It’s getting crowded

Open U.S. Senate race drawing high-profile hopefuls

N.C. Supreme Court justices, 2020. Now-Chief Justice Paul Newby is front row, left, beside then-Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. (Photo from Supreme Court files)

As Carolina Journal reported last month, former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley will seek the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in next year’s election. Several of the former chief’s friends confirmed her plans to other media outlets.

Three-term incumbent Republican Richard Burr is retiring.

Beasley, who lost the election for chief by a few hundred votes to Republican Paul Newby, may be the front-runner. So far, Sen. Jeff Jackson of Mecklenburg County, former state Sen. Erica Smith of Northampton County, and virologist Richard Watkins have said they’re running. 

Jackson was recruited by national Democrats for the 2020 contest but passed. He wanted to run a grass-roots, meet-the-voters campaign but opted out when New York Sen. Chuck Schumer reportedly said Jackson’s role would be to “sit in a windowless basement” and shake down donors for campaign money. Meantime, Smith ran and lost in the 2020 Democratic primary to eventual general election loser Cal Cunningham (who, aside from a sex scandal, seemingly had little problem hiding in that basement).

3.14 Action, a PAC that recruits and supports progressive-leaning Democrats with backgrounds in science and technology, is nudging Joan Higginbotham to jump in. Higginbotham, who lives in Charlotte and is married to a Charlotte council member James Mitchell, was the third Black woman to go into space.

That’s a passel of high-profile candidates, including three African-American women running for the nomination in a state that’s never elected a Black woman to the U.S. Senate.

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I’m interested in the internal dynamics. Beasley is the only candidate who’s won statewide races, both for Court of Appeals and Supreme Court associate justice. She almost won a full, eight-year term as chief justice. She raised more than $2.1 million for the 2020 cycle — more than was raised by all N.C. judicial candidate committees in the 2018 cycle. 

See if the big money coalesces around her rather than, say, Jackson.

On the Republican side, only former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker is formally in the race. He’s lined up some important endorsements, including U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. 

Former Gov. Pat McCrory could jump in … as could Lara Trump, Wilmington native and daughter-in-law of former President Donald Trump.

45 appeared at a fundraiser earlier this month at his Mar-A-Lago complex that Lara hosted for a pet rescue. He hinted Lara was running.

A Snopes check concluded it was “unclear” if the event directed money in a shady way to the ex-president. Translation: It seems to be legally OK, leaving others to decide if it was ethically copacetic to hold the event at her father-in-law’s resort.

Upshot: McCrory may be the odd one out. Walker is lining up endorsements from the pro-Trump, mainstream GOP, and Evangelical camps — including African-American pastors. Lara Trump’s presence might shake things up, but Team Trump has shown a knack for boosting its own fortunes rather than delivering wins to non-45 candidates. 

Having a family member on the ballot might be different. We’ll see.

Election law changes

Republicans in the General Assembly have introduced a bill — anticipating the eventual passage of H.R. 1 — that would try to supplant several of the federal law’s limits on state action, and impose new limits on balloting even if H.R. 1 doesn’t make it. I have thoughts about this approach. I’ll share them next week. (A tease!)

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Multi-week festivals

As I wrote last week, COVID-19 forced major festivals to shut down last year. Many are either postponing their regular spring events to late summer, early fall, or 2022. 

One outlier is the Sharkori Hills Grassroots Festival, an annual event in Chatham County hosted by jam band mainstays Donna the Buffalo. Shakori Hills normally takes place in May, the week after Merlefest

Rather than postpone this year’s version, Shakori Hills will spread out over several weeks, hosting single performances (or an opener and headliner). It opened Wednesday.

Shakori Hills will use “pod-based, socially distanced” spaces to accommodate the people who can get in. Excellent lineup, especially for those of us who haven’t seen a live show in more than a year. It always rains there. Hope the weather cooperates this time.

May 8’s headliner is the Del McCoury Band, led by the 82-year-old legend. I expect he’ll be in fine form. We won’t go, but I hope he’s still at it this fall, because I have little doubt he’ll be at Merlefest, IBMA World of Bluegrass, or both.

His cover of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” isn’t better than the original, but it’s as good. (If anyone reading has any pull at Merlefest, you gotta get Richard Thompson to perform. Soon!)