Local Politics

Marshall wins Democratic nomination for Senate

Posted June 22, 2010 5:56 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2010 6:59 a.m. EDT

— Elaine Marshall triumphed Tuesday in her second attempt to win her second U.S. Senate primary.

By a 20-point margin, the veteran politician who has served as North Carolina's secretary of state for more than a decade defeated former Army prosecutor Cal Cunningham in the runoff, eight years after her previous bid failed. She will face Republican Sen. Richard Burr in November.

"On the political side, the odds were stacked against us, but we didn't back down," Marshall said at a victory party at the Brownstone Hotel on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. "For those of you who say it can't be done, get out of the way of those of us doing it."

Cunningham, who was recruited by national party officials who backed his campaign with more than $100,000, immediately endorsed Marshall.

"Let us rally behind Elaine Marshall and go on to the fall campaign and make sure she is successful," Cunningham, a lawyer and former state senator, told supporters in his hometown of Lexington.

The results were a blow to Democratic Party leaders in Washington who recruited and supported Cunningham, who argued he had the best chance to beat Burr. He would have been the first Iraq War veteran in the Senate.

"The Washington establishment made it clear that we needed to win this nomination without their help. But, fortunately, we had you," Marshall told supporters Tuesday.

Supporters said they believed Marshall would best represent North Carolina.

"She has really deep roots here in North Carolina, and she represents the people," Marshall supporter Mark Turner said. "I think she is going to serve us very well in Washington."

Marshall argued during her campaign that she has advocated for average citizens and fought against powerful industries. She portrayed herself as an outsider in the race, despite her years in statewide office. It paid off: She took about 60 percent of the vote Tuesday amid weak participation, six weeks after she failed to win a first primary vote outright.

"You like to win by whatever margin, but when it's a nice one, it's very satisfying," Marshall said. "I'm very grateful to all the people who came out and cast a vote and cast a vote for me."

Cunningham said that Democrats need to join together to defeat Burr.

"Any differences that (Marshall) and I might have shared pale next to the differences we have with Richard Burr for the job he has not done on behalf of the people of this state," Cunningham said.

Burr, who easily won the Republican primary in May, and said Tuesday night that the Democratic race has shown that voters will decide in November between "two vastly different directions for our country."

"I have a record of less spending, smaller government, less taxes," Burr said. "She's supported most of what the president has proposed."

The extended primary has already left the Democrats starved for cash. Cunningham reported $100,000 in campaign cash at the beginning of June while Marshall reported slightly less than $200,000. Burr, meanwhile, had stockpiled nearly $5 million as of the middle of April.

The state Democratic party plans to hold a unity rally outside its headquarters at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

A little more than 200,000 votes were cast in Tuesday's runoff elections that also included a few congressional races. Some 425,000 voted in the Democratic primary for Senate in May.

"Any election that has such a low turnout is disappointing," said Gary Bartlett, director of the State Board of Elections.