Local Politics

Officials expect weak turnout in runoff

Posted June 22, 2010 4:04 a.m. EDT
Updated June 22, 2010 12:51 p.m. EDT

— Election officials anticipate tepid participation in a runoff election Tuesday that will shape the top of North Carolina's ballot this year and settle some primaries for Congress and a state legislative post.

Democratic voters around the state will decide the party's nominee for U.S. Senate, ending a grueling primary between Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham that went into overtime after a first vote in early May failed to produce an outright winner. Election organizers estimated that 100,000 to 150,000 people may actually participate in the Senate runoff, compared to the 425,000 who chose from among six candidates in May.

Polls are open until 7:30 p.m. WRAL-TV and WRAL.com will have live, updated results beginning after the polls close.

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"Now is the time to make the choice to determine who your nominee will be," said Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections.

So far, voters appear uninterested in the results, with only a sparse 38,000 turning out in early balloting across the state. Both candidates said voters seemed distracted by summer vacations. Marshall noted that there was a lack of local races to draw interest, so her campaign was trying to target voters who had a track record of turning out in all elections.

"We're just trying to hunt where the birds are," said Marshall, North Carolina's secretary of state.

Marshall and Cunningham will top the ballot across the state for those voting on the Democratic ticket, and the winner will move on to challenge Republican Sen. Richard Burr in November. The runoff will also settle three Republican primaries for Congress and a Democratic race for state Senate.

Cunningham, a Lexington attorney and former state senator, has been a favorite of party leaders in Washington who view him as the best candidate to defeat Burr. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has spent more than $100,000 to help his campaign. In a final automated call to voters, retired General Wesley Clark urged North Carolina residents to come out and support Cunningham, an Iraq War veteran.

Cunningham said he was focused on making sure voters knew there was an election, and he was still spending time introducing himself to those who may cast a ballot.

"Elaine has a 14-year head start with educating Democrats about who she is," Cunningham said. "We've been carrying an extra burden of making sure the Democrats are comfortable with where I stand on the issues and are comfortable with this candidacy."

Cunningham has said he would bring a "new face" and fresh energy to Washington.

Although Marshall has more experience in politics, she has used Cunningham's support from Washington to cast herself as the outsider. She won 36 percent of the vote in the first primary in early May, while Cunningham finished second with 27 percent and exercised his right to request a runoff.

In the 8th Congressional District along the state's south-central border, voters have watched a contentious Republican primary between two candidates seeking a slot on the ballot in North Carolina's most competitive district. Democrat Larry Kissell won the seat two years ago.

Tim D'Annunzio, a GOP businessman who has poured more than $1.2 million of his own money in the race, drew early support from tea party activists for his platform to dismantle entire branches of the federal government. But Republican leaders have since denounced him after documents from D'Annunzio's messy divorce indicated a history of years-ago crimes, drug use and bizarre religious claims.

He's facing off against former Charlotte sportscaster Harold Johnson.

In the Republican primary for the 13th Congressional District, which stretches from Raleigh to Greensboro and along the Virginia border, voters will decide between magazine publisher Bernie Reeves and retired Navy officer Bill Randall. In the party's 12th District race, voters will have computer industry employee Scott Cumbie security firm executive Greg Dority on the ballot. Those winners will move on to face Democratic lawmakers who have comfortably retained their seats in past elections.

Democratic voters in Cumberland County also have a state Senate race between Eric Mansfield and Lula Crenshaw.