Lieutenant Governor’s Race: Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest (R) vs. Former State Personnel Director Linda Coleman (D)

If there’s any race that will be determined almost completely by turnout, this one is it: the lieutenant governor’s race, which is a rematch between incumbent Dan Forest and his 2012 Democratic opponent, former legislator and state personnel director Linda Coleman. Forest won their last battle by a little more than 6,000 votes, or 0.14%, so he has little room for error.

Ask the average voter what the lieutenant governor does, and you’ll most likely be met with a blank stare. The only official duties are presiding over the State Senate (which is not technically a requirement) and taking over should the governor be unable to serve.

But mostly the role of the lieutenant governor is to advocate for issues and to position himself or herself for the top job. The consensus is that Forest wants to be governor someday, and he’s been fairly high-profile given his position, taking up a variety of socially conservative issues, especially school choice. A darling of the traditionalist conservatives and the son of former U.S. Representative Sue Myrick, Forest has considerable popularity among Republicans and would be the clear frontrunner for the GOP nomination for governor four years from now – that is, if he can get past Coleman.

The Democratic nominee, despite winning her primary with a majority, isn’t actually the strongest candidate. She was strongly supported by the SEANC during her 2012 campaign, an organization that has since then been on the decline. But there’s no doubt she’ll have the resources to run a competitive campaign. In addition, she has two more assets: her race (she’s black) and her gender. Women tend to get a small boost at the ballot box, and Coleman won’t be an exception. She’ll also potentially benefit from strong turnout from African Americans. Blacks, suburban women, and blue dog rural Democrats are her ticket to winning, and doing just a tiny bit better among any one of those groups could help her claim the victory that so narrowly eluded her in 2012.

Forest has a number of strengths, too. Among them: name recognition from being Lieutenant Governor for four years, fundraising ability, appeal in the Charlotte area, and not least, a very catchy slogan (“Run, Forest, Run!”) which he could easily incorporate into a memorable ad. In addition, Forest has that rare ability to bridge the gap in the Republican Party between the Tea Party and the establishment, and also to take strong socially conservative positions without alienating moderates.

But there’s no doubt about it: this is definitely a below-the-radar contest and it won’t be determined by the candidates or their platforms. Instead, it will be determined by turnout, and that means Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton is going to play a decisive role in who wins. Forest is also tied to McCrory in some ways, so if McCrory gets tossed out it’s likely Forest is out of a job too. They’re not necessarily a two-for-one deal but they’re very close to it.

And of course, there’s HB 2. As the social conservative in the race, it’s clear where Forest stands on the issue, and the fallout from the law could hurt him in November – or help, if it diminishes Coleman’s appeal among old-school white Democrats. It’s just yet another unknown in this race where the known knowns are very few – among them, that the final result will be close, and success or failure is largely out of the hands of the two candidates.

Race Rating: Pure Toss-Up

2012 Result
50.1% Forest
49.9% Coleman

Voter Registration
40.3% Democratic
30.5% Republican
28.7% Unaffiliated

70.3% White
22.3% Black
7.4% Other

Results in Other Elections
2014 Senate
48.8% Tillis
47.3% Hagan

2012 President

50.4% Romney
48.4% Obama

2012 Governor
54.6% McCrory
43.2% Dalton

2010 Senate
54.8% Burr
43.1% Marshall

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