We’ll know much about the 2016 elections after the first three weeks of December.
That’s the period for candidates across the state — including for governor and all 170 General Assembly seats — to fill out paperwork and pay fees to get their names on ballots.
When filing closes at noon on Dec. 21, we’ll know whose names voters will select from for the March 15 primary election and, in some cases where candidates don’t face primary challenges, the Nov. 8 general election.
Here are four things to watch for as the filing period progresses in December:
Will Gov. Pat McCrory get a challenge from the more conservative wing of the Republican Party?
Rumors about that have been circulating for some time, but it remains unclear whether it will happen. Former N.C. Rep. Robert Brawley, a Mooresville Republican, said recently that he is considering a gubernatorial bid. Brawley, a former House Finance Committee chairman who resigned his position amid a well-documented spat with then-House Speaker Thom Tillis in 2013, lost a GOP primary for his House seat in 2014.
While Brawley wouldn’t pose a huge threat to McCrory, he might injure him slightly for November. We’ll see if any other Republicans want to take on the incumbent. Democratic frontrunner Roy Cooper faces a primary challenger in Ken Spaulding, a Durham attorney who has opposed Cooper’s stance calling for a pause in allowing Syrian refugees into the state. Spaulding said he believes the refugee vetting process currently in place, plus the enforcement of existing laws, will protect the state.
Who’s leaving the General Assembly?
Sen. Tom Apodaca, the powerful Hendersonville Republican who leads the Senate Rules committee, announced this week he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2016, adding his name to a growing list. Apodaca joins at least 17 other House and Senate members who either already have resigned, plan to retire after 2016 or will seek a different office. That’s one-tenth of the General Assembly, and more announcements will come. The spate of departures caused political reporter Tim Boyum of Time Warner Cable News to Tweet: “Are we going to need name tags for start of 2017 session?”
Other big names who won’t be back in the state legislature in 2017 include Republican Reps. Paul “Skip” Stam of Apex and Leo Daughtry of Smithfield in the House, as well as GOP Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews in the Senate.
How many General Assembly candidates will win elections without opponents?
In other words, how many voters will go to the polls without a choice for who will represent them in the state legislature? Before the November 2014 elections, 59 of the 120 House seats and 19 of 50 Senate seats were already decided because only one candidate’s name appeared on ballots in those races. Early indications, given the few candidates who’ve announced intentions to run in 2016, are that many names will appear alone on the ballot in November 2016 as well.
How many General Assembly races will be truly contested?
Because of the way state legislative district lines are drawn and historical voter behavior, most districts favor either Democratic or Republican candidates. That leaves relatively few districts across the state where strong challengers pose viable threats to incumbents. By Dec. 21, we’ll know who the challengers are and whether they stand much of a chance in March or November in the districts where they choose to run.
Patrick Gannon writes about North Carolina government and politics for the Capitol Press Association