News in the North Carolina Senate race keeps rolling in. Former state Senator Eric Mansfield is officially running for US Senate. Mansfield announced a month or so ago that he was forming an exploratory committee. With Cal Cunningham’s announcement yesterday, Mansfield may have felt pressure to jump in.
Mansfield and Cunningham have similar profiles. Both served in the military and both served one term in the state senate. They also both ran for statewide office, Cunningham for Senate and Mansfield for lieutenant governor, but lost in primaries. Cunningham is an attorney who has helped establish a successful small business, Waste Zero. Mansfield is a doctor who has put together a very successful practice with offices in both Wake and Cumberland Counties. And both men began their political careers in other counties before moving to Wake.
Mansfield, though, starts with a potential base of support that can be formidable. He’s an African-American pastor who has strong support throughout the African-American community. If he can consolidate the African-American voters, he would be the odds-on favorite in a primary where black voters make up 40% of the electorate and a candidate only needs 30% of the vote to secure the nomination without a runoff.
However, Mansfield has a number of obstacles to the nomination. Two other African-American candidates, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller and state Senator Erica Smith, are already in the race. So far, neither has gained much traction, with both showing less than $25,000 raised in the first quarter. If either or both breaks out, though, the African-American vote could get split.
Mansfield will also have to re-introduce himself to donors across the state. He’s been largely absent from prominent political circles since his lieutenant governor’s race in 2012. Instead, he focused on his practice, expanding it to Wake County and then, last year, had a near-fatal car accident after suffering a heart attack while driving. It’s a good story but he’ll have catching up to do as Cunningham has kept his network fresh enough to quickly raise $300,000 in the first month or so of his lieutenant governor’s campaign.
Still, Mansfield is a dynamic and inspiring speaker who can get audiences to their feet. If he can translate that energy to social media and in television ads, he could be a strong candidate. He can also probably make a national fundraising push as an African-American candidate for US Senate in a state where the incumbent is vulnerable.
Neither Mansfield nor Cunningham are exactly the candidates that the Washington Democrats want. They prefer one of three types: current or former Members of the House of Representatives, current or former prominent statewide officeholders such as governor, attorney general, or treasurer, or self-funders. Regardless, both Cunningham and Mansfield have the skills to become formidable general election candidates. It’s a question of whether they have the discipline and political judgment to put together winning campaigns. I hope the DSCC will stay out of the primary and let voters decide.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >