NC Voters Set to Choose Contenders in Key Senate Race

RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) – North Carolina voters will cast their primary ballots on Super Tuesday to decide which Democratic and Republican candidates will face off in a pivotal U.S. Senate contest this fall.

Five candidates are running in the Democratic primary for the Senate seat. Four candidates, including incumbent Senator Thom Tillis, are listed on the Republican primary ballot.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, file photo)

The results of the North Carolina race in November’s general election could greatly impact which party eventually controls the Senate. 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.

Democrats hold 45 seats in the Senate, and two Independents – including Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders – caucus with Democrats.

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 a runoff is necessary.

The general election on Nov. 3 puts Republicans at a greater risk than Democrats, because the GOP will be defending 23 seats nationwide as Democrats defend only 12.

Early primary voting in the Tarheel State began Feb. 13 and ends Friday. So far, according to state elections board data, more Democrats have shown up to the polls than Republican voters.

Challenging Tillis on the Republican side are self-described “consistent conservative” Larry Holmquist, activist Sharon Hudson and former North Carolina Superior Court judge Paul Wright.

The Republican incumbent won the seat in 2014, in what was at the time the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history. Tillis’ platforms align closely with goals touted by President Donald Trump, including support for a southern border wall and a disdain for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He has also called Democrats’ proposed Green New Deal a “disaster.”

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Erica Smith speaks during an interview in Raleigh, N.C., on Jan. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

One of the Democratic contenders for the Senate seat, state Senator Erica Smith, supports the Green New Deal as well as Medicare for All. She has represented the North Carolina Senate’s third district since 2015.

The reason many North Carolinians are aware of Smith’s positions, which are generally considered to be more liberal than those of her primary rivals, is due to a large amount of spending in her favor by a Republican-linked political action committee — against her wishes.

A Federal Elections Commission filing by the Faith and Power PAC shows the group spent about $2.4 million on ads supporting Smith. She has publicly rejected the support.

“The Erica for US campaign disavows and dissociates ourselves from the interference of Republicans in the Democratic Senate primary in North Carolina,” her campaign said on Feb. 6.

Smith and her top rival in the Democratic contest, former state Senator Cal Cunningham, have both pledged not to accept money from large PACs. Cunningham is in spending so far.

Echoing a trend in the 2020 presidential race, the Democratic candidates for Senate in North Carolina are fighting to show constituents that they have a strong chance of beating the Republican incumbent.

“Thom Tillis is one of the most unpopular Senators in the country—and apparently, Republicans don’t like his chances against me in November. That’s why they’re meddling in our primary. Don’t get fooled,” Cunningham tweeted, Feb. 12.

Smith contends that she can beat Tillis with a healthy lead if chosen during the primary.

Cunningham and Smith are joined in the Democratic race by Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller, retired Air Force officer Atul Goel and Steve Swenson. Cunningham and Smith lead in the polls.

In the Democratic presidential contest, Sanders has only a slight advantage over former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to poll aggregator RealClearPolitics.

Behind Texas and California, North Carolina has the third most delegates up for grabs out of the 14 Super Tuesday states.

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