Jan. 4, 2015 — Candidate filing closed in North Carolina before Christmas, and nine of the 14 federal incumbents standing for re-election will face 2016 primary opponents. Two of the challenges appear serious.
Sen. Richard Burr (R) draws a Tea Party challenge from physician Greg Brannon, who placed second (27.5 percent) against now-Sen. Thom Tillis in the 2014 Republican primary. He returns in a four-way contest against the two-term GOP incumbent. Former District Judge Paul Wright and retired advertising executive Larry Holmquist are the other GOP contenders.
North Carolina has 40 percent run-off law. If no candidate exceeds 40 percent, then a secondary election occurs. Sen. Burr is a cinch for the party nomination, and figures to have a strong general election performance against what will be a second-tier Democratic opponent. In 2010, Burr became the first incumbent since 1968 to be re-elected in this particular Senate seat. With Democratic recruitment failing, he is in very strong shape to win a third term.
Representatives Renee Ellmers (R-NC-2), Walter Jones (R-NC-3), Virginia Foxx (R-NC-5), Mark Walker (R-NC-6), David Rouzer (R-NC-7), Robert Pittenger (R-NC-9), Patrick McHenry (R-NC-10), and Alma Adams (D-NC-12) all drew primary challengers. Only the campaigns against Representatives Ellmers and Jones appear serious at the outset. The North Carolina primary will be held concurrently with the presidential nomination event, on March 15.
Ellmers (R-Dunn/Cary), who scored only a 58 percent win in her 2014 GOP primary, is considerably weaker today after several legislative and personal moves that could damage her. But, with four opponents and only needed to achieve 40 percent to win re-nomination, the congresswoman must be considered the early favorite to win her primary. The GOP nominee will be heavily favored in the general election.
Radio talk show host Frank Roche, who ran in 2014 and scored 42 percent against her, returns for a re-match. Her most serious opponent, however, appears to be Chatham County Republican chairman Jim Duncan who enjoys considerable financial support from the Club for Growth.
Rep. Jones (R-Farmville/New Bern) faces a re-match against former Treasury Department official Taylor Griffin, who came within a 45-51 percent margin of unseating the incumbent two years ago. A third candidate, USMC veteran Phil Law, could take some anti-Jones votes away from Griffin and allow the long-time incumbent to again skate to re-nomination. Like District 2, this seat will be safe for the Republicans in the general election.
Beyond these two primaries, the North Carolina general election, aside from the presidential campaign projects as a quiet affair.