RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — This year's retirements of two veteran Democratic congressmen in North Carolina have opened the way for robust primaries within their party as Democrats, Republicans or both hold contests Tuesday in all but one of the state's 14 U.S. House districts.
At stake is a shot at the November general election and, ultimately, Capitol Hill. With this election cycle, North Carolina picks up another House seat in January — its 14th — because of U.S. Census-documented population growth.
ln the 4th Congressional District, where Rep. David Price is off the ballot for the first time since 1986, eight Democrats are seeking his Triangle-area seat. And four Democrats are running for the rural northeast 1st District seat held since 2004 by Rep. G.K. Butterfield, who chose not to seek reelection.
Top competitors in the 4th are state Sen. Valerie Foushee of Chapel Hill, Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam and former “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken. State Sen. Don Davis and former Sen. Erica Smith are leading candidates in the 1st District.
Seven of the 11 incumbents seeking reelection have primaries Tuesday.
The sitting member facing the strongest in-party challenge — with seven other GOP rivals — is first-term Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the mountainous 11th District. Unforced political errors have threatened Cawthorn's return to Congress, where the outspoken 26-year-old is a fierce backer of former President Donald Trump.
Other Republican incumbents facing primary challenges are Reps. Greg Murphy in the 3rd District; Virginia Foxx in the 5th; the 7th's David Rouzer; Richard Hudson in the 9th; and Patrick McHenry in the 10th. Democratic Rep. Alma Adams in the 12th also has a primary.
In primaries with large fields, the top vote-getter must receive more than 30% of the ballot to avoid a July 26 runoff with the second-place finisher.
In the 4th District, featuring heavily liberal Durham and Orange counties, the Democratic primary winner should have an advantage in November. Courtney Gaels and Robert Thomas are seeking the GOP nomination.
The 1st District, considered reliably Democratic for decades, has become less so, and could be highly competitive in a strong Republican year. GOP primary candidates include 2020 nominee Sandy Smith and Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson.
The 4th and 1st Democratic primaries have featured competitions between the party establishment and its more liberal wing. The establishment-favored candidates — Foushee and Davis — have benefited from big TV ad spending and mailers from super PACs.
Protect Our Future, a super PAC backed by a cryptocurrency billionaire, has spent $1 million supporting Foushee, according to campaign filings.
The United Democracy Project, an independent expenditure group linked to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has spent nearly $2.4 million to aid Davis and almost $2.1 million to back Foushee, campaign finance reports show. And AIPAC’s political action committee has sent over $430,000 in bundled contributions to Foushee’s campaign, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.
Some Democrats have been angry about AIPAC's involvement in both races because the group also supports Republican candidates, with the state Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus revoking its endorsement of Foushee.
Allam, the first Muslim woman elected to a North Carolina office, is pro-Palestinian. She's endorsed by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
In the campaign's final days, Aiken lamented the outside money in the race and said he had “lost respect” for Foushee. Her campaign defended the AIPAC support.
Though prominent in music, theater and television, Aiken is no stranger to politics, having won a 2014 Democratic primary for Congress in another central North Carolina district before losing to Republican incumbent Renee Ellmers. A November victory would make Aiken the South's first openly LGBTQ person elected to Congress.
Davis, a former Air Force officer and small-town mayor, won Butterfield’s endorsement last month. Butterfield cited Davis’ legislative experience and said he is “prepared to fight for the Democratic agenda of empowering America’s families and communities.”
Smith, who has Warren's endorsement, ran unsuccessfully for the 2020 U.S. Senate nomination. Smith’s campaign has said Davis’ voting record in the General Assembly has been too moderate, particularly on abortion rights.
Elsewhere, Ellmers is seeking a Capitol Hill comeback in an eight-candidate GOP primary in the open 13th District. While Ellmers was the first congresswoman to endorse Trump for president in 2016, she lost a reelection bid that year. And the ex-president’s endorsement in the 13th went to Bo Hines, 26, a former N.C. State University football player and Wake Forest law school graduate who previously announced running elsewhere in the state before settling on the 13th.
The Club for Growth Action super PAC has spent money supporting Hines and opposing the candidacy of Smithfield attorney Kelly Daughtry. Daughtry has self-funded her campaign, lending over $2.9 million to her political committee. At least two outside groups are opposing Hines. Ellmers has raised very little. The 13th's five-person Democratic primary includes state Sen. Wiley Nickel and former Sen. Sam Searcy, both from Wake County.