Runoff Likely in Crowded N.C. Open-Seat Race

Coble endorsed Berger to succeed him in Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Coble endorsed Berger to succeed him in Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted April 17, 2014 at 12:00pm

The Republican nominee in the crowded race to replace retiring GOP Rep. Howard Coble likely won’t be known until mid-summer.  

Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr., the son and namesake of one of North Carolina’s most powerful Republican officials, has a firm grip on the front-runner position. But GOP operatives in the Tar Heel State said Berger, whose father Phil Berger Sr. is president pro tem of the state Senate, is unlikely to surpass the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff in the May 6 primary.  

“I believe [Berger Jr.] has a name ID advantage just because of who his dad is,” said Matt Bales, a researcher with the non-partisan FreeEnterprise Foundation in North Carolina.  

The primary has become a race for second place, and many North Carolina operatives said the rest of the nine-candidate GOP field is largely unknown, unwieldy and hard to assess.  

Republican operatives said wealthy businessman Bruce VonCannon, who has spent large sums of his own personal fortune to go on TV early, is a strong contender for that next spot in the runoff. VonCannon was on the air throughout the district at the beginning of the year — a necessary move for the international banker who is likely unknown to the broad electorate — describing himself as an anti-establishment pick.  

As of the end of the first quarter on March 31, VonCannon had loaned his campaign $213,000 and put in an additional $47,000 of his own personal wealth. VonCannon spent nearly all of that, reporting $5,200 in the bank on his first-quarter fundraising report filed with the Federal Election Commission .  

Among the other aspirants, Greensboro City Councilman Zack Matheny is an elected official from one of the most populous areas of the district. Matheny raised $166,000 in the first quarter and had $107,000 in cash on hand a little more than a month out from the primary.  

Financial adviser Don Webb, also from the Greensboro area, has earned endorsements from NASCAR racers Richard and Kyle Petty. But his campaign struggled with fundraising. To date, Webb loaned his campaign $52,000, according to his campaign fundraising reports. He brought in just $32,000 in the first quarter, leaving him with $2,500 in the bank as of March 31.  

Mark Walker served as a pastor at a large Baptist church in Greensboro before stepping down this past summer to run for the seat. He, too, struggled with fundraising. To date, Walker has put $13,000 of his own money into the race. He brought in $73,000 in the first quarter, and reporting a war chest of $22,000 as of March 31.  

If no candidate receives more than 40 percent in the primary, the top two vote-recipients will advance to a July 15 runoff.  

The 6th District is an uphill challenge for Democrats. Mitt Romney carried it with 58 percent of the vote in 2012.  

Former University of North Carolina administrator Laura Fjeld is running for the Democratic nomination for the seat. She raised $125,000 in the first quarter and reported $204,000 in cash on hand.  

North Carolina’s 6th District is rated a Safe Republican contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.