Raleigh, N.C. — And so it begins.
The candidate filing period for partisan contests in North Carolina closed Monday at noon, with some contests getting more crowded at the last minute. Unlike in one-third of legislative race, most high-profile incumbents running in statewide races, such as U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, won't get a free ride during next year's March 15 primary or November general election.
The complete list of candidates for next year's partisan races run through hundreds of contests, including county commissioner and local coroner. Here are some of the more notable 2016 contests:
Burr faces three Republican primary opponents. Although Larry Holmquist and Paul Wright are not household names, Cary obstetrician Greg Brannon's entry into the race drew attention Monday morning. Brannon placed second to now-U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis in the 2014 Republican primary and has remained a favorite among the conservative wing of the party, particularly those who see many GOP leaders as too willing to compromise.
The winner of the Republican primary will face the winner of a four-way Democratic primary. The best known names on that ballot are former Wake County lawmaker Deborah Ross and Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey. Durham businessman Kevin Griffin and Ernest Reeves, who has run for mayor of Greenville, are also seeking the Senate seat.
All 13 members of North Carolina's U.S. House delegation have filed to run for re-election, but none may face a steeper climb than 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers.
Ellmers has four Republican primary opponents. Frank Roche and Tim D'Annunzio are veteran campaigners, and Jim Duncan has the endorsement of the well-heeled Club for Growth. The fourth challenger in the race, Kay Daly, made a splash earlier this year with an ad in which she declared she was "hunting RINOs" like Ellmers, punctuating the comment by firing a shotgun.
The winner will face Democrat Adam Coker, who filed to run in the closing hours of the candidate registration period.
The race for governor next year has long been thought to be a looming showdown between Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper. Both men are favored in the March 15 primary.
McCrory will have to get past two primary opponents, including Robert Brawley, a former lawmaker from Iredell County known for bucking the GOP establishment.
Cooper faces Democrat Ken Spaulding, a Durham lawyer and former lawmaker who has been critical of the attorney general's handling of high-profile criminal cases.
The attorney general's race is another contest in which two well-known political names are expected to meet in the general election. But both state Sens. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, and Josh Stein, D-Wake, have party primaries.
Newton will square off against Jim O'Neil, the district attorney in Forsyth County. Stein's primary opponent is Marcus Williams, who has run unsuccessfully for state Senate and U.S. Senate.
Court of Appeals
Four North Carolina Court of Appeals seats are up for election next fall, and all four incumbents are running for re-election.
The most interesting race on the ballot may be Judge Linda Stephens re-election race, in which she faces Phil Berger, Jr., the son of the powerful Senate president pro tem. Berger is a former Rockingham County district attorney who lost a 2014 primary to take over former 6th District Congressman Howard Coble's seat in Congress.
Stephens is a Democrat, and Berger is a Republican. Although the race is technically nonpartisan, both candidates' party affiliations will be listed on the ballot as part of a new state law.
Most political observers say the down-ballot contests will all be seen through the filter of the presidential race.
"Those races are very interesting to those of use who follow politics, but the voters next November are really going to see it through the presidential campaign and the governor's race and the Senate race," Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said. "So, these races have very important meaning for voters and citizens of the state of North Carolina, but most of the attention is going to be at the top."
McLennan noted two other statewide races of note.
With State Treasurer Janet Cowell stepping down, former Republican lawmaker and current Division of Employment Security chief Dale Folwell wants to run the state pension system. He will face the primary winner between Democrats Dan Blue III, a Raleigh lawyer, and Cary financial manager Ron Elmer.
The state auditor race pits incumbent Democrat Beth Wood against Republican Chuck Stuber, a former FBI agent who investigated various public corruption cases, including former House Speaker Jim Black.
"This is a race that's pretty interesting because both have credibility across party lines," McLennan said.