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Opportunities Now and Later in North Carolina

It’s a good cycle to be a congressional hopeful in North Carolina — but that doesn’t mean there won’t be more prime opportunities soon.

The recent round of redistricting solidified GOP control of the state legislature and the congressional delegation. But with two House seats open next year and a GOP opportunity to oust Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, the North Carolina bench is emptying into 2014 races.

“From a Republican perspective, in the last two elections they have seen more success than in the whole history of their party in this state, so there are more people that say, ‘Hey, not only can you run and win, you can run and serve for a long time,’” said North Carolina Republican operative Paul Shumaker of 2014’s crowded GOP primaries.

At least eight Republicans are vying for the opportunity to unseat Hagan in 2014. And the retirement of 15-term GOP Rep. Howard Coble, plus 11-term Democratic Rep. Melvin Watt’s confirmation to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency, have sparked crowded primaries in their respective safe partisan seats.

To be sure, North Carolina has recently proved to be more competitive on a statewide level, thanks in part to suburban growth around Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham. After Hagan’s battle this cycle, the next big statewide contest will come in 2016.

GOP operatives say it’s unclear whether Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr will seek a third term. If he retires, strategists say a competitive contest with crowded primaries would ensue.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte, is eyeing that Senate seat in 2016, according to multiple Democratic sources. He could run regardless of whether Burr seeks re-election.

“Statewide Senate races get bluer and bluer,” said North Carolina Democratic operative Morgan Jackson. “As long as we have the right candidate, we could knock off Burr.”

Local Democrats named several other potential candidates who could run for Burr’s seat:

Janet Cowell, the first woman elected state treasurer, who operatives said has a good rapport with both parties.

State Sen. Josh Stein, who serves as minority whip.

State Rep. Grier Martin, who represents a chunk of Raleigh.

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, an independent who ran with the support of the local Democratic Party.

If Burr retires, GOP operatives say that a number of House members could run to succeed him. That list included freshmen GOP Reps. Robert Pittenger, Mark Meadows and George Holding. Republicans say Holding would likely be the most viable of the three, citing in part his vast personal fortune. Holding’s family owns First Citizens Bank, and they ran a super PAC to help boost his 2012 House bid.

Republicans named several other potential GOP candidates for Senate, including:

North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, whose name is on a certificate in every elevator in the state. (The Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau falls under her purview.)

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, the son of former Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C.

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, whose ties to farm industry could help him.

There are four freshmen House members from North Carolina. So the next likely opening will come after either Democratic Rep. David E. Price or Republican Reps. Virginia Foxx and Walter B. Jones, retire.

“David would bring in a who’s who of Democratic politics because he’s in the Triangle,” one Republican operative said of his 4th District seat, based in Raleigh. “That list would be deep and wide.”

Potential Price successors include state Sen. Eric Mansfield, and state House Minority Leader Larry Hall.

GOP operatives said Republicans who could take a look at Foxx’s 5th District seat include state Sen. Peter Brunstetter and former state Rep. Mark Hilton.

Republican operatives also rattled off a long list of candidates who could run to succeed Jones in the 3rd District. They include state Rep. Susan Martin and state Sens. Bill Cook and Andrew Brock, a former campaign manager for Jones’ campaign. Two conservative radio talk show hosts were also mentioned as potential candidates: Henry Hinton and Lockwood Phillips.

Farm Team is a weekly state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.

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