RALEIGH, North Carolina
This year’s retirements of two Democratic congressional veterans in North Carolina set the stage for strong primaries within their party as Democrats, Republicans or both hold contests Tuesday in all 14 districts of the state, except one.
At stake is a chance in the general election in November and ultimately on Capitol Hill. With this election cycle, North Carolina lands another House seat in January — its 14th — due to population growth documented by the U.S. Census.
In the 4th Congressional District, where Representative David Price is absent from the ballot for the first time since 1986, eight Democrats are seeking his seat in the Triangle area. And four Democrats are running for the Northeast Rural 1st District seat held since 2004 by Rep. GK Butterfield, who chose not to seek re-election.
The top contenders in the 4th are State Senator Valerie Foushee of Chapel Hill, Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam and former “American Idol” finalist Clay Aiken. State Senator Don Davis and former Senator Erica Smith are the leading candidates for the 1st District.
Seven of the 11 incumbents seeking re-election have primaries on Tuesday.
The sitting member facing the strongest challenge in the party — along with seven other GOP rivals — is first-term Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the Mountainous 11th District. Unforced political mistakes have threatened Cawthorn’s return to Congress, where the outspoken 26-year-old is a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump.
Other Republican incumbents facing primary challenges are Rep. Greg Murphy in the 3rd District; Virginia Foxx in the 5th; the 7th David Rouzer; Richard Hudson in the 9th; and Patrick McHenry in the 10th. Democratic Rep. Alma Adams in the 12th also has a primary.
In primaries with large fields, the top voter must receive more than 30% of the vote to avoid a runoff on July 26 with the second.
In the 4th district, comprising the strongly liberal counties of Durham and Orange, the winner of the Democratic primary should have an advantage in November. Courtney Gaels and Robert Thomas are seeking the GOP nomination.
The 1st District, reliably considered Democratic for decades, has become less so and could be very competitive in a strong Republican year. Leading GOP candidates include 2020 candidate Sandy Smith and Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson.
The 4th and 1st Democratic primaries were marked by competitions between the party establishment and its more liberal wing. Establishment favorites – Foushee and Davis – have benefited from big TV ad spend and mailings of super PACs.
Protect Our Future, a super PAC backed by a cryptocurrency billionaire, spent $1 million to support Foushee, campaign documents show.
The United Democracy Project, an independent spending group linked to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, spent nearly $2.4 million to help Davis and nearly $2.1 million to support Foushee, according to reports from campaign financing. And AIPAC’s political action committee sent more than $430,000 in pooled contributions to Foushee’s campaign, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.
Some Democrats have been angry with AIPAC’s involvement in both races because the group also backs Republican candidates, with the state’s progressive Democratic Party caucus revoking its endorsement of Foushee.
Allam, the first Muslim woman elected to office in North Carolina, is pro-Palestinian. She is supported by American senses Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
In the final days of the campaign, Aiken lamented the outside money in the race and said he had “lost respect” for Foushee. His campaign championed the support of AIPAC.
Though prominent in music, theater and television, Aiken is no stranger to politics, having won a 2014 Democratic primary for Congress in another central North Carolina district before losing to incumbent Republican Renee Ellmers. A victory in November would make Aiken the first openly LGBTQ person from the South elected to Congress.
Davis, a former Air Force officer and small-town mayor, won Butterfield’s endorsement last month. Butterfield cited Davis’ legislative experience and said he was “ready to fight for the Democratic agenda of empowering American families and communities.”
Smith, who has Warren’s endorsement, ran unsuccessfully for the 2020 U.S. Senate nomination. Smith’s campaign said Davis’ General Assembly voting record was too moderate, particularly on the right to abortion.
Elsewhere, Ellmers is seeking a return to Capitol Hill in an eight-candidate GOP primary in the open 13th district. While Ellmers was the first congresswoman to endorse Trump for president in 2016, she lost a re-election bid that year. And the ex-president’s endorsement in the 13th went to Bo Hines, 26, a former NC State University football player and Wake Forest Law School graduate who previously announced he was running elsewhere in the ‘state before settling the 13th.
The Club for Growth Action super PAC has spent money supporting Hines and opposing the candidacy of Smithfield lawyer Kelly Daughtry. Daughtry self-funded his campaign, loaning more than $2.9 million to his political committee. At least two outside groups oppose Hines. Ellmers raised very little. The five-person Democratic 13th primary includes state senator Wiley Nickel and former senator Sam Searcy, both of Wake County.