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What To Watch For In Tuesday's Primary

Denise Cross Photography

Tuesday, September 12 is a make or break day in the world of local politics. It's primary day, the day the candidates find out if they made the finals, or if they were more pretenders than contenders.

WFAE's Tom Bullock joins Morning Edition Host Marshall Terry to talk about key things to watch. 

MARSHALL TERRY: You've given me a list of five things to watch so let's go through them. First up, who, if anyone, makes the magic number? Explain.

TOM BULLOCK: This is the big thing to watch Tuesday night – and it most pertains to the five Democrats running for mayor of Charlotte. To remind everyone, they are Mayor Jennifer Roberts, Mayor Pro-Tem Vi Lyles and state Senator Joel Ford. Plus, Constance Partee Johnson and Lucille Puckett. The last two are considered long shot candidates. So the question is - can Ford, Roberts or Lyles win 40 percent of the votes in the primary? That is the magic number.

If one of them does that, then the Democratic nomination is theirs and we're off to the general election. If not, then the top two vote getters go to a runoff election October 10. And things can get a little strange in a runoff.

MT: Why?

Because runoff's are very strange beasts. I'll let Democratic political consultant Dan McCorkle explain.

"Say it's a runoff between Jennifer Roberts and Vi Lyles, boy that's totally up in the air. I've seen a 1.9 percent runoff turnout before. A 3 percent. Turnout is very low."

TB: With turnout that low the race is simply unpredictable. The Democratic nomination literally could come down to who gets that one extra busload of supporters out to the polls. And these few voters may well decide the next mayor of Charlotte because, if the past is prologue, Charlotte hasn't voted in a Republican mayor since Pat McCrory ten years ago.

MT:  Next on your list also deals with the Democratic race for Charlotte's mayor, what happens with the African-American vote?

TB: This has been a hot topic ever since both Vi Lyles and Joel Ford entered the race. Both Democrats are African-American and both called on the other to drop out in order, they said, to avoid splitting the vote of this key Democratic block.

Now, to be clear, African-Americans overall do vote Democrat, but some also vote Republican. And believing they vote only for other African-Americans is simply not true and it ignores the issues they do vote for. But with both Lyles and Ford not only bringing this publicly but also talking openly about how they had been urging the other to drop out because of the possibility of splitting the vote, this is now something to watch for sure.

MT: Number three on your list is Republican specific. How much does Kenny Smith pull in?

TB: This is not about money, but votes. Kenny Smith is leading the Republican field for mayor. His two primary rivals, Kimberley Paige Barnette and Gary Dunn aren’t especially well known. So the big question here is what is the Republican turnout?

Republican political consultant Larry Shaheen is predicting around 2 percent in the primary. Now, Smith is widely expected to win this race without a runoff. But low turnout still matters.

MT: Why?

TB: Because it could indicate that Republican voters aren’t tuned into this race yet. And more broadly, that they may not get engaged in the numbers Smith needs in order to win come November. It also may hurt the chances of other Republicans running for seats on the Charlotte City Council. We most often think of political coattails when the top of the ticket is someone running for president or governor. But political coattails also matter in local races. And Republican voters aren’t likely to turn out for, say, a city council race, if they're not engaged in the race for mayor.

MT: Well, speaking of city council, the next point on your list is - meet your new council members. Isn't that decided by the November election?

TB: Officially, yes. But in reality, no.

There are 12 members of the Charlotte City Council. The mayor, four members elected city wide and seven members elected from districts in the city.

Now all of the seven seats, it can be argued, are politically gerrymandered districts, heavily favoring one party or the other.

And three of these seats are so heavily Democratic that no Republican filed to run for the seat. So a quarter of the Charlotte City Council will effectively be elected next Tuesday in the partisan primary. For them the November election is just a formality.

MT:  You profiled one of these races in the latest episode of Candidate ME.

I did, the first district to be precise. This is a race mainly between two Democrats. The challenger is Larken Egleston. The incumbent is Patsy Kinsey. And the two agree on a lot. I asked them both for their political pitch. Here's what they said. Egleston speaks first.

Challenger Larken Egleston and incumbent Patsy Kinsey give their political pitch.

TB: But don’t be fooled by their similar views. There is a lot of daylight between Kinsey and Egleston. There are questions about the always thorny issue of constituent services and there's a vote by Kinsey back in 2015 which lead to some neighborhood controversy. It's quite a saga and if you're interested in the story check out the Candidate ME episode called The Fight For Little Charlotte.  

But another key difference in these two candidates is their age. Incumbent Kinsey is a baby boomer. Challenger Egleston is a millennial, the fastest growing demographic group in the city.  

MT: Which leads us to your final point to watch, what do the millennials do. if anything?

TB: And this will be interesting to watch because right now, there is exactly one millennial on the city council, Dimple Ajmera. And she was not elected but appointed to her seat. Though she is now running for an at large seat on the council.

Again, Charlotte's millennials are a huge group of potential voters. But they're not known for showing up at the polls as much as baby boomers or other age groups. This can change in presidential elections. But what about a form of government that has more of a daily impact on their lives? We'll see if millennials start to flex their political muscles in local races this year.