Runoff? Very few voters seem to care

Published 11:59 pm Sunday, June 20, 2010

Staff Writer

It’s a safe bet that most North Carolinians aren’t aware of the fact that Tuesday’s second primary could help determine who serves as one of the state’s two U.S. senators for the next six years.
The lack of awareness, and perhaps an absence of enthusiasm, among eligible voters was palpable during the one-stop, no-excuse absentee voting period, which ended Saturday afternoon.
By 9 a.m. Saturday, just 180 Beaufort County voters had marked ballots for the runoff pitting N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall against former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, both Democrats.
Both candidates hope to win their party’s nomination and run against Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., in the Nov. 2 general election.
Democrats and unaffiliated voters are eligible to participate in the second primary.
Beaufort County has around 16,000 registered Democrats and approximately 5,800 unaffiliated voters, according to registration records.
In neighboring Hyde County, just 15 voters had turned out by early afternoon Friday.
About 2,900 Hyde County voters were eligible to take part in the second primary, Cindy Carawan, county elections director, told the Daily News last month.
“People need to get out and vote,” Carawan said Friday.
Of course, the main event hasn’t arrived, but turnout is expected to be abysmally low Tuesday.
The polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m., and Beaufort County elections officials predict a long, slow day for their poll workers, who, in all likelihood, will man quiet polling places across the county and won’t see many voters.
Officials at the elections offices anticipated having the full voting results no later than 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Voter turnout was a concern for the candidates and party officials before the May 4 primary election.
In an April interview with the Daily News, Marshall was asked whether she was seeing hoped-for enthusiasm among voters.
“That’s not the question,” she replied. “I’m talking about for the fall. … It is an off-year election, and it’s always going to be a lower turnout. I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm with folks with know it’s going to be an election.”
More recently, Marshall’s campaign has indicated turnout is vital, with spokesman/strategist Thomas Mills saying the camp is “doing everything we can to reach out to voters.”
The runoff, officially called a second primary, has proved costly to Marshall, a Raleigh resident, and Cunningham, a Lexington lawyer.
Marshall reported just $107,469 cash on hand as of June 2, while Cunningham had $193,172, according to the Federal Election Commission’s Web site.
By contrast, Burr had more than $4.9 million cash on hand as of April 14, the latest date for which figures were available.
In polling, Cunningham has managed to close the gap that separated him and his opponent, and the two were dead even in the last relevant poll produced by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh.
In a recent interview with the Daily News, Cunningham was asked how he responded to allegations that he was the favorite of insiders in Washington, D.C., while Marshall was casting herself as the more home-grown candidate.
“She has a political operation from her many years as a career politician,” he said. “I’m proud of the support that we’ve put together all over this state, which is essential to winning a race against a tough Republican incumbent. And that’s reflected in the many endorsements that we have, the support of local elected officials, average citizens.”
The politicians have had their say and, on Tuesday, voters — albeit a small number of them — will have their say.
Meanwhile, Washington resident Greg Dority is in a runoff to determine the Republican nominee for the 12th Congressional District seat held by incumbent Democrat Mel Watt.
A second primary is being held in that district because none of the three GOP candidates there was able to get 40 percent of the vote in the May 4 primary election.
Dority got 34.31 percent, or 4,773 votes, in the district. The front-runner, Scott Cumbie of Winston-Salem, scored 39.49 percent of the vote, or 5,494 votes. In third place was William Gillenwater of Greensboro, with 26.20 percent or 3,645 votes.
Dority and Cumbie face off in Tuesday’s runoff.
Though Dority lives in Washington, he hopes to win his party’s nomination to take on Watt in the general election.
Watt’s District 12 winds through some of the state’s most-populous areas, including the cities of Winston-Salem and Charlotte.
Dority has pointed out the fact that there is no residency provision requiring a congressional candidate to live in the district in which he or she runs.