Four candidates for the North Carolina Senate kick off their campaigns today. They are all Democrats challenging Republican incumbents and they are all white women, none of whom have ever held elected office.
Three of the four races will take place in districts where Republicans are seen as having comfortable advantages. The other is for a Senate district in northern Mecklenburg County that is expected to be one of the most competitive Senate races this fall.
Among the candidates is Natasha Marcus, who plans to run in a suburban Mecklenburg County district where Jeff Tarte has served since 2013. Democrats believe this district is in play, as voters there went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, while also electing Tarte at the state level.
“The policies that touch our lives most closely often come from the state level,” Marcus said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Federal politics is important, but what happens at the General Assembly in Raleigh – from public school funding, to healthcare, to whether we’re going to have to pay tolls here in the North Mecklenburg area is also important."
Marcus made an unsuccessful bid for the state House in 2014 when Republican John Bradford III defeated her 55 to 45 percent. Meanwhile, Tarte won by a 21 percent margin in his last non-presidential election.
Elsewhere, Eleanor Erickson will try to upset four-term incumbent Bill Rabon in Senate District 8. The district includes parts of New Hanover, Brunwsick and Pender and Bladen Counties in southeastern North Carolina.
Rabon ascended to the powerful rules chair of the Senate, serving effectively as Senate leader Phil Berger’s right-hand man. Rabon was unopposed in the 2016 General Election, while in 2014 he defeated a Democratic challenger with 57 percent of the vote. Erickson is a long-time resident of Brunswick who works as the general manager of a local hotel.
Also along the coast, Ginger Garner will vie for the seat held by Norm Sanderson, a three-term incumbent who represents Carteret, Craven, and Pamlico Counties. Garner is a doctor and educator, and said in a press release her campaign will focus on “helping public schools and those suffering from the opioid crisis.” In 2014 and 2016, Sanderson won with about 60 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile in a rural stretch southwest of the Triangle, Helen Probst Mills hopes to end the legislative tenure of Tom McInnis. Mills is an attorney from Pinehurst and enters the race in part to simply provide an option.
“The reality is that I walk in on Election Day to the polling booth here in Pinehurst and there are not Democrats for me to check. We need a choice,” Mills said. “There needs to be an opportunity for an individual to stand up and to make him crystalize his position on issues and policies and to defend the votes he has taken.”
Mills said analysts have told her the seat is seen as potentially competitive.
North Carolina Not Alone In Seeing Women Run For State Office
Across the country, there has been a rise in the number of female candidates for governorships, state legislatures, and local offices, according to political analysts, adding the surge is at least in part attributed to a combination of policy enactments, frustration with President Donald Trump, and the #metoo movement.
Asked if three of the four seats amount to political mountains the Democrats are attempting to climb, Senator Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe) conceded, “absolutely, but it’s a testament to the passion that these women have that they’re willing to fight that fight.”
“Are these districts maybe not custom made for a Democrat? We know that. I think the most important factor is the candidate,” she said.
This latest round of Democratic announcements follows similar efforts to promote candidates for the North Carolina House. In the Senate, there are currently 15 Democrats and 35 Republicans in the state Senate. Twelve women serve in that chamber, six from each party.
Democrats have touted a strong fundraising effort and the historical precedent that 2018 could be a wave year for the party of blue. However, Republicans – in control of both chambers at the Legislature since 2011 – have continued to outraise Democrats, and a poll out this week from Meredith College dampened some of the “blue wave” optimism.
“As we go through the filing period it’s one thing to see how many women are filing, and then start watching the campaign finance reports to see how well they are supported,” Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said. “There is a belief out there women are going to have a better fundraising year than they would typically. To me particularly in these races against incumbents, it’s going to take some significant resources.”
The official filing period begins on Monday, February 12.
Correction: A photo in an earlier version of this story misidentified the North Carolina Senate chamber.