In North Carolina's Democratic Senate primary, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall is banking on what her campaign is billing as its superior ground game to carry the candidate to victory in Tuesday's runoff against former state Sen. Cal Cunningham. The winner will face Sen. Richard Burr (R) in November.
It's a grassroots surge the Marshall camp said is a result of voter anger over the national party's role in the primary. Marshall has worked to label Cunningham as the candidate of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), pointing to financial support his campaign has received from a handful of sitting Democratic senators. While the committee has not weighed in officially, the DSCC played a hand in convincing Cunningham to jump into the race last year.
"We've got a large volunteer base and we're basically on the phones around the clock," said Thomas Mills, an adviser to the Marshall campaign, which has been pushing the anti-establishment line hard. "I don't think the folks at the DSCC realize how angry people are down here."
Publicly, the DSCC denied it has a favored candidate in the race. In a statement, DSCC national press secretary Deirdre Murphy said, "Given Richard Burr's blank slate of North Carolina accomplishments and his anemic approval numbers, we believe either Democrat who wins the runoff could make this a competitive race."
But privately some national Democrats have indicated they view Cunningham as the more electable candidate against Burr.
Mills said the storyline is motivating Marshall supporters ahead of a runoff where turnout is expected to be low. Reports out of the state over the weekend showed the early voting numbers were even lower than expected. Party officials said the best-case scenario is that 100,000 voters come out Tuesday.
The Marshall camp has longtime Democratic consultant Jim Spencer running its voter contact effort, which is focused heavily on phone contact. Spencer heads the Boston-based firm The Campaign Network. "I don't want to sound overconfident, but the numbers are trending stronger our way," Spencer told the Ballot Box. "We've invested a lot in this program."
Cunningham, meanwhile, has been on a "Beat Burr" bus tour for the campaign's final stretch, criss-crossing the state with the argument that he is best positioned to defeat Burr. Campaign spokesman Jared Leopold said he is confident Cunningham's voter contact effort is more robust than Marshall's and that he does not think the "Cunningham as establishment candidate" storyline is selling in the state.
"I don't hear people talking about Washington, unless I'm in Washington, North Carolina," said Leopold.