Alexander Jones: Three questions after the primary

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 25, 2022

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ast week saw one of the livelier primaries North Carolina has held in recent years. But for all the uncertainty surrounding outcomes when the polls closed, most of the highest-profile races shook out without surprises. We’re heading toward November with a slate of nominees who won what they were supposed to win and are, presumably, ready for the maelstrom that is a North Carolina general election. Here are three questions that could help determine the final results of North Carolina’s first post-Trump scrum.

• Can Cheri Beasley overcome the political headwinds? Right now, the Democratic nominee probably needs a political earthquake to reset the terms of midterm competition. The political environment facing her party verges on catastrophic, and even such a talented and accomplished politician as Beasley may struggle to score a win while facing such stiff headwinds. But there’s a recent history of strong Black candidates in the South running well ahead of the national ticket, due to a combination of strong performance among African Americans and impressive crossover appeal to the white vote. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Mike Espy of Mississippi, and Beasley herself all outpaced Joe Biden in their 2020 efforts. Beasley could conceivably make this a race by inspiring low-propensity voters to turn out in a midterm and winning over suburban voters, particularly women, repelled by Ted Budd’s extremist MAGA politics. It’s a stretch, but stranger things have happened in an era when reality TV personality Donald Trump was able to become president of the United States.

• What happens in NC-13? North Carolina’s 13th District faces a race between two candidates who could hardly have less in common. Democrat Wiley Nickel is a liberal-leaning attorney from Wake County with two terms of experience in the state Senate and a record almost entirely free of controversy. Nickel’s opponent, Bo Hines, is a disingenuous 26-year-old bomb thrower who has never lived anywhere near the district, never held a real job, and has coined a doggerel slogan that could have been invented by the old Budweiser frogs from the early 2000s. Nickel is a fine state Senator and an effective critic of the reactionary right, but he’ll have to do some adroit outreach to the more culturally Southern counties that make up half the district. It’ll be good practice for a party that needs to “lose by less” in counties like Johnston and Harnett. Or, as Hines would describe the task, good “reps.”

• What does Pat McCrory do? His high-drama, low-accomplishment political career may have ended with a third defeat in four statewide campaigns. One thing we know about the failed Republican is that he doesn’t take losses well and he holds grudges. After Roy Cooper defeated him on election night 2016, McCrory spent months smearing average citizens with false accusations of voter fraud, and he carried with him an edge of grievance over the defeat for years and years. Will this vindictive insecurity land on Ted Budd? McCrory has a legitimate case to make that he was treated very poorly (even deplorably?) by Donald Trump, the Club for Growth, and parts of the Republican establishment in North Carolina. By sticking around like a wasp or a bumblebee and making things hard for Ted Budd, McCrory could impact this race. And not in a way that Ted Budd would welcome.

Alexander H. Jones is a policy analyst with Carolina Forward. He lives in Chapel Hill. Have feedback? Reach him at alex@carolinaforward.org.

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