Primaries are filling up early this year, especially for lieutenant governor. On the Democratic side, Sen. Terry Van Duyn, former state senator Cal Cunningham and Rep. Yvonne Holley are in. Rep. Chaz Beasley sure sounds like he’s running but so far just says he’s exploring a run. Former state senator Malcolm Graham says the same thing. Others are looking at it, too.

On the Republican side, only one candidate is official, former Mount Airy mayor Deborah Cochran, but numerous other people are considering a bid including former Congresswoman Renee Elmers and state Rep. Mark Brody. The primary will almost certainly get crowded before the end of the year. 

The lieutenant governor’s seat is open because Dan Forest is term limited. He’ll almost certainly run for governor. LG is considered a launching point for higher office, though lieutenant governor has been a career ender in recent decades. For many candidates, it’s hard to make the transition from LG to another statewide position.

On the Democratic side, the crowded primary leaves a lot of uncertainty. African-Americans make up 35-40 percent of a Democratic primary and, in recent years, they’ve voted as a block, propelling candidates like Linda Coleman into the general election. With multiple black candidates, the equation becomes more fuzzy. Women make up about 60% of Democratic primary voters and they, too, have been more unified in the wake of the #MeToo movement.  Again, with multiple women running it’s anybody’s game. Because the legislature reduced the threshold for a runoff to 30%, it’s probably a winner-take-all game this year.

The other race that’s garnering a lot of attention is the US Senate race. Incumbent Republican Thom Tillis won’t likely face a serious primary but the Democratic field is starting to take shape. Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller is in. So is state Senator Erica Smith. Neither candidate has much statewide name recognition and both would seem to be longshots. For Fuller, the move from County Commissioner to US Senate is a big leap. For Smith, coming from a sparsely populated rural district makes building a substantial base a challenge. More candidates are looking at the race and almost certainly somebody from the legislature with an urban district and profile will jump in. 

In running for US Senate, the primary qualification is the ability to raise money. It’s not that money is the most important thing, but all the most important things cost money. That said, with a primary in March, candidates will have ample time to replenish spent war chests or build new ones if the race looks competitive.

In looking at the candidates, the races will reflect the parties. So far, most ofthe Republican prospects hail from the rural areas they dominate, while Democrats are coming out of the metropolitan areas. The general election in North Carolina may well be as urban versus as rural as we’ve ever seen. 

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