NC Voters Choose Senate Contenders Alongside Presidential Hopefuls

A quiet polling place at St. Matthew AME Church in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday. (CNS Photo/Rich Ivey)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CN) – North Carolina residents cast ballots Tuesday to pick their Democratic presidential candidate of choice and also to decide which Democratic and Republican candidates will face off in a key U.S. Senate race.

North Carolina, a critical battleground state, is one of 14 states to hold primary elections on Super Tuesday. When the polls close at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, state officials will begin reporting who voters chose to push forward toward the Nov. 3 general presidential election.

Three White House hopefuls – Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and entrepreneur Tom Steyer – dropped out of the race in the last week. Klobuchar and Buttigieg, along with former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, have endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for the party’s nomination.

According to elections data, more than 11% of North Carolina’s registered voters cast their ballots during the early voting period that ran until Feb. 29. It is unclear how many early voters backed Klobuchar, Buttigieg or Steyer.

After Biden’s big win in South Carolina’s primary on Saturday and several candidate drop-outs, some voters told Courthouse News that their favor is shifting toward the former vice president.

A poll released Tuesday by the Civitas Institute, a conservative organization, shows Biden has the support of about 45% of voters in the Tarheel State with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, currently seen as the overall front-runner, trailing at about 18%.

Other recent polls, including those released by High Point University and Data for Progress, also show Biden is ahead in the state, but with a less dramatic lead.

Fifteen presidential candidates, including many other candidates who have withdrawn, were listed on the Democratic ballot in North Carolina on Tuesday.

Two of the top remaining Democratic hopefuls, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and billionaire businessman Mike Bloomberg, are the main challengers to Biden and Sanders in the Super Tuesday states. Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has not withdrawn from the race but she has not picked up any delegates so far after the contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

The State Board of Elections also approved presidential candidates Joe Walsh and Bill Weld to be on the Republican Party primary ballot as challengers to President Donald Trump “based upon recognition in the state and national media,” according to a statement by the board on Tuesday.

Karen Brinson Bell, director of the elections board, said during a Tuesday press briefing that a few technical issues were reported in some precincts but they have since been resolved. Elections officials are reporting short lines outside polling locations, which could have been affected by poor weather in some places.

The 2020 presidential race is at the forefront of Super Tuesday, but winners of state-based campaigns — especially in a swing state like North Carolina — could also determine which party holds the power in Washington after November’s election.

Five candidates are running in the Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat, while four Republicans, including incumbent Senator Thom Tillis, are listed on the GOP ticket.

Republicans currently have 53 seats in the 100-member chamber, and both parties have ramped up campaign efforts and spending in critical swing states like North Carolina. The Nov. 3 general election puts Republicans at a greater risk than Democrats, because the GOP will be defending 23 Senate seats nationwide as Democrats defend only 12.

Tillis joined President Trump on stage during a rally in Charlotte on Monday night, where both men urged voters to back the incumbent in the primary.

“We’re gonna reelect Thom Tillis, and if we don’t, I’m going to be so angry at you,” Trump warned the audience.

The senator was received poorly by some in the audience of Trump supporters who disagreed with Tillis’ early opposition to the president’s emergency declaration concerning funds for construction of a southern border wall .

Republican candidates Larry Holmquist, activist Sharon Hudson and former North Carolina Superior Court judge Paul Wright are vying to unseat Tillis on Tuesday. Tillis won the seat in 2014. His platforms align closely with Trump’s stances, including recent support for a southern border wall and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

In North Carolina, a candidate needs more than 30% of the vote to win their party’s primary. A runoff election for the top two candidates in each party will be held May 12 if one is necessary.

On the Democratic side of the Senate race, state Senator Erica Smith is facing off against her top primary rival Cal Cunningham, a former state senator, as well as Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller, retired Air Force officer Atul Goel and Steve Swenson. Cunningham and Smith lead in the polls.

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