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Primary Results Warn of Threats to NC Business Climate

Even with our foreshadowing, Tuesday’s primary election results were a startling warning of the looming threats to North Carolina’s business climate. While we celebrate the victories of Chamber-backed candidates, many of the races we were watching turned for candidates that do not share our vision for North Carolina. Particularly in Republican races, populist candidates enjoyed great success. In many instances, previously unknown candidates defeated sitting legislators and elected officials with stronger qualifications, pristine voting records, and significantly more funding.

A defining example is the Republican primary for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Catherine Truitt has done an exemplary job in the role, and we have worked with her on many different efforts to improve education in North Carolina and develop students into a world-class workforce. Truitt outspent her opponent 8:1 and ran a strong campaign. By 4%, she was defeated by Michelle Morrow, a former nurse and homeschool mother. Morrow painted Truitt as a moderate and RINO (Republican in Name Only). She has never taught in a public school or been employed as a faculty member. Her previous political experience is an unsuccessful run for the Wake County school board in 2022.

Another example is Jon Hardister. A veteran legislator and current NC House Majority Whip, Hardister has been an unfailing Jobs Champion. His opponent, Luke Farley, is a far-right candidate whose two main campaign platform items were banning vaccine requirements for employees and “Making Elevators Great Again.” Despite outraising Farley 3:1, Hardister was defeated by 9% – over 75,000 votes statewide.

Both candidates move into the general with a strong chance of holding public office and will likely further politicize two offices that are, by design, nonpartisan. Each office, the Department of Public Instruction and Department of Labor, are agencies the NC Chamber works with regularly and relies on to preserve our business climate and manage the state’s public education and talent supply.

Historically, strong name ID and a good record were usually sufficient to win a primary challenge. Tuesday’s results, in these races and several others, show us that the populist wing of the Republican party is gaining strength. Their coalition isn’t necessarily one centered around ideology, but frustration and anger with the status quo. These sentiments mirror the political climate on the national stage.

As politics continue to be more centric around national narratives, NC Chamber Political Director Kirk O’Steen expects to see the number of these candidates increase in North Carolina. “The grassroots support of these far-right candidates is powerful enough to get them through primaries, but it remains unclear if they can also win the general election,” said O’Steen. “Still, many of these new candidates are in safe seats and will be assured victory in November, especially since down ballot results are most reliant on the Presidential election.”

What it Means for Business

When both parties move to the opposite ends of the political spectrum, it erodes the quiet, bipartisan work necessary to move our state forward. Moderating voices in each caucus will be replaced with partisan ideologues that cause division and create controversy. This not only creates a more volatile environment for our state, but also makes it more difficult for complex, challenging issues to be resolved. In the coming months, it is imperative that the business community prepare for this new climate and ensure that it is engaged and active in our political process, lest we be left behind.

NC Chamber Primary Investments

The NC Chamber invested nearly $200,000 in nine races across the state. Chamber-backed candidates won five of the nine races.

District Backed Candidate Party Result
HD-25 Allen Chesser R Win – 66.57% – 33.43%
HD-27 Michael Wray D Loss – 49.82% – 50.18%
HD-60 Cecil Brockman D Win – 50.69% – 49.31%
HD-62 Michelle Bardsley R Loss – 18.98% – 34.11%
HD-73 Holly Edwards R Loss – 46.57% – 53.43%
HD-82 Kevin Crutchfield R Loss – 49.06% – 50.94%
HD-83 Grant Campbell R Win – 52.27% – 47.73%
HD-106 Carla Cunningham D Win – 84.57% – 15.43%
SD-03 Bob Brinson R Win – 54.40% – 45.60%

We Need Your Engagement

The NC Chamber Political Program prides itself on making data-backed decisions when considering potential involvement in state legislative races. Central to this effort are three main questions that inform whether we should make an expenditure:

  1. Is there a clear choice to support a pro-business candidate?
  2. Is the race competitive?
  3. Will the Chamber’s investment make an impact in the race?

The answer to each of these questions was affirmative in the nine races where we engaged. Five of the candidates were incumbent legislators who were just named 2023 Jobs Champions. The remaining four were found to align well with your NC Chamber’s legislative agenda and core values and would be expected to be strong allies in the state legislature. Additionally, the opponents of each candidate painted a stark contrast between the pro-business stances of the Chamber-backed candidates and anti-business, partisan rhetoric. Finally, through gathering data and intel, we felt that each of these races would be competitive to some degree and our involvement was necessary.

In some races, it was obviously not enough. Your NC Chamber team is already putting together its strategy for the general election in November. We need the business community engaged. To schedule a political briefing for your team, click here.