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NC-Sen: Cunningham Requests Runoff; Will DSCC Ride to the Rescue?

Something I didn’t know about North Carolina elections is that the runoff for primary races where no candidate reaches 40% have to be asked for by the second-place finisher. Therefore, the ball is in Cal Cunningham’s court to call for a seven-week runoff which would take place on June 22. He has indicated that he will do so.

In a speech to supporters in Lexington about 10:30 p.m., Cunningham said he believed he would defeat Marshall in a runoff vote.

“I told her that I hope we can continue to conduct this campaign in the same manner that we have so far,” Cunningham said. “We will prevail June 22.”

About the same time, Marshall was telling her supporters that she would be moving on to the general election to challenge Burr.

She praised Cunningham for running a “clean campaign.”

“If Cal decides to continue to run this race for the next seven weeks, we’ll beat him again with a larger margin than we did tonight,” Marshall said.

Early polling shows that Marshall is not making an idle boast. Public Policy Polling had a pretty good bead on the primary race, and they show that the supporters of the challengers to Marshall and Cunningham would probably swing to Marshall:

Elaine Marshall will begin the runoff election against Cal Cunningham strongly favored. On our final pre-primary poll, which proved to be pretty accurate in predicting tonight’s results, we also asked about a potential runoff election. Marshall led Cunningham 43-32. Among supporters of Kenneth Lewis, Marcus Williams, Susan Harris, and Ann Worthy 51% said they’d go for Marshall in a potential runoff to just 27% who expressed an intention to shift their support to Cunningham.

The early runoff poll particularly suggested that black voters would move their allegiances from Lewis or Williams to Marshall in a runoff contest. While Marshall led Cunningham just 21-12 among black voters for the primary, that lead expanded to 51-24 with them for a runoff.

As Jensen notes, the DSCC now has a choice to make. They have been out front in their support of Cunningham, but they haven’t provided him with hard money (they may have provided him with fundraising opportunities or call sheets). Now there’s seven more weeks of campaigning, and without major help from the DSCC, Cunningham is pretty sure to lose. The DSCC hasn’t been shy about jumping into primary races; their late support of Lee Fisher helped put him over the top and win the Ohio Senate primary over Jennifer Brunner.

So does the D-Stick waste a bunch of money on a candidate who only garnered 27% of the primary vote on his own? Or do they back out of this race in North Carolina, let Elaine Marshall win, and see where she lands after that in her challenge to incumbent Richard Burr, which is entirely winnable?

One postscript here: the turnout numbers don’t bode well for any Democrat, though it’s hard to extrapolate from that.

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David Dayen

David Dayen