Blog: Primary day in NC
Posted May 8, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — 10:55 p.m. The primary included some warning signs for President Barack Obama, where 21 percent of Democratic voters selected "no preference" on their ballots instead of casting votes for the president.
Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008, and many national observers say it will be a critical state for him to carry this fall. He has visited the state about a half-dozen times in the past year to discuss issues from student loans to alternative energy to the troop withdrawal from Iraq.
10:15 p.m. Bob Etheridge concedes the Democratic gubernatorial race to Walter Dalton but congratulates his staff on putting together a campaign quickly and on a shoestring budget.
"The past couple of months have really been a sprint and a marathon rolled into one," Etheridge said. "I got into this race to bring attention to issues that I thought needed to be addressed."
He pledged his support to Dalton to defeat Pat McCrory in November.
10:07 p.m. Granville County Board of Elections Chairwoman Wanda Gill said three precincts had to remain open until 8:30 p.m. because they had run out of forms that voters are handed at check-in stations before getting a ballot.
Granville County deputies had to deliver additional forms to the polling places.
10 p.m. Walter Dalton's celebration got off to a rocky start when his microphone wasn't turned on at his victory party.
Once that glitch was fixed, Dalton said primary night was the beginning of a journey "to bring victory in November and move North Carolina forward."
He said he plans to focus on maintaining a quality public school and higher education system for the state, which he said are necessary to restore economic growth.
"Because of Pat McCrory and the Republican leadership in the General Assembly, North Carolina has lost its vision," he said, criticizing budget cuts to K-12 and community colleges. "Our future has been damaged, and our present has been damaged."
"The choice is very clear – are we going to be bold and move forward or be stagnant and let others pass us by," he said.
9:52 p.m. Walter Dalton has won the Democratic nomination for governor, beating back a challenge from former Congressman Bob Etheridge.
Dalton's victory sets up a contest in November between him and former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.
9:35 p.m. Despite their loss, marriage amendment foes cheered their efforts during a Raleigh gathering.
"While we're disappointed in tonight's vote," said Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for Protect All NC Families, "it galvanized and mobilized people across this country in ways we never knew imaginable."
Kennedy noted the door-to-door and phone contacts made with tens of thousands of voters and said "those conversations cannot be stopped and cannot be undone."
"It's OK to grieve, but I want us to leave with a sense of pride," he said.
9:22 p.m. Marriage amendment supporters celebrated the passage of the proposal to write a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions into the state constitution.
"We are not anti-gay. We are pro-marriage," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of Vote For Marriage NC.
Fitzgerald thanked all of the church leaders who helped organize support for the amendment and state lawmakers who put the issue on the ballot, including the late Sen. Jim Forrester.
Forrester's widow wept as Fitzgerald hugged her amid cheers from the crowd.
"Your efforts send a loud message to the country – we will not allow marriage to be redefined," Fitzgerald said to supporters.
9:11 p.m. The constitutional amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal union recognized in North Carolina appears like it will pass.
With 30 percent of precincts reporting, those in favor of the amendment lead those against 57 to 43 percent.
9:05 p.m. The Republican lieutenant governor contest appears to be headed for a runoff, with Wake Forest architect Dan Forest and Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley holding the top two spots after a quarter of the state's precincts have been counted.
Forest, the son of longtime Congresswoman Sue Myrick, has 33 percent of the vote so far, and he needs to top 40 percent to avoid a runoff. Gurley was fourth in the five-man race early but now has 28 percent of the vote.
On the Democratic side, state personnel chief Linda Coleman has a comfortable 56 to 44 percent lead over state Sen. Eric Mansfield.
9 p.m. Is the Wake County school board a launching pad for political careers? Three board members running for higher office all lead their races in early returns.
Chris Malone appears to have wrapped up a spot in the general election for House District 35, with 56 percent of the vote and 83 percent of precincts reporting. Meanwhile, John Tedesco has 33 percent of the vote in the Republican primary for state education superintendent, and Debra Goldman has 34 percent of the GOP vote for state auditor.
8:51 p.m. The metro areas of the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte have come out strong against the marriage amendment, as has Watauga County, home of Appalachian State University. All other areas of the state are supporting the amendment, which has a 56 to 44 percent lead with 22 percent of ballots counted.
8:45 p.m. State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and State Treasurer Janet Cowell have been declared winners in their respective primaries. Their opponents in the fall election haven't been decided yet.
8:42 p.m. Bob Etheridge is closing fast on Walter Dalton for the Democratic nod for governor. Dalton had close to 60 percent of the vote in early returns, but his lead was down to 44 to 40 percent with 19 percent of the ballots counted.
8:39 p.m. First District Congressman G.K. Butterfield has won his primary, with more than 82 percent of the vote in early returns.
8:35 p.m. Pat McCrory said North Carolina's economy and educational system need to be turned around.
"No. 1 in quality of life, No. 1 in employment, No. 1 in education, that's our goal," McCrory said.
The Democrats are part of a failed system that doesn't want to change the state for the better, he said.
"We're going to be a state where people make things and not just buy them," he said, adding that students from K-12 to the university system need to learn the skills necessary to get quality jobs.
"The real battle begins today," he said. "The other side is going to throw everything at us."
McCrory called for unity statewide to solve North Carolina's problems and rebuild the state for the future.
8:32 p.m. Pat McCrory speaks to a raucous crowd in a Charlotte bar, taking the stage to The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."
McCrory said he had already spoken to Mitt Romney and said they plan to work together to shift North Carolina to the Republican Party in the fall.
8:30 p.m. North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes has been busy issuing congratulatory statements, first to Mitt Romney and then to Pat McCrory.
"Pat has a plan to get North Carolina working again. He understands that we need true educational reform so that we can train a new generation of North Carolinians to join the workforce. He believes in the people of our great state, and he will create an environment for them to prosper. I look forward to working hard over the coming months to elect Pat McCrory as the next Governor of North Carolina,” Hayes said.
8:20 p.m. Former federal prosecutor George Holding has grabbed an early lead over Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble in the hard-fought 13th Congressional District. With almost half of the votes counted, Holding is up 43 to 37 percent.
Democratic Congressman Brad Miller has represented the 13th District for 10 years, but he decided not to seek re-election after the Republican-controlled General Assembly redrew the district to be more favorable to a Republican candidate.
In other congressional races, incumbents G.K. Butterfield, Walter Jones, Howard Coble and Larry Kissell hold sizable leads in their primaries.
8:10 p.m. Apex police arrested two people at a polling place at Lufkin Road Middle School, saying they threatened a poll worker.
Colleen Mary Brock, 50, and her husband, Troy Scott Hale, 51, both of 103 Gables Gate Court in Apex, were charged with misdemeanor assault and creating a public disturbance.
Police said Brock became irate when a poll worker insisted she state her name, address and political affiliation before being given a ballot. She and Hale then yelled at the worker, police said.
Melvin Martinez Jr., 24, stepped in and told the couple to stop speaking to the poll worker like that, and Hale picked up a polling sign and was prepared to hit Martinez when Brock shoved Martinez, police said.
8:08 p.m. Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory is the Republican nominee for North Carolina governor. He has more than 85 percent of the vote in early returns.
7:55 p.m. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been projected as the winner of North Carolina's primary. He had about 70 percent of the vote in early returns.
Meanwhile, supporters of the marriage amendment have opened up a lead over opponents.
7:45 p.m. Initial results have started coming in from the State Board of Elections. Opponents to proposed marriage amendment have grabbed a narrow lead, while Walter Dalton and Pat McCrory have sizable leads in the gubernatorial contests.
7:30 p.m. Polls have closed statewide.
6 p.m. Gubernatorial candidates are prepping for election night, with Democrats Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and former Congressman Bob Etheridge set to meet supporters in Raleigh and former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory celebrating his expected Republican nomination in the Queen City.
Dalton managed to raise four times the cash as Etheridge and other Democrats, and he used that advantage to raise his profile statewide in the sprint to the nomination after Gov. Beverly Perdue said in January that she wouldn't seek re-election.
Etheridge has been pounding the pavement statewide in recent weeks in an old-fashioned grassroots campaign and get-out-the-vote effort. He has focused on his political experience and educational background and said he is peaking at the right time.
McCrory has an overwhelming cash advantage, having been raising money for the past year and keeping his name in the mix since he narrowly lost to Perdue four years ago.
5:05 p.m. Gary Bartlett, director of the State Board of Elections, said his agency has received sporadic reports of voters receiving the wrong ballots and encouraged people to speak with poll workers about the mistake.
Abby Baswell said she received a ballot intended for 17-year-old voters when she went to vote in Chatham County. She said she pointed out the mistake – her ballot didn't include the vote on the proposed marriage amendment – and workers swapped it for the correct ballot.
"It was a little disconcerting for me," Baswell said, adding with a laugh, "Clearly, I look younger than I am."
4:34 p.m. Elizabeth Haddix, a staff attorney with the UNC Center for Civil Rights, has been helping to man a voter protection hotline today. She says the hotline has gotten calls about voters who were given ballots without the amendment question from across the state, although should could not say how many.
"A reasonable assumption is that it is poll worker confusion," Haddix said. She said in at least some cases poll workers didn't know there were two different types of ballots, which she described as a "training issue."
She said the hotline has also gotten calls about churches that serve as polling places with pro-amendment messages on their signs.
"We're looking into whether that would be a violation of the statute," she said. Most institutions that serve as a polling places sign an agreement not to allow election communications on their campuses, she said.
2:31 p.m. Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections, said she has not gotten any reports of voters receiving ballots without the amendment.
She said bar code scanners in each precinct match each voter to the right ballot. As long as poll workers don't over-rule the computer, there should be no problems, she said.
"I feel pretty good about it," Poucher said, noting that she would normally get any complaints lodged by voters during an election.
Voters who vote a ballot and then realize that it did not have the amendment on it would be allowed to vote a second provisional ballot. But there is not guarantee that second ballot would be counted.
2:17 p.m. Rachel Lee, a spokeswoman for the pro-amendment Vote for Marriage, said her group had not received any reports of voting problems that she knew about.
"Everything seems to be going along just fine," Lee said.
When asked about reports that voters were getting ballots without the amendment question, Lee said she had not heard about that but would check with her group's grass roots workers.
When she called back, Lee confirmed her group had gotten no such reports.
2:08 p.m. Susan Varady, 38, is an unaffiliated voter, so could choose to vote in any party's primary this morning. She choose to vote the Libertarian ballot, and was apparently the first person to do so at her the Coker Hills precinct in Chapel Hill, which votes at Phillips Middle School.
She said election officials had trouble scanning her ballot into the system.
"The scanner didn't make the little beep you'd think it should," said Varady, a licensed psychologist. After several minutes of confusion, the election official just handed her the ballot.
When she got to the voting booth, Varady found that the ballot she had been given did not have the amendment question.
"The main reason I wanted to vote today was because of the amendment," she said.
When Varady brought the problem to election officials' attention, they, too, were confused. Eventually, she was given an unaffiliated ballot to vote that did have the amendment question.
"I think it was an honest mistake," she said. However, Varady said she was concerned for folks who might be registered Libertarian.
An e-mail Varady received from Tracy Reams, Orange County's director of elections, apologized for the problem and said that election officials should not have bypassed the scanners.
A slow but steady stream of voters came into polls Tuesday to cast their ballot on whether to amend the state constitution to ban all domestic partnerships except marriage between one man and one woman and who to nominate among major party candidates for president, governor and other statewide and legislative seats.
State election officials reported moderate turnout, except in the mountains where it was raining. Wake and Durham counties had steady turnout, officials said.
Polls close at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Some voters will find new names on their ballots because the General Assembly redrew maps for congressional and legislative districts last year, shifting around voters and office holders.
Voters who registered with a political party must vote in that party's primary. Voters registered as unaffiliated may vote in either party's primary or vote on a non-partisan ballot, which has judges' races and the amendment on it.
A small number of ballots made for voters aged 17 do not have an option to vote on the marriage amendment. State law permits 17-year-olds to vote in primaries in general elections for which they will be 18, but not for a final vote such as the amendment referendum.
Both election officials and amendment opponents say they have gotten sporadic reports of voters over the age of 18 getting the version of the ballot without the amendment.
"We have received sporadic calls but few specifics," said Gary Bartlett, director of the N.C. Board of Elections. "Every county in which we get a report, we call and direct to make contact with the polling officials for explanation and instruction.... (It) doesn't appear to be an epidemic."
Alex Miller, co-chairman of the anti-amendment Coalition to Protect All NC Families, said his group has gotten reports from at least eight counties of voters getting the wrong ballots. Orange, Chatham and Wake counties are among those.
In Chatham, he said, at least one polling place distributed the 17-year-old ballot until a voter complained.
"How many people voted before that person lined up?" Miller said.
Some other ballots have the amendment printed on the back.
Abby Baswell, who lives in Chatham County, said she was at the Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church at 6:27 a.m. this morning to vote. Elections officials there were having problems with equipment but eventually were able to let voters in.
As she reviewed her ballot, Baswell said, she notice the amendment wasn't listed.
"I got to the end and thought, 'Where's the amendment,'" she said.
A poll worker explained there were two versions of the ballot, one with and one without the amendment. Election workers spoiled her first ballot and gave her the correct one to vote.
"At the time, it all felt very sketchy," she said. Afterward, she learned that there were a small subset of ballots for 17-year-old voters that don't have the amendment question.
"I think it was an honest mistake," she said.
Marriage amendment drives high turnout
Voters expressed intense interest in the proposed amendment that states that "marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized" in North Carolina.
"Clearly, the amendment is a big topic that everybody wanted to have their voices heard on," Jessica Horton said as she voted at the Chavis Center in Raleigh Tuesday morning.
She joined more than a half-million people who cast their ballots in early and absentee voting, an 8 percent turnout.
Amendment opponents say it might lead public employers to drop health insurance for unmarried couples with children, weaken domestic violence laws and discourage businesses from coming to North Carolina.
"The real issue in this amendment is not marriage. The real issue is that this amendment's going to hurt people. It's going to do harm, and that, as a follower of Jesus, as a Christian, trumps everything else," said Rev. Michael Curry, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.
Durham County commissioners voted 5-0 Monday to keep offering benefits to domestic partners regardless of whether the amendment passes. County attorneys said that the amendment's language wouldn't prevent them from offering those benefits, although that could change depending on court rulings.
Backers say those claims are misleading and that the amendment is necessary to prevent courts from ordering North Carolina to recognize gay marriage in the future.
"In other states, judges have redefined marriage, without a vote of the people. That's happened in California, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts," said Tami Fitzgerald, who heads the pro-amendment group Vote FOR Marriage NC. "The origin of marriage is from God, and I think most people in our state know that."
In the final days before the vote, North Carolina voters heard from national political and religious leaders.
"I want you to take a stand for God's definition of marriage, and that's between a man and a woman," evangelist Franklin Graham said in a radio ad. His father, Rev. Billy Graham, was featured in full-page newspaper ads backing the amendment.
On the other side, former President Bill Clinton recorded phone messages urging voters to oppose the amendment: "The real effect of the law is not to keep the traditional definition of marriage. You've already done that. The real effect of the law will be to hurt families and drive away jobs."
Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressed support for gay marriage early this week. Obama campaign representatives said the president's views are still "evolving," though he supports most gay rights.
A recent WRAL News poll suggests that the amendment will pass: 57 percent of likely voters surveyed said they would vote for it, while 37 percent were against it.
American voters have disapproved a gay marriage ban only in the 33 times it has been on a ballot since 1998. A law that would have also banned civil unions was defeated in Arizona, and voters approved a narrower ban two years later.
In North Carolina, some state lawmakers called for a marriage amendment as early as 2004, but proposals didn't make it out of committee until Republicans gained control of the state Legislature from Democrats in 2010.
Surprise Democratic race for governor
Less than four months ago, a rematch between 2008 Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory and Gov. Beverly Perdue appeared likely, but Perdue's decision not to seek reelection spurred a six-way race for the Democratic nomination.
A WRAL News poll conducted last week had Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton leading former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge 32 to 23 percent, with nearly a third of voters undecided. However, in a poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling, Etheridge had cut into Dalton's lead, 34 to 29 percent, and only 24 percent of likely Democratic voters remained undecided.
If no candidate wins more than 40 percent, a runoff will be held this summer.
In a three-month dash for donations and endorsements, the debates, ads and rhetoric stayed tame and cordial until recently Dalton's campaign sent out a mailer claiming that free trade agreements Etheridge had voted for sent North Carolina manufacturing jobs overseas.
Etheridge suggested Dalton was using the racially tinged campaign tactics of the late Republican Sen. Jesse Helms by targeting mailers for black voters. "Tell a half-truth. It's a whole lie," Etheridge said. "I do think he should apologize."
Dalton said he stands by the mailer and has no plans to apologize.
"Those trade votes (in Congress were important) because jobs are so important to North Carolina," he said. "Where did the jobs go? They went offshore because of that bill where he was only one of a handful of Democrats that voted with the Bush administration."
Etheridge, 70, of Harnett County, has the longest political resume, including five terms in the Legislature, eight years as state schools superintendent and 14 years in Congress. He said the state needs experience, he isn't afraid to battle with Republicans, and he is willing to make tough decisions, such as voting with Obama for the 2010 health care overhaul.
Dalton has run on accomplishments in education, including sponsoring a 2003 law that expanded the state's early college program in high schools and efforts as lieutenant governor to match school curriculum with needs of emerging business fields. He said his series of victories over Republicans in a GOP-leaning Senate district showed he could beat somebody like McCrory.
The other Democratic candidates, all polling in the single digits, are state Rep. Bill Faison, 90-year-old retired doctor Bruce Blackmon, student and former manufacturing executive Gary Dunn and former U.S. inspector general Gardenia Henley.
McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte, faces five other candidates for the GOP nomination but is expected to win by a comfortable margin. The WRAL News poll showed him with 63 percent support.
Libertarian Barbara Howe is unopposed for her party's nomination.
Presidential race starting up in NC
On Tuesday, North Carolina voters will likely move presidential hopeful Mitt Romney one step closer to securing the Republican nomination in a state that he and President Barack Obama consider integral to their general election campaigns.
Indiana and West Virginia are also slated for primaries Tuesday, but even a convincing win by Romney in all states would leave him just shy of the 1,144 delegates he needs to win the nomination.
Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich will appear on the Republican ballot but have withdrawn their candidacies. Ron Paul, who has 94 delegates, will also appear on the ballot.
Both party's presidential front runners recently spoke in North Carolina. Obama spoke at UNC-Chapel Hill on April 24 regarding student loan debt. The week prior, Romney addressed jobs, gas prices and health care costs.
Down-ballot races have picks for Congress, state legislature
The General Assembly redrew voting maps for congressional and legislative districts last year, forcing some veteran candidates to introduce themselves to voters who weren't in their districts previously.
Second District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, who beat Etheridge in 2010, lost Johnston County from her district but picked up much of Chatham County. Portions of Durham, Orange, Granville and Person counties are now represented by longtime Congressman Howard Coble in the 6th District.
The 13th District in Wake County has been represented by Congressman Brad Miller for the past decade. He was drawn out of the district and chose not to seek re-election, and Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble and former U.S. Attorney George Holding have been waging an intense battle for the Republican nomination in the new district, while 2010 nominee Bill Randall has run a low-key campaign.