Republicans, Democrats rally supporters as early voting begins

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Early voting begins Thursday in North Carolina for the primaries, with a number of races expected to be hotly contested.

"It's really a mobilization campaign because again it takes fewer people to make a difference than say (in) November, a presidential election year where you're talking North Carolina, millions of voters. This is where a precinct or an area of town makes a big difference," said Dr. David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College.

Midterm elections tend to see fewer votes than presidential year races, though population increases and several vacant seats could potentially increase turnout.

On the Democratic side, the retirements of Congressmen G.K. Butterfield and David Price have created an opening for new leadership to emerge for the party; Price's district is considered a Democratic stronghold, with the winner in the primary likely the favorite in November's general election.

"I don't think there's a clear-cut frontrunner right now, and it may be a mobilization type of campaign where the campaigns are really just working to turn out their supporters," said McLennan on the race.

Notable candidates include state Sen. Valerie Foushee, former Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, and former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken.

On the Republican side, Sen. Richard Burr's retirement has opened up a rare vacant Senate seat, especially important in an evenly divided United States Senate. The election has attracted a number of high-profile candidates including Congressman Ted Budd, former Gov. Pat McCrory, and Congressman Mark Walker amongst others. Budd, who received former President Donald Trump's endorsement, has faced criticism from challengers because he did not participate in debates.

The Republican primary in the 11th District has also been heated at times, with incumbent Madison Cawthorn facing mounting criticism over controversial comments and legal incidents, even from leaders within his party. However, McLennan pointed to the state's low threshold -- clearing 30% of the vote -- to avoid a runoff could be key to Cawthorn.

"With voting starting tomorrow and the Primary Election Day being just a few weeks away, can you cut into that apathy, and cut into the base of supports that Cawthorn still has," said McLennan.

Savannah Viar, Republican National Committee Southeast Regional Communications Director, said she believes Republicans will be nominated once the primaries end.

"Republicans at the end of the day are going to vote for Republicans. We will coalesce behind whomever our winner is on May 17th, in any congressional race or statewide race, and work together to make sure Democrats are defeated at the ballot box," said Viar.

On the Democratic side, Cheri Beasley is the likely Senate nominee after her two main challengers, former state Senator Erica Smith and state Senator Jeff Jackson, dropped out and now run in different races. Though she has not had to spend as much to secure the nomination as her Republican counterparts, McLennan said she can still make up for a lack of coverage.

"She's trying to coincide her spending and her campaigning with when people are going to be paying the most attention. So if she holds it until the summer or the post-Labor Day time of time period, and then goes on a blitz, she may be able to capitalize on that. And she's hoping the Republican candidates damage each other in this high-profile primary, spend a lot of money, and she can outspend them in the fall," said McLennan.

While state and national parties typically don't offer endorsements during primaries, they are instrumental in voter turnout and registration efforts.

"Volunteers are out knocking on doors, they're calling voters to make sure they have plans to vote in the primary election. They're going to have a major call to action this weekend where they're engaged in that type of thing," said Floyd McKissick Jr., a former state Senator who currently serves as the North Carolina Democratic Party First Vice Chair.

Republicans are also busy at the grassroots level.

"We work with the local and state parties to make sure voters are well-educated, know where to go on Election Day, or know how to cast an early ballot," Viar said.

The party out of power in Washington, in this case, Republicans, historically performs stronger during midterms; McKissick noted that his party needs to take steps to encourage voters to head to the polls.

"We have to approach this with vigor. We have to approach this with enthusiasm. We have to be strategic. We need to organize. We need to knock on doors. We need to make telephone calls. We have to engage in the traditional grassroots type of politics that's necessary to distinguish our candidates and to encourage people and incentivize them to get out there and vote," McKissick said.

McLennan also pointed to the Wake County Sheriff's Office race, which has 10 candidates vying for the position, and 13th Congressional District race as elections that are likely to be close.
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