Tuesday, March 5, 2024

North Carolina Super Tuesday 2024 Primary Watching Guide

By Christopher Cooper

As I post this (2:05 pm on election day), most North Carolinians have cast their ballots and will soon be turning to watching the results. What follows is a guide to watching those results--a cheat sheet, if you will--for what you can expect, when you can expect it, and which races to pay attention to. This guide isn't really meant for people who speak in #ncpol shorthand, but rather for people who spend most of their lives thinking about things other than politics and want to get up to speed quickly. 

With that throat-clearing intro out of the way, here is my (relatively) brief guide to Super Tuesday in North Carolina. 

Who Cares?

There will be a lot more attention and higher voter turnout in November’s General Election, but for many (including most legislative) elections, the primary is where the action is. The reason is that most districts (whether at the local, state, or federal levels) lean so heavily towards one party or the other that the general election is a foregone conclusion. The action is in the primary.


In contrast to many other states that separate the Presidential primary from other party primaries, we do it all at once in North Carolina. It’s a long ballot—and it gets more interesting the farther down you get.


What to Expect & When To Expect It


The deadlines: The last in person early vote in the North Carolina primary was cast Saturday, March 2. Mail ballots must be received by 7:30 pm tonight. Election day voting began at 6:30 AM and eligible voters who are in line at 7:30 pm will be able to cast a vote. Sometimes unexpected eventualities (power outage, etc.) cause polls to stay open later.


In the past, early votes would appear on the NC State Board of Elections web site when the polls closed. This was made possible because county boards of elections were permitted to begin tabulating (not reporting) early votes beginning at 2:00 PM on election day. 

Earlier this year, a law passed by the NC General Assembly (S 747) changed that; county boards can’t begin tabulating early votes until polls close at 7:30. That means that early voting results won’t be released until later. Want more background? Michael Bitzer and I put some links here.


So, beginning around 7:30, the results from mail votes through March 4 will be loaded into the state board of elections. That will be a little more than 23K votes spread across all 100 counties.


Then beginning around 8:00 or 8:30 (probably?) results from in person early voting will begin to come in; we expect a little under 700,000 votes from what has been processed through public data files. The timing will vary by the county. 

After that we’ll begin to get election day ballots. The key thing to remember is any fluctuations in patterns--who’s up/who’s down--are simply because of the (at times random) order the results come in. It’s like watching a baseball game on tape delay—the outcome is already fixed, we are just watching it develop after the fact.


If you want to follow along, just go here, and adjust the dropdown menus to select this election and any other specifics you want to set: https://er.ncsbe.gov/


What do We Know Thus Far


There are two big takeaways from patterns in early voting data that we can see thus far (note: we can’t see who people voted for—just who turned out and which ballot they asked for):

  • Turnout appears to be down a little from 2020.
  • Just shy of 2/3 of Unaffiliated voters (who can choose either party’s ballot) have chosen the Republican ballot. This is important because it is likely means that at least some of these unaffiliated voters lean left, but are voting for who they perceive as the lesser of evils. It’s like you had a family reunion and your 2nd cousins showed up—they’re part of the family….sort of.

We don’t know, of course, whether these are patterns that we are likely to see repeated on election day.


What to Watch


There are hundreds of interesting primaries spread from Murphy to Manteo. Here are a few I’m watching (note: this is NOT all of the interesting stuff, so please don’t @ me).




Background: A recent Republican-majority NC Supreme Court decision invalidated North Carolina’s congressional districts (currently 7 Democrats and 7 Republicans) and authorized creation of new districts—10 of which strongly favor the Republican Party, 3 of which strongly favor the Democratic party and 1 of which (NC 1) is a true-toss up. 

After the new maps were enacted, Democratic incumbents Jeff Jackson (NC-14), Wiley Nickel (NC-13) and Kathy Manning (NC-6) announced that they would not run again. Although his district was still favorable to the Republican Party, Republican incumbent Dan Bishop (NC-8) is not running for re-election and instead is the sole Republican candidate for Attorney General. Republican incumbent Patrick McHenry (NC-10) is also not running for re-election. All together, these changes created 5 open seats.


NC 13: 14 (!) Republicans are running to represent NC-13. The key thing to watch isn’t who gets the most votes, but rather whether the top vote-getter garners 30% of the vote plus one vote. If they do, they are the winner of the primary and almost certainly the general election. If not, the second-place finisher has the option to call for a second primary, which will take place in May.


NC 6: A fascinating election (maybe the most interesting?) featuring 6 candidates, four of whom are generally considered the front-runners. One of them (Addison McDowell) has the Trump endorsement, another (Bo Hines) has the Club for Growth endorsement, and another (Mark Walker) has previously served in Congress and likely has the highest name recognition. What’s going to happen? Your guess is as good as mine.


NC 1: This will likely be the only competitive district in the state in the general election. Republicans Sandy Smith and Laurie Buckhout are trying to unseat first-term U.S. Representative and Democrat Don Davis in the General Election, but they’ve got a messy primary to get through in the meantime.


NC 10: Five Republicans have entered the primary to replace Patrick McHenry. The smart money seems to be on Grey Mills (currently in the NC General Assembly) or Pat Harrigan (who previously ran against Jeff Jackson in the 14th).


NC 8: Six Republicans are trying to replace Dan Bishop in this heavily Republican seat. John Bradford, Allan Baucum and Mark Harris are generally considered the frontrunners. 


General Assembly

Similar to the congressional delegation, the vast majority of General Assembly seats lean heavily towards one party or the other. That means that, in all likelihood, it is the primary that will decide who will serve in Raleigh come January 2025 in the vast majority of cases. An incomplete list of key races to watch:


NC Senate District 22 (Democrat): Incumbent Mike Woodard v. challenger Sophia Chitlik. Classic establishment v. upstart match-up.


NC House District 60 (Democrat): Cecil Brockman v. James Adams. Brockman is the incumbent with a penchant for voting w/ the Republican party more often than his fellow Democrats would like. Both are well-funded, although at lest some of Brockman’s support comes from the GOP aligned groups


NC House District 27 (Democrat): Michael Wray v. Rodney Pierce. Wray is the incumbent and you can just copy and paste what I wrote for HD 60 above.


NC House District 112 (Democrat): When incumbent Tricia Cotham switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party, everyone from her local constituents to the New York Times took note. There’s a competitive Democratic primary to challenge her in the Fall in this hotly contested Charlotte area primary.


NC House District 82 (Republican): Kevin Crutchfield v. Brian Echevarria. Crutchfield is the incumbent; Echevarria has support from some prominent Republicans who believe Crutchfield is too moderate.


Council of State Contests


North Carolina’s Council of State has ten offices—all elected statewide. All of them are up this year.


Governor (Dem and Republican): Sure Josh Stein and Mark Robinson are the front-runners, but this one may tell us a lot about how deep their support is and how strong each party’s respective coalitions are.


Attorney General (Democrat): Jeff Jackson is generally considered the frontrunner, but Durham County DA Santana DeBerry might make this one more competitive than many (including me) originally thought. Similar to the Governor’s race in a lot of ways.


Insurance (Dem and Rep): Both sides of the aisle have had some….interesting developments in this race. 

Labor (Republican): a potentially competitive election that will likely come down to Luke Farley (motto: Make Elevators Great Again) or Jon Hardister (currently in the NC General Assembly).

Again—this is just the tip of the iceburg. There are lots of fascinating, critical elections that will be decided tonight. I’ll be trying to keep up with some of this as results come in on Twitter/X at @chriscooperwcu. I know Michael Bitzer will as well at @bowtiepolitics


I’m also sure we’ll both likely have some post-election thoughts later this week. Once we sleep.


Christopher Cooper is Madison Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs and Director of the Haire Institute for Public Policy at Western Carolina University.