As voters head to the polls, a look at some of the biggest races on the ballot in North Carolina

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/AP) – Polls opened across North Carolina at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday and officials and poll workers expect a busy day despite the fact that more than 4.5 million residents have already voted early in the state.

There are a number of huge races in North Carolina – Gov. Roy Cooper is taking on Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in perhaps the most closely-watched governor’s race in the country, Democrat Cal Cunningham is facing off against incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, and of course, there’s the presidential race between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.

There are also down-ballot races that will shape how the General Assembly looks in the next session and what kind of power the governor will have in 2021 and beyond.

Below are guides from the Associated Press that examine the races on the ballot today in North Carolina.

A guide to key down-ballot North Carolina races

North Carolina’s general election will determine the power balance in the state’s legislature, the shape of its congressional delegation and the makeup of a group of key statewide offices.

Much attention has been focused on contests for president, U.S. Senate and governor in the key battleground state. Down-ballot races are also closely contested in the state, which already has seen a record-setting early voting period.

As of Monday, more than 4.5 million ballots had been cast, representing nearly 62% of the state’s registered voters, well in excess of the 2016 early voting period.

A look at key down-ballot races for the U.S. House, state legislature, top statewide offices and the state Supreme Court.

U.S. HOUSE

Democrats are hoping that U.S. House district boundaries redrawn in 2019 will help them reshape the state’s 13-seat congressional delegation.

The court-mandated redrawing is expected to allow Democrats to pick up two districts currently held by Republicans who declined to run for reelection after the boundaries tilted left. That includes the Raleigh-area 2nd District and the Greensboro-area 6th District.

Picking up two more seats would give Democrats five of the state’s 13 congressional districts.

Meanwhile, two more districts that have traditionally leaned Republican have also proved competitive. That includes the 11th District in western North Carolina, a seat vacated by Mark Meadows, who became President Donald Trump’s chief of staff.

The 8th District, which runs along several counties in the southern part of the state, is the site of a close contest between Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson and Democratic challenger Patricia Timmons-Goodson, who previously served on the state Supreme Court.

LEGISLATURE

Fifteen closely contested races in the North Carolina General Assembly are likely to determine whether Democrats or Republicans will control the legislature.

Republicans have held both chambers since 2011. Democrats would need to win six additional seats to flip the House and five more Senate seats to ensure a majority in that chamber. Democrats could also flip the Senate by winning four more seats if the party’s nominee is elected lieutenant governor, because that office holds the right to cast tie-breaking votes in the 50-seat chamber.

Democrats won enough seats in 2018 so that Republican margins were no longer veto-proof.

Democrats and Republicans have poured millions of dollars into the races this cycle. Democrats say expanding Medicaid would be their top priority if they were brought to power. Republicans are seeking to preserve their conservative policies of the past decade.

COUNCIL OF STATE

Races for lieutenant governor, attorney general and insurance commissioner are among a slate of top statewide contests.

All 10 offices that comprise the group of top elected officials known as the Council of State will be decided in the general election.

Whichever candidate wins the lieutenant governor’s race will be the first African American to hold that position. Republican Mark Robinson of Greensboro, who earned notice following a viral video of a gun rights speech he gave, faces Democrat Yvonne Holley, a state legislator.

In the attorney general’s race, Democratic incumbent Josh Stein faces Republican Jim O’Neill, the district attorney for Forsyth County.

The race for state insurance commissioner is a rematch of the 2016 contest. Republican incumbent Mike Causey faces Wayne Goodwin, the Democrat he unseated four years ago who currently leads the state Democratic Party.

STATE SUPREME COURT

Three of the seven seats on North Carolina’s highest court are being contested. Republicans are hoping to erode Democrats’ six-seat majority on the court.

The balance of power on the court could help determine the outcome of looming battles over Republican voter identification initiatives, how capital punishment is applied and a taxpayer-funded scholarship program for K-12 children to attend private schools.

The state’s first Black female chief justice, Cheri Beasley, is being challenged for the chief’s spot by fellow Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby, a Republican.

Current state Court of Appeals judges Democrat Lucy Inman and Republican Phil Berger Jr. are running to fill the seat that Newby currently holds.

Current Associate Justice Mark Davis, a Democrat, is running for reelection against Republican Tamara Barringer, a lawyer and former state senator.


North Carolina voters decide most expensive Senate race

North Carolina voters are choosing between a Republican U.S. senator and Donald Trump ally who has been criticized for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and a Democratic challenger who admitted in the campaign’s final weeks to sending sexually suggestive texts to a woman not his wife.

Tuesday’s contest between Sen. Thom Tillis and Cal Cunningham is the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history. More than $280 million has been spent by the campaigns and by outside groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. National Democrats have invested significantly in the presidential battleground state, hoping to make the seat one of the handful that need to flip to take back the Senate.

The state has already seen record early voting by mail and in person, with nearly 4.6 million ballots, or 62% of all registered voters, cast as of Monday afternoon, according to the State Board of Elections.

Focused for months on COVID-19, health insurance and taxes, the race pivoted four weeks ago when Cunningham, 47, acknowledged that he had written the sexually suggestive texts to a public relations strategist from California. He apologized, saying he was “deeply sorry.” A few days later, The Associated Press reported additional texts and interviews confirming he and the woman had an intimate encounter as recent as July.

The revelations gave life to Tillis’ campaign, which used interviews with the senator and political ads to question Cunningham’s integrity. Before the revelation, Cunningham, a U.S. Army reserve officer and Iraq War veteran, had presented himself as a family man and dogged military prosecutor.

After the revelation, Cunningham stuck to a low-profile schedule, holding small, unannounced events that were revealed after the fact on social media. In the sole online news conference he held, he refused to say whether he had had other affairs.

Cunningham, 47, a former state legislator and 2010 Senate candidate, had been recruited to run for the seat by national Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Cunningham outraised Tillis dramatically this year, but Tillis, a former state House speaker, benefited from independent expenditure groups.

Still, it was Cunningham and allied groups who flexed their financial muscles in the final weeks. They flooded the airwaves with commercials focusing on Tillis’ votes to repeal President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law and a state legislative career that included blocking Medicaid expansion.

Registered Democrat Ronald Minter, 52, an apartment maintenance worker from Raleigh, said Cunningham’s personal issues weighed on him. But Minter said he still voted for Cunningham.

“No man is perfect, but every man deserves a second chance,” Minter said. “He thinks that he can redeem himself.”

Tillis, 60, a former IBM consultant, last year frustrated some conservatives who accused him of failing to embrace Trump fully. But Republican Fred Schroeder of Chocowinity said he was pleased with the senator and that he needs to win to keep the GOP in control of the chamber.

“Tillis is doing his job,” said Schroeder, 81, who is retired from the steel industry. “I don’t think he’s done anything bad … and he hasn’t embarrassed anyone that I know of.”

Cunningham’s acknowledgement of his extramarital activity on Oct. 2 came a couple hours after Tillis announced he tested positive for the coronavirus. Several days earlier, the senator had attended the White House event announcing the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. A strong proponent of constituents wearing facemasks, Tillis acknowledged making a mistake by taking off his mask while indoors at the event.

Libertarian and constitution party candidates also are running for the seat.


Cooper vs. Forest in closely watched NC governor’s race

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The contest between Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is among a few governor’s races across the country that are being closely watched in this year’s election.

Cooper is banking on the support of voters who approved of his handling of the coronavirus, while Forest aims to appeal to business owners and K-12 public school parents dissatisfied with the state’s slow reopening.

The race between Cooper and Forest has attracted attention from outside groups, which have spent millions to shape voter attitudes.

Cooper took in more than $17 million between July 1 and Oct. 17, with over $11 million being given by political party committees and $281,000 coming from other political committees, according to the campaign’s latest quarterly report filed with the State Board of Elections.

Forest raised a substantially smaller $4 million during the same July 1 to Oct. 17 period. The campaign filing shows $532,000 came from political party committees and nearly $100,000 from other political committees.

Nearly 62% of the state’s more than 7.3 million registered voters had cast their ballots by Monday. Democrats cast 1.7 million ballots, Republicans cast over 1.4 million ballots and nearly 1.4 million unaffiliated people voted.

Montana is expected to have the most competitive gubernatorial contest in the country. U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, is running for an open seat against Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. Despite not having any major media markets in the state, campaigns and the parties’ governors groups spent more than $24 million on the election through September. In Missouri, Republican Gov. Mike Parson faces a strong challenge from Nicole Galloway, the state’s Democratic auditor. The contest in Missouri is Democrats’ best hope for flipping a governor’s seat this year.

In North Carolina, Cooper has avoided the physical campaign cycle this election, instead choosing to participate in a small number of virtual gatherings. Supporters of the mild-mannered Democrat believe he’s responsibly prioritized public safety.

“I think Roy Cooper’s doing a great job,” said Ryan Commedo, a Fayetteville resident who took part in early, in-person voting. “He’s handling everything with the coronavirus and giving updates that we don’t get from the president. I think he cares about the people.”

Forest has hosted several large in-person events with little to no mask wearing or physical separation between attendees. The lieutenant governor is calling for a more aggressive reopening of businesses and schools and has vowed to immediately repeal the statewide mask mandate Cooper enacted in response to rising coronavirus cases.

“Roy Cooper wanted to shut the state down, and millions of people were out of jobs,” said Timothy LeCornu, a 59-year-old self-employed online marketer living in Raleigh who voted for Forest. “Still, even now, you can’t go shopping or to a restaurant without having to become a bank robber with a mask on. That’s crazy.”


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