Will primary equal democracy inaction?

Published 2:17 pm Sunday, May 2, 2010

Staff Writer

The polls will open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday for a primary election that could have historic consequences for North Carolina, despite expectations of low voter turnout.
Perhaps the hottest race in the state is positioned at the top of the Democratic ballot, as front-running U.S. Senate candidates Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham struggle to gain dominance.
Four other candidates, including attorney Ken Lewis, don’t seem to be serious threats to the leaders.
Marshall, North Carolina’s secretary of state, has consistently led Cunningham, a former state senator, in the polls.
Cunningham has been cutting into Marshall’s lead, and his organization is projecting confidence that he can capture his party’s nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., in the fall.
As of Thursday, Marshall had a projected 26 percent of the vote to Cunningham’s 23 percent, according to Public Policy Polling of Raleigh.
The polling entity said the two leading candidates are the only contenders “with a realistic chance at winning” on Tuesday.
A PPP news release says “34% of voters remain undecided, and beyond that 40% of those with a current preference say they could change their minds between now and the election.”
The group polled 458 likely Democratic voters. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.6 percent.
With polls pointing the way to a close finish, some pundits have suggested this competition could extend into a runoff, though that won’t be clear until the unofficial results are known.
The first-place finisher in this race could take on major importance in a year when every seat counts to the Democrats.
Republicans hope to regain control of the U.S. House and/or Senate amid shaky conservative pledges to repeal the Democrat-passed health-care overhaul.
The Associated Press has reported that national Democrats plan to spend $20 million to defend their political assets this year, dividing the money among the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Committee.
Either Marshall or Cunningham have a long, hard slot ahead if he or she wishes to erode Burr’s fundraising advantage.
Burr had more than $4.9 million cash on hand as of April 14.
Cunningham had around $345,000, while Marshall had $171,272.
Cunningham listed more than $730,000 in contributions, while Marshall had more than $443,000, but the close primary has proven expensive to these two candidates, each of whom has traveled the state and taken to the airwaves in commercials.
On the local side, the race to replace retiring District Court Judge Sam Grimes has become the sleeper hit of the political season.
The four 2nd Judicial District candidates are Watsi Sutton, Sonia Privette, Jonathan Jones and Darrell Cayton Jr., all of whom reside in Beaufort County.
This race is nonpartisan, but it is listed on the GOP, Democratic and nonpartisan ballots for Beaufort County.
Elections officials said this contest is inspiring more inquiries than any other on the ballot.
Also, the two major political parties — and participating unaffiliated voters — are set to nominate three candidates each for Beaufort County commissioner.
Five Republicans and four Democrats are seeking these nominations.
One unaffiliated hopeful is circulating a petition in an attempt to have her name placed on the ballot for the Nov. 2 general election.