marshall_cunninghamTwo candidates in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate will face off in June, when voters will decide whether Secretary of State Elaine Marshall or former state Sen. Cal Cunningham will challenge incumbent Republican Richard Burr in November.

Tuesday’s primary pit Cunningham and Marshall against four other candidates. As of Wednesday morning, with all 100 counties reporting, Marshall carried 36 percent against Cunningham’s 27 percent. A third candidate, attorney Ken Lewis, garnered 17 percent of the vote. Three other candidates — Susan Harris, Marcus W. Williams and Ann Worthy — each captured less than 10 percent of the vote. Voter turnout statewide totaled less than 15 percent.

To avoid a runoff, a candidate must have won 40 or more percent of the vote. The runoff will be held June 22.

Both Marshall and Cunningham have taken pro-equality public stances. Durham-based blogger Pam Spaulding tracked the candidates’ positions and held “liveblogs” with them at qnotes reported on Spaulding’s Senate coverage in our May 1 print edition (see “Durham blogger relentless in Senate coverage”).

On her blog Tuesday night, Spaulding said she’d hoped to avoid a runoff. “No one needs a costly, damaging runoff that will only give advantage to the horrid incumbent Burr,” she wrote. “I’d rather have either candidate win outright rather than have to worry about money pouring in to sully either candidate, weakening them.”

In the weeks leading up to the primary, Spaulding endorsed Marshall over both Cunningham and Lewis. Her interviews of the candidates showed Marshall was among the most LGBT-friendly. Spaulding said Marshall had “set an unbelievable standard for responsiveness regarding presentation of LGBT issues.”

The Greensboro-based Replacements, Ltd. PAC, run by Replacements, Ltd. owners Bob Page and Dale Frederiksen, endorsed Cunningham.

In their last pre-primary poll, the Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling said likely Democratic primary voters would favor Marshall over Cunningham 43-32 if a runoff were held. Fifty-one percent of Harris, Lewis, Williams and Worthy supporters said they would vote for Marshall in a runoff, compared to 27 percent who said they’d support Cunningham.

In a written statement released Tuesday evening, Cunningham said he’d continue his fight to defeat Burr.

“We started this race 37 points behind and virtually unknown, running against a 4-time statewide office-holder,” he said. “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.”

Cunningham added: “I want to thank all of the volunteers and voters who gave me the opportunity to prove why I’m the only candidate who can beat Richard Burr. And I’d like to congratulate the 5 other strong candidates in the primary: Susan Harris, Ken Lewis, Elaine Marshall, Marcus Williams, and Ann Worthy. There is so much more to be done for North Carolina families, and tomorrow we roll up our sleeves and get back to work.”

Marshall campaign advisor Thomas Mills told “Secretary Marshall had a decisive victory tonight. 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.”

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.