Primary voters are headed to the polls today in North Carolina, a state that the GOP has a lot riding on at the presidential and Congressional levels this November.
House Republicans, hoping to keep their majority this cycle, have a real shot of picking up four seats in the Tar Heel State thanks to a partisan gerrymander.
Blue Dog Democratic Reps. Mike McIntyre and Larry Kissell were drawn into considerably more Republican districts under the new map. Retiring Rep. Heath Shuler’s (D) district is now the most Republican in the state and a likely GOP pickup, and the district represented by retiring Rep. Brad Miller (D) is now a safe GOP seat.
In contested primaries, the winner must take more than 40 percent of the vote or the top two finishers head to a July 17 runoff.
Several GOP Members are facing primaries today but are expected to fine. They include Reps. Renee Ellmers, Walter Jones Jr. and Howard Coble.
Also on the primary ballot today: a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions, as well as the competitive Democratic primary to replace retiring Gov. Beverly Perdue (D). Neither are expected to have a huge effect on any of the Congressional primaries.
Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.
Even the most optimistic Tar Heel Republicans have their doubts about knocking off McIntyre in November. That’s because the momentum in the primary appears to be behind Iraq War veteran and 2010 GOP nominee Ilario Pantano, who lost to McIntyre last cycle by more than 7 points.
Pantano faces what is expected to be a very tight race with state Sen. David Rouzer. Pantano has always had the edge in enthusiasm — Rouzer has a rather severe charisma deficit. But Pantano has raised money like he’s running for a statehouse seat rather than for Congress.
Still, insiders see Pantano as having a geographical advantage in the race and expect him to squeak out a victory.
Pantano, though, is seen as undisciplined and would make a race with McIntyre a Tossup. National Democrats are already poised to paint Pantano as “out of touch with North Carolina families,” citing his work as an investment banker. If Rouzer, a more sober-sounding and vanilla politician, is the nominee, the race leans in the GOP’s favor, but it’s no sure thing.
As if to underscore GOP doubts today about knocking off McIntyre, sources said ambitious Republicans in the state are already making serious inquiries about a 2014 run against the Democrat.
Five Republicans, all serious contenders, are on the ballot today, which means a runoff is highly likely. A top contender is former Capitol Hill aide Richard Hudson, who has had the tacit support of both the Raleigh and Washington, D.C., Republican establishments. He’s been on the air with TV ads introducing himself to the district and has been backed by a radio ad and direct mail from the YG Action Fund, a super PAC affiliated with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
It’s not the only third-party group that’s been on the air for a candidate. The powerful pro-free-market Club for Growth and its affiliated organizations have put more than $300,000 behind dentist Scott Keadle, a former Iredell County commissioner.
Either Keadle or Hudson will probably end up as the nominee, but this primary has a wild card: Vernon Robinson, a former Winston-Salem city councilman. Robinson, a conservative African-American, is a perennial candidate who was the Republican nominee in the 13th district against Miller in 2006 and a candidate for an open seat in the 5th district in 2004. He’s known to have a strong, if not wide, base of support in the state, but it’s unclear how that will translate into votes today.
Also in the race are neurosurgeon John Whitley, who had a sharp campaign ad earlier this year, and state Rep. Fred Steen.
Anything could happen in the primary, but the nominee will have a good shot at beating Kissell in this strong GOP district.
Democrats don’t really have a shot here, and Republicans are almost sure to hold the seat of retiring GOP Rep. Sue Myrick. The top contenders among the 11 Republicans running are former state Sen. Robert Pittenger and Myrick-endorsed Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Pendergraph.
Pittenger, who has spent heavily on the race, probably has the edge. Pendergraph had some momentum but may have stumbled by lurching too far to the right in recent weeks. The Charlotte Observer editorial board rescinded its endorsement of him after he dabbled in birtherism, the false belief that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
Other strong candidates in the vast field include Army veteran and state Rep. Ric Killian and former Charlotte City Councilman Edwin Peacock.
Former Shuler Chief of Staff Hayden Rogers is likely to win the Democratic primary here against Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell. But Rogers faces a very steep slog in holding this seat for Democrats against whomever emerges from the eight-person GOP primary and likely runoff.
The top GOP contender is real estate investor Mark Meadows, a political novice who has built an impressive campaign operation from scratch across the district. He is likely to come out as the top vote-getter, but pulling more than 40 percent of ballots cast in such a crowded field seems a difficult task. Meadows is expected to win the runoff, if there is one, no matter who his opponent is. The second-place finisher appears likely to be businessman Vance Patterson. Also in the race are businessman Ethan Wingfield and local District Attorney Jeff Hunt.
Republicans are assured of picking up this seat, represented by Miller. Voters will determine whether their new Congressman here will be former U.S. Attorney George Holding or Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble (no relation to the North Carolina Congressman). Holding has spent heavily on the race, and a super PAC supporting him has put more than a half-million dollars into the race. That leaves GOP insiders believing he’ll be the victor in what has been a nasty, personal race.
Correction: May 8, 2012
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that no Democrat is running in North Carolina’s 9th district. Democrat Jennifer Roberts will be on the ballot there in November.