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Decisive Primaries

Thanks to legislative districts that heavily lean Republican or Democratic, several of next week’s primary contests could likely determine who will replace a retiring legislator next year. A total of 24 incumbents in the House and Senate decided to step down or seek another office. And while some are in competitive districts that won’t get decided until the November election, others are in districts with such a strong partisan tilt that Tuesday’s winner will most likely join the legislature, as any general election candidate from the other party will face a long-shot bid. Here’s a few of the races to watch Tuesday night to get a sense for who will likely be in the General Assembly next year:

House District 38: With incumbent Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake, running for lieutenant governor, Democratic voters in and around Southeast Raleigh will choose between former Wake County commissioner and former Superior Court Judge Abe Jones and Quanta Monique Edwards, a real-estate broker and affordable housing advocate. Holley, along with the influential Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, have endorsed Jones. He ran unsuccessfully for Court of Appeals in 2014 and 2016. Edwards is backed by Raleigh City Councilman David Cox, Emily’s List and N.C. Rep. Raymond Smith, D-Wayne.

Senate District 6: As Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, prepares to retire, Onslow County school board member Bob Williams will face off with Jacksonville City Councilman Michael Lazzara in the Republican primary for the conservative district covering Onslow and Jones counties. Williams is an Air Force veteran who runs a photography business. Lazzara is a Marine Corps veteran who owns a sign business and restaurant; he’s currently serving as Jacksonville’s mayor pro tem and is a past president of the N.C. League of Municipalities who chairs the Jacksonville Tourism Development Authority.

House District 3: The upcoming retirement of conservative firebrand Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, has led to a four-candidate Republican primary in the New Bern area. Two of the candidates are local elected officials: Longtime Craven County Commissioner Steve Tyson and Havelock City Commissioner Jim Kohr. Kohr is a Navy veteran and pastor, while Tyson is an Army veteran, general contractor and real-estate broker. Guy Smith is a Marine Corps judge advocate who describes himself as a “conservative outsider,” and Eric Queen is another Marine who ran unsuccessfully against Speciale in a previous election. Tyson leads the others in fundraising, followed by Smith.

Senate District 49: With Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, running for lieutenant governor, Asheville will get a new senator. The frontrunner appears to be Asheville City Councilwoman Julie Mayfield, who leads the environmental nonprofit MountainTrue. She has a substantial lead over other candidates in fundraising and boasts endorsements from Van Duyn, the Sierra Club and Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer. The other candidates are Travis Smith, a software consultant and environmental activist, and Ben Scales, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for district attorney.

Senate District 42: As Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, aims for the lieutenant governor’s office, former Rep. Mark Hollo and Hickory businessman and N.C. Wildlife Commission member Dean Proctor are facing off in the Republican primary for his seat. The race has featured attacks from both candidates, with Hollo pointing out campaign donations that Proctor made to Democrats, including Roy Cooper and Josh Stein, and Proctor blasting what he calls Hollo’s “failed record in the NC House ... including voting with the Democrats on their reckless budget that increased spending by $1 billion.”

House District 72: With Rep. Derwin Montgomery, D-Forsyth, seeking a seat in Congress, United Health Centers CEO Lashun Huntley and former elementary school principal Amber Baker are vying for his spot in the N.C. House. Both are political newcomers.

House District 80: With Rep. Steve Jarvis, R-Davidson, vacating his House seat to primary Sen. Eddie Gallimore, R-Davidson, former Davidson County Reps. Roger Younts and Sam Watford both want their old seat back. Watford lost an attempt to move up to the Senate in 2018, and Younts was appointed to a partial House term in 2013 and 2014. The race hasn’t generated much fundraising as of mid-February, with Younts reporting about $2,000 and Watford reporting about $9,000.

Senate District 20: Durham has a Senate opening thanks to Sen. Floyd McKissick’s move to the Utilities Commission, and three Democrats want the spot. Soil and Water Commissioner Natalie Murdock faces musician and activist Pierce Freelon and attorney Gray Ellis. The winner of the primary is expected to be appointed to finish McKissick’s term in the upcoming short session.

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