Updated: 11:34 p.m.
North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall just didn’t have enough in the tank to put the Democratic Senate primary away Tuesday night, and she is headed to a June 22 runoff with former state Sen. Cal Cunningham.
Marshall took 36 percent of the vote, not enough to break the 40 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Cunningham was in second place with just under 27 percent.
Though Marshall was outraised, outspent and had less of a television presence across the state, her supporters had hoped that the four-term secretary of state’s higher name identification would carry her to an outright victory.
“Secretary Marshall had a decisive victory tonight,” campaign adviser Thomas Mills said. “If it drags on for six more weeks, we’ll win by a larger margin than we did tonight. They’ve been running this race for over a year, they ran more television, they had the backing of the Washington establishment and they failed to catch the imagination of the voters of North Carolina.”
Cunningham, who didn’t enter the race until December, saw his numbers surge in recent weeks after he began a three-week media campaign that was unmatched by Marshall.
Heading into Tuesday’s election, Cunningham’s camp said that growth would only have continued if they were given six more weeks to campaign.
“We started this race 37 points behind and virtually unknown, running against a 4-time statewide office-holder.” Cunningham said in a statement released by his campaign. “In a few short weeks, we’ve seen North Carolina Democrats respond loud and clear to our plans to create jobs in North Carolina and to challenge Richard Burr head on for his record of leaving North Carolina families behind. That’s why we’ve done so well tonight — and that’s why I am going to be the candidate who will beat Richard Burr in November.”
National Democratic Party officials, who recruited Cunningham to run last year, will likely be among those relieved to see the contest headed to a runoff. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee clearly sees Cunningham as the better general election candidate to take on Sen. Richard Burr (R). Despite a national environment that decidedly favors Republicans, Burr’s approval ratings continue to be mired in the low to mid-30s, and that has given Democrats hope of playing offense in the Tar Heel State.
But one number that worries Democrats when they look at Burr is his nearly $5 million war chest. And with Democrats fighting it out in a primary for six more weeks, the eventual nominee won’t begin raising money for the general election until late June.
Meanwhile, Republicans face a runoff in the state’s most competitive House district after no candidate topped the 40 percent mark Tuesday night.
In the Charlotte-area 8th district, the GOP will have to wait until late June to see who will take on freshman Rep. Larry Kissell (D).
Millionaire businessman Tim D’Annunzio, who spent about $1 million of his own money on his campaign, took just under 37 percent of the vote Tuesday night. He will face former sports broadcaster Harold Johnson, who took about 33 percent, in the runoff.
While Johnson had been hesitant to go negative against D’Annunzio during the primary, it became increasingly clear the party establishment believed D’Annunzio — who, among his many proposals, wants to eliminate the Department of Education — is too controversial to make a strong general election candidate. With Kissell registering only in the low 60s in his own primary Tuesday (and showing underwhelming fundraising numbers this year), it seems likely that state and national party officials will play a larger role in the GOP runoff to help steer their desired nominee to victory.
Asked Tuesday night if D’Annunzio could win the general election this fall, one National Republican Congressional Committee official said no.
Farther west, in the 11th district, businessman Jeff Miller won the GOP primary outright Tuesday night and will face Rep. Heath Shuler (D) in November.
Miller, who is known for founding a nonprofit group to fly World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour the World War II Memorial and other sites, just barely broke the 40 percent mark to avoid a primary with ophthalmologist Dan Eichenbaum. However, the Associated Press had not officially called the race for Miller as of 11 p.m. Tuesday.