McCrory and Dalton won their respective gubernatorial primaries Tuesday that reduced 12 candidates from both parties down to two for November. McCrory had an easy primary victory by receiving 83 percent of the vote, while Dalton dodged a possible runoff with former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge by winning 46 percent to 38 percent, according to nearly complete, unofficial results.
Leading vote-getters in several statewide and congressional races weren't so lucky by falling at or below the 40 percent threshold needed to win outright. The second-place finishers will be able to ask for a runoff scheduled for July 17.
McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor, narrowly lost to then-Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue in the November 2008 election. Now he'll face Dalton, who entered the Democratic primary that became wide open after Perdue announced in late January she wasn't seeking re-election.
The primary winners provided tastes of their fall campaign strategies at their victory parties. They said they aimed to persuade voters from the other candidate's parties and among unaffiliated voters, which now comprise one-fourth of those registered statewide.
McCrory still sounded like he was taking on Perdue and called his Democratic rival this year — whether it was Dalton and Etheridge — part of the network that had controlled the executive branch of government for all but 12 years over the last century. Jim Martin, the most recent GOP governor, left office in early 1993.
"There's no doubt in my mind that we need someone from the outside to fix the culture that's been dominating for so long," McCrory said. "An insider is not going to be able to fix it."
Dalton, starting the general election race as the perceived underdog and behind in finances compared to McCrory with $3 million in his campaign coffers, wants to paint McCrory with the same brush as the new Republican-led Legislature. The General Assembly has been taking heat for the budget they approved last year over Perdue's veto.
"This Legislature, with Pat McCrory's encouragement, has limited opportunity. They have unduly cut education," Dalton said. "This Legislature, with Pat McCrory in tow, cut our community colleges, cut our universities."
Libertarian Barbara Howe was unopposed for her party's nomination and will run with Dalton and McCrory.
The number of runoffs increased this year, the likely result of redistricting and congressional retirements that gave more Republicans hope of getting elected. The recent surge in GOP power in Raleigh also contributed to several candidates running in Republican Council of State primaries.
Republicans Jim Pendergraph and Robert Pittenger appeared headed to a runoff for the Charlotte-area 9th Congressional District seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick that attracted a whopping 11 GOP candidates. The winner with take on Democrat Jennifer Roberts.
Pittenger, who has raised more than $1 million in his GOP primary bid, had run negative ads against Pendergraph, noting that the sheriff is a former Democrat. Myrick, however, endorsed Pendergraph.
In the southern Piedmont 8th District, U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell beat back a Democratic primary challenger. He will face the winner of a GOP runoff battle between former congressional aide Richard Hudson and former Iredell County Commissioner Scott Keadle. Kissell is facing a tough re-election in a district redrawn to make it more Republican friendly.
For the 11th District in the mountains, Democrat Hayden Rogers won a primary election to replace his former boss, outgoing U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler. Rogers will face the winner of a GOP runoff between real estate investor Mark Meadows and business owner Vance Patterson.
Republicans will face summertime runoff choices to pick the GOP candidates for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction, insurance commissioner and auditor.
Democrats face a runoff for labor commissioner between lobbyist Marlowe Foster and John Brooks, who held the post when 25 workers were killed in a Hamlet chicken-processing plant fire.
In legislative races, at least five House incumbents lost and a sixth was trailing, including one of the Democrats who bucked his party and voted for the Republican-penned budget last year despite Perdue's veto.
Veteran Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, lost to fellow incumbent Rep. Winkie Wilkins, D-Person, according to complete, unofficial returns. Crawford, who was named a top budget-writer several months ago by Republican House leaders, was one of five Democrats who voted for the GOP budget.
Rep. Bill Brisson, D-Bladen, another member of the "Gang of Five," narrowly defeated Elizabethtown lawyer Matt Dixon.
Other lawmakers who lost were Rep. Trudi Walend, R-Transylvania, who previously served in the House but was re-appointed in January, and Rep. Larry Brown, R-Forsyth. Unofficial complete results show Walend narrowly lost to Chris Whitmire, while Brown lost to Forsyth County commissioner Debra Conrad in a three-candidate race.
Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, defeated Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, in a race of two incumbents drawn into the same district.
Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, co-chairman of the House Rules Committee, trailed Wayne County GOP leader John Bell by 54 votes with all precincts reporting. LaRoque could ask for a recount.
In the Senate, newly-appointed Republican Sen. Chris Carney advanced to a runoff against David Curtis. Former Rep. Karen Ray finished third.
Early voting and absentee ballot totals reached a primary record of more than 500,000 voters thanks to intense interest in proposed constitutional amendment on marriage and competitive congressional races. But overall turnout doesn't appear to have reached the recent record high of 37 percent in 2008. The State Board of Elections says 2,164,074 ballots have been cast, or 34.4 percent of registered voters.
Associated Press writer Emery P. Dalesio contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.