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Republican runoff sets up competitive council of state races

by Jordan Green

by Jordan Green jordan@yesweekly.com

With large Democratic voting bases, Guilford and Forsyth county voters turned out in smaller numbers last week than across the state for a run-off election with a crowded Republican ballot. A Republican run-off for a county commission seat may have slightly boosted turnout in Guilford.

The final tally: 3.6 percent of registered voters across the state turned out, but only 2.4 percent of Guilford voters and 1.9 percent of Forsyth voters, respectively, did.

Forsyth Democrats broke ranks and voted for former Winston-Salem resident Marlowe Foster for state labor commissioner, while Guilford Democrats and the state as a whole favored John C. Brooks, a veteran who held the job from 1977 to 1993. Statewide, Brooks bested Foster by a convincing margin of 54.2 percent to 45.9 percent.

Brooks argued that he has the best shot at defeating Republican incumbent Cherie Berry because he’s never lost an election to a Republican. He also hasn’t faced a Republican since 1988, having been defeated in Democratic primaries in 1992 and 2008.

Berry has held the office since 2000 and enjoys widespread name recognition thanks, in no small part, to the fact that her name and photograph is posted inside every elevator across the state.

Otherwise, Forsyth and Guilford voters followed the statewide pattern, handing majorities to Dan Forest for lieutenant governor, Guilford resident Mike Causey for commissioner of labor, Ed Goodwin for secretary of state and John Tedesco for superintendent of public instruction.

Forest, the son of Congresswoman Sue Myrick, smashed opponent Tony Gurley, a Wake County commissioner, by a ratio of more than two to one. Forest’s resounding victory adds to Republican hopes for snatching the lieutenant governor’s office from the Democrats. Republicans are also confident that a win or at least a strong showing by their gubernatorial nominee, Pat McCrory, will have a coattail effect to help down-ballot candidates.

Neither Forest nor his Democratic opponent, Linda Coleman, will have great name recognition with voters in the general election, considering that this is each candidate’s first run for statewide office, or — in Forest’s case — any office. Notwithstanding favorable conditions for Republicans considering the strong desire to defeat Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, Democrats hold an advantage in voter registration. And Coleman’s current job as director of state personnel gives her name recognition and likely support from state workers, a numerically large and politically engaged constituency.

Causey vanquished former NC House co-speaker Richard Morgan by a 15-percent margin, even carrying Morgan’s native Moore County in the race for state commissioner of insurance. Causey ran an energetic campaign, and probably benefited from Morgan’s profound unpopularity with Republicans because of the power-sharing deal he cut with former Democratic House leader Jim Black.

Causey will face first-term Democratic commissioner Wayne Goodwin in November.

Republican voters solidly favored Ed Goodwin, an outspoken Chowan County culture warrior who has called the occupy movement an “enemy” of the United States, over Kenn Gardner,  a low-key business advocate for Wake County, the state’s fastest growing county and the seat of state government. Goodwin faces a formidable Democratic incumbent in Elaine Marshall, who has held the seat since 1996 without scandal and enjoys strong name recognition among voters.

June Atkinson, the current state superintendent of public instruction, might face more difficulty. Republicans gave John Tedesco an 8.8-percent margin of victory over Richard Alexander. Atkinson is not exactly a household name in North Carolina politics largely because voters don’t give a lot of thought to the position of superintendent of public instruction.

Tedesco, in contrast, is a rising star in Republican politics as a first-term member of the Wake County School Board who was elected as part of the conservative anti-Obama backlash in 2009. National publicity for the school board’s efforts to dismantle a school assignment plan based on socio-economic balance and Tedesco’s enthusiasm for carrying the banner of conservative revolution will give him instant publicity. The wild card will likely be how Tedesco’s polarizing effect plays with voters.

While Tedesco fared well as the tea party’s standard-bearer across the state, the tea party was handed a defeat locally in the Guilford County Commission District 6 race. Jeremy Williams, who has worked closely with the tea party-inspired Conservatives for Guilford County in critiquing the county commission budget, went from a first-place finish in the first primary to defeat by a 40-percent margin at the hands of Hank Henning in the runoff.

The conflict between Conservatives for Guilford County and more traditional Republican Party activists has broken into open warfare in recent years. Conservatives for Guilford County has developed a political action committee to vet and endorse candidates, and then mobilize voters through e-mail messages, an online newspaper and door-to-door canvassing, but Henning landed endorsements from respected elected officials such as Congressman Howard Coble and county commissioner Billy Yow.

Henning faces Democrat Linda Kellerman in November.

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