Both major-party winners of yesterday’s 3rd district special primary election are political insiders, although the Republican winner was forced into a second (runoff) primary for his party’s nomination. The result of the Democratic race increased the odds that whoever wins the Republican nomination will win in the general election in September.
A fractured Republican field
NC Rep. Greg Murphy won the Republican primary with 22.54 percent of the vote. However, his total was well short of the 30 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff. He will face conservative activist Dr. Joan Perry, who receive 15.44 percent of the vote.
There were 17 candidates for the Republican nomination, including three current members of the NC State House of Representatives. Each of those representatives carried the countries of their home districts with Murphy winning in Pitt County, Phil Shepard carrying Onslow County and Michael Speciale winning in Craven County. The difference was that Murphy was more able to dominate the vote in his home county (getting almost 68 percent of the vote in Pitt).
Perry introduces herself as a “pro-life pediatrician” and abortion has been a focus of her campaign. That earned her the support of Susan B. Anthony List, an organization dedicated to supporting pro-life candidates.
Both candidates face challenges in the runoff. Murphy must work hard to get his supporters out to vote. The last time there was a Republican congressional second primary (in the 6th district in 2014) voter turnout dropped 28.2 percent from the first primary to the second. Conservative activists, who are generally more motivated voters, will likely coalesce behind Perry, meaning that Murphy will have to work harder to get his voters out.
While Perry’s emphasis on abortion helped her push past a crowded field of candidates, her challenge now is to expand her base beyond pro-life activists. We can expect her to lead with other issues over the next several weeks in a bid to broaden her appeal. Murphy and Perry will also both seek the support of candidates who did not make it to second primary.
Both candidates should have the financial strength to remain competitive in the second primary, Murphey have raised $267,994 in contributions by April 10 and had lent his campaign an additional $50,000. While Perry’s fundraising total of $154,345 during that period was considerable smaller than Murphy’s, she had an advantage in spending from outside groups, an advantage she will likely also have in the second primary.
Democrats go all inside
On the Democratic side, former three-term Greenville mayor Allen Thomas easily won the nomination with 50.02 percent. Democrats had hoped that retired Marine Corps colonel Richard Bew would be able to emulate Marine veteran Dan McCready’s relative success in the 9th district. Bew even came into the race with a cool nickname: “Otter”. However, Bew’s campaign failed to gain traction, evening losing Onslow County (home to Camp Lejeune) to fellow Marine Ike Johnson.
The result lessens that chance that the Democrats will be able to make the general election competitive. It will be hard for a conventional Democrat to prevail in that heavily Republican district. One thing that Allen does have going for him is the ability to self-finance his campaign; $200,000 of the $255,390 in funds his campaign reported in an April 10 Federal Election Commission report came in the form of a loan from himself to his campaign. He could make things interesting to the extent that he is willing and able to self-finance his general election campaign as well.
The second primary will be on July 9 and the general election will be on September 10. In addition to Thomas, the winner of the Republican second primary will face Libertarian Tim Harris and Greg Holt of the Constitution Party in the general election.