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North Carolina’s Second Primary: What to know about Trump endorsement power and turnout

Here's what Second Primary results mean in Western North Carolina.
Lilly Knoepp
Here's what Second Primary results mean in Western North Carolina.

The May 14 election finalized the 2024 Republican nominees for two statewide offices. In Western North Carolina, GOP candidates for lieutenant governor and state auditor were on the ballot in the Secondary Primary.

BPR Senior Regional Reporter sat down with political expert Chris Cooper from Western Carolina University to talk about the results. This Q&A from that interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

BPR’s Lilly Knoepp: Can you explain why we had a Second Primary?

Chris Cooper: If a candidate doesn't get what they call a threshold amount in the first primary (held in March), they go to a runoff or a Second Primary. So right now in North Carolina, that threshold is 30%. We had three fairly prominent races: the 13th Congressional District, the state auditor and the state lieutenant governor – all on the Republican side – with a winning candidate that didn't hit that 30% threshold. So we had an election yesterday across all 100 counties.

Knoepp: So those results came in last night for the lieutenant governor's race. The winner was Hal Weatherman who won with 74% of the vote against Jim O'Neill who had 26%. What can you tell me about Weatherman?

Cooper: Weatherman worked for a guy named Dan Forrest, who folks may remember if you've been around North Carolina for a while. He also worked for somebody named Madison Cawthorn –who you may also remember, of course from NC 11. Weatherman's been campaigning for this lieutenant governor’s job really for the better part of a year. So he did a whole lot of shoe-leather politics. He is going to run against Rachel Hunt. Rachel Hunt, of course, is the daughter of former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt. So we're going to have the Hunt versus Weatherman general election coming up.

Knoepp: For the state auditor race, what happened last night?

Cooper: State auditor was actually a pretty interesting race. David Bullock, who is on the UNC Board of Trustees. His wife has a Western North Carolina connection, she's on the Board of Trustees at Western Carolina University. And he was able to go from second place (in the first primary) to first place to win that Auditor's race last night.

Knoepp: Can you tell me a little bit about turnout here in Western North Carolina? I know we weren't expecting a huge turnout, primaries usually only get 20% turnout. But what are we looking at for a Second Primary?

Cooper: We're looking at somewhere between terrible and abysmal. Statewide it was less than 3% of the eligible voters. Now we need to remember not everybody's eligible. If you were a registered Democrat or if an unaffiliated voter in the Democratic primary the first time, you couldn't vote (in the second primary). But less than 3% of the people who could have turned out did turn out. We saw very similar numbers across Western North Carolina.

Knoepp: Is there anything that we can learn from smaller turnout or is this just a product of this kind of second primary model?

Cooper: I think it's really a product of the second primary model. This is low turnout even for a second primary, but I wouldn't read too much into that for the general election.

Knoepp: One of the other big races on the ballot was the 13th Congressional District and that's not here in Western North Carolina, but I think it did have some really interesting implications. It was reported that Brad Knott, who won the 13th Congressional District GOP nomination, was backed by former President Trump. Did national politics impact North Carolina’s Second Primary?

Cooper: This was a really important race. So the 13th Congressional District is currently represented by a Democrat, U.S. Rep. Wiley Nickel. So that district was redrawn to go from a little bit blue to very, very red. And so we expect the Republican primary winner to win in the general. Brad Knott did not win the first primary. He came in second to Kelly Daughtry and so a lot of folks thought that the Daughtry might be the favorite going into the Second Primary. Donald Trump swooped in and he endorsed Brad Knott. Pretty soon after that Kelly Daughtry said that she was suspending her campaign. Now, there was no way for her to actually formally pull out. Ballots had already been printed. People had already voted. …She won somewhere around 9% of the votes. Incredibly low. She went from being the winner in the first primary to getting about 9% of the vote in the second.

Knoepp: Wow, that's a big impact. But these are not the final results. The state still has to go through its election canvass. When do we expect to get those final results? 

Cooper: This stuff is laid out in statutes. So it's gonna be a couple of weeks from now. Every county, all 100 counties across the state, are going to do this canvass. Just to underscore how tentative these results are that we're talking about … [Canvass won’t] change who's the winner or loser, almost certainly given the margins we're looking at. But when we talk about turnout, they could matter. So Stanley County, for example, still hasn’t reported to the state. So we actually have no idea how many people turned out in Stanley County. So it's important that we wait before we make any real conclusions – until this canvass process has happened.

Editor’s Note: In every county, the canvass meeting – when the results are certified – is 10 days after Election Day. The state has already scheduled a hand count audit. The state canvass will follow these results.

The North Carolina Board of Elections also announced today that it has removed from public view some precinct-level data from its election result website. The BOE explained that “because of the particularly low turnout in Tuesday’s second primary” data precinct-level data “could make it possible to identify the ballot selections of specific voters.” Under state law, individual ballots are considered confidential.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.