Coble sails through primary; Marshall and Cunningham headed for runoff

by Brian Clarey

Thirteen-term incumbent Rep. Howard Coble approached the Old Guilford County Courthouse on the night of the 2010 primary with the grace of a seasoned politico. Warm. Gracious. Calm. Coble has faced challengers before, but this year — his 79 th on the planet — he went up against five of them in the Republican primary for North Carolina’s 6 th Congressional District, including Guilford County Commissioner Billy Yow, who positioned himself as Coble’s heir apparent.

“I still don’t know how this’ll play out,” Coble said at about 8 p.m., though he’d already gained a sizable lead. “I told the Greensboro Lion’s Club yesterday, in a crowded field like we’ve had it tonight, it’s mathematically challenging, if not mathematically probable, to garner 40 percent [of the vote]. That’s what I’m shooting for, 40 plus one.”

As it turned out, Rep. Coble had nothing to worry about. He finished the night with 72 percent of the vote and lived to fight on in the general election in November.

But low voter turnout would be a theme across the state on Tuesday, opening the gate for disappointments and upsets.

One seat that may be in play this year belongs to Sen. Richard Burr, who won the seat formerly occupied by John Edwards before his run for vice president and eventual disgrace. Burr, one of the most conservative members of the US Senate, handily won his primary against three challengers with 80 percent of the vote.

Over on the other side of the ballot, things were not so definitive. Among those vying to face Burr were a sitting NC secretary of state, Elaine Marshall, who earned her post by defeating legend Richard Petty; the well-funded Cal Cunningham, who had attracted attention from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; and lawyer and Chapel Hill resident Ken Lewis. In the end, none were able to muster the 40 percent necessary to win the primary, but Marshall, with about 36 percent of the vote, and Cunningham, who got about 27 percent, will face off in a runoff election June 22.

Cunningham viewed it as a victory nonetheless. “I’m so impressed with what we can do when we work together,” he told a crowd at a reception hall in Lexington. “You all should be commended and I’m going to need you again from now until June 22 and June 22 on to November; we here in North Carolina are one step closer to replacing Richard Burr in the United States Senate; and putting in this seat, a US Senator who will stand with average North Carolinians in the challenges we face.”

Marshall said she was “delighted” that so many people voted for her, and that she’s already looking ahead to the fall election, where she feels she can mount a serious challenge to the incumbent.

“I’ve represented investors and folks scammed by folks on Wall Street,” she said. “I’ve stood up to the healthcare industry. I’m not in Washington, but I have good experience with the challenges that I’ll face there.”

Burr was not the only incumbent Republican to face challengers — all across the board GOP contenders vied for purchase.

Rep. Virginia Foxx outpaced her competitor handily, garnering almost 80 percent of the vote in District 5 against challenger Keith Gardner. District 12 will see a runoff between Greg Dority and Scott Cumbie, who clocked 34 and 39 percent of the vote, respectively. And in District 13, the seat currently held by Democratic incumbent Rep. Brad Miller, no candidate was able to get 40 percent, so Bernie Reeves, who won 31 percent of the vote, will run off against Bill Randall, who got 32 percent.

In two nonpartisan NC Court of Appeals contests, incumbents managed to place in the top two slots and advance to the general election.

Incumbent Ann Marie Calabria was able to maintain an advantage in keeping her seat with 37 percent of the vote, and will face off against challenger Jane Gray, who trailed by less than 1 percentage point, again in November.

Incumbent Rick Elmore was able to get almost 29 percent of the vote in his judicial seat, but challenger Steven Walker got 36 percent, giving him an edge in the general election.

Keith T. Barber and Jordan Green contributed reporting to this story.

US Senate candidate Cal Cunningham speaks to a group of supporters gathered inside the Edward C. Smith Civic Center in downtown Lexington on Tuesday night. According to unofficial results, Cunningham, a Lexington lawyer, won 27 percent of the votes in the race for the Democratic nomination. Elaine Marshall garnered just over 36 percent of votes cast in the US Senate race. Cunningham and Marshall will square off in a runoff election June 22. (photo by Keith T. Barber)