Breaking Down A Night Of Primary Upsets

May 9, 2018

Catawba College Political Science Professor Michael Bitzer
Credit WFAE

Tuesday's primaries included some big upsets. Mark Harris beat Republican 9th District Congressman Robert Pittenger by 814 votes in the primary. Five Republican state lawmakers won’t get another term, although Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop pulled out a primary win in his southern Mecklenburg district. And Mecklenburg County Democratic incumbents - state Sen. Joel Ford and Rep. Rodney Moore were defeated. 

Catawba College Political Scientist Michael Bitzer spoke with WFAE's Marshall Terry about the primary results. 

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for brevity.  (You can listen to the full interview above)

Q: What do you make of Mark Harris's victory in the 9th Congressional district after he narrowly lost to Pittenger two years ago?

A: What we know is that incumbents generally are vulnerable for re-nomination in two circumstances. One, a major scandal that impacts them. And a second factor is when they are running after their first term.  I think what Harris was able to do was look at the 2016 numbers, and the coalition that he put together realized that there wasn't a strong third candidate in the primary, and was able to rack up some pretty significant numbers in areas outside of Pittenger’s base.  It was a classic example of a within-the-party nomination fight.

Q: Harris is going to face Democrat Dan McCready who goes into the general election with a lot more money on hand. The 9th district has long been a Republican stronghold.  Does McCready have a chance here?

A: I think certainly this year in the environment that we're looking at it's going to be one of the nation's top competitive districts. Certainly, it is built as an advantage to the Republicans. I think with the money and the advantage in the type of candidate that McCready is, this will be on the nation's radar as one of the top districts to be watching come the fall campaign.

Q: Five Republican state lawmakers lost their seats in the primary Tuesday. What could that mean for the General Assembly going forward?

A:  I'm not sure that necessarily means anything for the General Assembly as a whole. I think in a lot of these districts there were local politics issues. Certainly, Rep. Burr in Stanly County faced a real competitive [race] and lost in that particularly primary. You’ve got folks like Sen. Ford and Rep. Moore who lost also on the Democratic side. I think this is just part of the intraparty warfare that goes on, particularly in primaries, and can make candidates and incumbents vulnerable when you have such low voter turnout.

Q: What do you make of State Senator Dan Bishop's easy win in the Republican primary after being taken to task for the sponsorship of House Bill 2?

A: I think that the backlash certainly was not as evident in his district as it was perhaps in the City of Charlotte as a whole. Remember Bishop's district is a pretty safe Republican district. And I think that shows they were okay with the HB2 controversy even though a lot of moderates were speaking up against it.

Q: Turnout was slightly up in Mecklenburg County from the 2014 primary, the last comparable election. What does that indicate?

A: I think it shows a little bit of the enthusiasm on the Democratic side. Mecklenburg is certainly a Democratic county but I wouldn't read too much into the turnout rate. It was abysmal across the state.  For some of these elections like sheriff and district attorney, this was the election. The Democratic nomination battle was the election because there's no Republican candidate running in the fall campaign. So we basically already have two of the general election offices filled at this point.