The sleeper race to watch in North Carolina is one in North Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District. Longtime Congressman Howard Coble is retiring, making it an open seat race. Conventional wisdom says that it’s a Republican seat, but that may not be true for long.

Phil Berger, Jr. is considered the Republican frontrunner, in large part because of his name. His father is arguably the most powerful man in the state right now and he’s using his influence to help his son. However, Berger, Jr. has not shown much in the way of political savvy and his campaign, so far, looks like it came from a box.

In addition, the field in the GOP primary is already huge and the filing period still has more than a week left. There are already seven candidates in the race. While nobody has emerged as the anti-Berger yet, somebody will. If I had to bet, I’d put my money on Bruce Von Cannon. He’s running a web video that focuses on broken politics. That’s a smart message and running as an outsider sets up a contrast to Berger.

There are other candidates who could also get traction with a smart and funded campaign. Zack Matheny is in his fourth term on the Greensboro City Council, indicating some political smarts and some base to build on. Mike Causey brings a bit of name recognition since he was the GOP nominee for Insurance Commissioner in 2012. Don Webb and Kenn Kopf appear to be Tea Party candidates and while they might seem nutty to most of us, they appeal to a certain part of the GOP base. Finally, Mark Walker is preacher who will likely appeal to the social conservatives.

With seven candidates in the race, this one will almost certainly go to a runoff. That insures that candidates will expend valuable resources and the nominee will need to start rebuilding in the middle of the summer. It also could leave the Republican base disenchanted, depending on the nominee.

On the Democratic side, Laura Fjeld will almost certainly be the nominee. She faces a challenge from Greensboro City Councilman Bruce Davis, but she has a huge head start in organization and money. Davis has run for state senate several times and never raised significant money. In addition, the primary will be made up of almost 60% women and Fjeld has a profile that will appeal to them.

While the district certainly leans Republican, slightly more Democrats than Republicans are likely to show up in the general election, though almost one in five will be unaffiliated. In addition, the areas of growth in the district are Orange and Durham Counties, both Democratic strongholds.

The right circumstances could make the race competitive. The outcome of the Republican primary will be the major factor and Fjeld will need a less-than-hostile political environment. Still, it’s a race to watch.

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 >

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