Updated: June 22, 10:45 p.m.
North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall cruised to an easy runoff victory over former state Sen. Cal Cunningham on Tuesday night to secure the Tar Heel State’s Democratic Senate nomination.
With 76 percent of precincts reporting, Marshall led 60 percent to 40 percent, and The Associated Press had called the contest.
Marshall will face a much tougher test against well-funded Sen. Richard Burr (R) in a very Republican-friendly environment.
Even though she has shown a weakness for being a poor fundraiser, Marshall showed her strength in the state by finishing 9 points ahead of Cunningham in their May primary and earning a key endorsement from the third-place finisher, lawyer Ken Lewis, during the runoff. Cunningham, meanwhile, was never able during the runoff to build on the momentum he displayed in the weeks before the primary, when he showed a steady climb in most polls.
Cunningham’s loss Tuesday will likely be viewed as another sign of the electorate’s strong anti-establishment mood this cycle. The national party made no secret of its efforts to recruit Cunningham into the race late last year, even though Marshall was already in the contest. Recent Federal Election Commission reports show the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent more than $190,000 in support of Cunningham through May.
In a sign that the establishment label really has become politically toxic, Cunningham tried to make the case during the runoff that Marshall’s four terms as secretary of state should qualify her as the establishment choice in the race. But those attacks never stuck.
On Tuesday evening, DSCC Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.) quickly released a statement commending Marshall on her victory.
“She is a proven reformer who has taken on the special interests in her state, and has cracked down on lobbyist activity, insurance company abuses, and excess on Wall Street,” Menendez said.
He added that in the race against Burr, “voters will face a choice between a Democrat who has focused on creating jobs and the needs of North Carolina’s middle class and a Republican who puts partisanship ahead of doing what’s right.”
Meanwhile, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said the matchup between Burr and Marshall will provide voters with “a clear contrast” in November.
“I am confident that North Carolinians will re-elect Senator Richard Burr this November,” he said in a statement.
In other runoff results Tuesday night, former sportscaster Harold Johnson won a GOP runoff Tuesday night and will face Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell in the state’s competitive 8th district this fall.
Johnson defeated businessman Tim D’Annunzio 61 percent to 39 percent, with all of the votes counted.
D’Annunzio’s defeat comes as a relief to state and national party leaders, who were openly backing Johnson. Despite dumping more than $1 million into his campaign, party operatives believed that D’Annunzio’s long criminal history, his combative personality and occasional outlandish statements made him unelectable in a general election.
But even though D’Annunzio lost the runoff, Democrats weren’t ready to let him go in the 8th district general election.
Immediately after Johnson’s victory, the state Democratic Party sent out a release tying Johnson to D’Annunzio’s “extreme right wing views.”
Pointing to a radio interview in which Johnson said he and D’Annunzio would vote much the same way in the House, North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Andrew Whalen said Johnson’s “admission that he shares the extreme views of his right wing primary opponent is downright scary and something that should give pause to voters.”