are also four candidates vying to be the party’s U.S. Senate nominee.

Indeed there are but before we get to their names, which I’m betting some listeners are trying to think of right now let's talk about who didn’t run.

Early on in this election cycle Senator Burr was rated as one of the most vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election. And the Democrats tried to get a number of higher profile candidates to oppose him. This included former Senator Kay Hagan, State Treasurer Janet Cowell and others. They all passed.

So this is a field of relatively unknown candidates.

There’s Deborah Ross, a former North Carolina state legislator and former head of the North Carolina chapter of the ACLU. She’s running with economic security as her main issue.

Chris Rey is the mayor of Spring Lake, a suburb of Fayetteville and a veteran. He’s largely focused on jobs, heath care access and higher wages.

Kevin Griffin is a Durham businessman who’s running as an outsider and job creator and Ernest Reeves, another veteran who’s calling for a FDR style public works program.

MT - And who’s the favorite there?

Again, poll numbers are sparse in this race but Deborah Ross seems to be the favorite. Her campaign is also the best funded. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is the wing of the party trying to get Democrats elected to the Senate – endorsed Ross early in this primary season. That’s very unusual. Chris Rey seems to be her main opponent.

Now, normally, if a candidate, other than those running for president, received less than 40 president of the vote in a primary in North Carolina there would be a runoff between the top two vote getters. But this is no ordinary primary year. Part of the fallout in the court ordered redrawing of the state’s U.S. House districts is a law that eliminates runoffs this year only. So the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate could be decided with a very low percentage of votes. Ross is the presumed favorite but it may be really anyone’s race it seems.