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« SC: Haley Wins Runoff | Blog Home Page | NC: Dems Target Most Vulnerable Republican »

NC: Marshall Wins Runoff

By Kyle Trygstad

Elaine Marshall handily defeated Cal Cunningham to win the Democratic nomination in the North Carolina Senate race. The Associated Press called the race with a third of precincts reporting and Marshall leading with 62 percent of the vote.

In the May 4 primary, Marshall finished 4 points shy of the 40 percent needed to win the nomination outright. But it was a strong showing, taking 74 of the state's 100 counties.

Marshall is serving her fourth term as secretary of state, but the national party continued to recruit candidates it viewed as better competition for Republican Sen. Richard Burr. After Attorney General Roy Cooper and others turned down running, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee successfully recruited Cunningham into the race.

Cunningham is a young Iraq war veteran and former one-term state senator. In the anti-establishment year of 2010, he was viewed by some in Washington as a stronger opponent than someone who had been in the same office since the 1990s. Marshall's poor performance in the 2002 Democratic Senate primary also may have hampered the opinion of her.

But Marshall successfully overcame all of that and proved to voters that she would be the most electable against Burr, whom polls show to be the most vulnerable Republican senator in the country.

"Democrats got their more electable candidate for the fall by nominating Elaine Marshall to run against Richard Burr tonight," Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen wrote Tuesday night. "Qualitative arguments were made over the last six months that Cal Cunningham would be the stronger nominee but polling data has repeatedly shown that Marshall is the stronger candidate."

Despite its efforts to help Cunningham, the DSCC immediately released a statement congratulating Marshall.

"Congratulations to Elaine Marshall on her primary victory," said DSCC Chairman Robert Menendez. "She is a proven reformer who has taken on the special interests in her state, and has cracked down on lobbyist activity, insurance company abuses, and excess on Wall Street. Both Elaine and Cal Cunningham deserve credit for running spirited, aggressive campaigns."

With just two public polls released during the six week-long runoff campaign, it was difficult to tell if either candidate had separated themselves. Marshall did, however, win the endorsement of Ken Lewis, an African American attorney who finished third in the May 4 primary with 17 percent.

Marshall worked hard to win the black vote, which her campaign spokesman insisted weeks ago would be the difference in the race.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, in defending its biggest target, issued a statement on the race.

"Marshall has demonstrated that she will simply serve as another rubberstamp for President Obama and Harry Reid's deeply unpopular out-of-control spending agenda in Washington, which North Carolinians have soundly rejected," said NRSC Chairman John Cornyn. "In contrast, Richard Burr has a proven record of accomplishment, and he continues to work tirelessly to restore critical checks-and-balances that the families, seniors, and job creators in the Tar Heel State deserve."

RCP currently rates this race Leans Republican.