A lot happens in the four manic weeks before Raleigh’s elections: candidate forums, endorsements, mailers, oppo dumps, etc. The people running for mayor or city council have spent the better part of a year hustling for money, and except for the handful who might face a November runoff, there’s no point in leaving any of it in the bank.
So as these campaigns hit the homestretch, we wanted to offer a quick snapshot of where (we think) things stand, based on fundraising reports, our reporting and analysis, and, well, let’s call it intuition.
These races are fluid. They can and will change. But if we were taking bets right now, these are the lines we’d lay down. Keep in mind: Even the longest of long shots occasionally pays off.
2–1: Mary-Ann Baldwin | 3–1: Charles Francis | 3.5–1: Caroline Sullivan | 40–1: Zainab Baloch | 700–1: Justin Sutton | 1,000–1: George Knott
Two predictions: No one gets a majority on October 8. And Francis emerges that night in first place.
The first thing to watch as the polls close: how close Francis gets to 50 percent. If he’s above 45, he’s probably the next mayor; below 40, probably not; in between, who knows. The second thing is who comes in second. Baldwin and Sullivan are fishing from the same pond; whoever prevails should be able to draw on the majority Nancy McFarlane used to vanquish Francis two years ago. We think that will be Baldwin, who has better citywide name recognition and a stronger downtown network than Sullivan.
Francis garnered 37 percent of the vote in October 2017 and 42 in the runoff against McFarlane. About two-thirds of his support came from African Americans who felt their neighborhoods were being left behind, the rest mostly from progressives dissatisfied with the status quo McFarlane embodied. The big question mark is whether Francis can broaden his base; in the 2017 runoff, he won just one (tiny) precinct outside of East Raleigh. To that end, he’s allied with the council’s neighborhood-preservation coalition—David Cox, Stef Mendell, Kay Crowder, and Russ Stephenson.
Even: Russ Stephenson | Even: Nicole Stewart | 3–1: Jonathan Melton | 5–1: James Bledsoe | 15–1: Carlie Allison Spencer | 100–1: Portia Rochelle
An important fact: No at-large incumbent has lost a reelection bid since 2001—no mayor has lost since then, either—which favors Stephenson and Stewart. But both Melton and Bledsoe are more ideologically simpatico with Stewart than Stephenson, and thus more apt to draw from him than her in this convoluted top-two-vote-getters-win system. Two years ago, Stewart narrowly missed the 25 percent threshold she needed to avoid a runoff (third-place finisher Stacy Miller declined to seek one), but Stephenson only claimed 28 percent, hardly a show of overwhelming strength.
6–5 on: Patrick Buffkin | 2–1: Sam Hershey | 20–1: Joshua Bradley
With the endorsements of outgoing council member Dickie Thompson and former mayor Charles Meeker, Buffkin strikes us as a favorite. But Hershey’s taken up the salient RDU quarry issue as a campaign cause, and in a race likely to garner fifteen thousand votes max, anything can happen.
2–1 on: David Cox | 3–1: Brian Fitzsimmons
Fitzsimmons professes confidence, but insiders are skeptical. True, he’s outraised and outhustled the incumbent so far—also true, Cox won’t win any popularity contests inside City Hall—but ever since Cox rallied his North Raleigh neighbors against a proposed supermarket development in 2014, District B has been his kind of suburbia. In 2017, he defeated former council member John Odom with 68 percent of the vote.
3–1 on: Corey Branch | 10–1: Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi | 50–1: Ricky Scott | 50–1: Wanda Hunter
Branch isn’t the most exciting politician, but it’s hard to imagine him losing in this field.
Even: Kay Crowder | 3–1: Saige Martin | 10–1: Brittany Bryan | 25–1: April Parker
Crowder and, before her, her late husband, Thomas, have represented District D since 2003. But this year, she faces some high-quality, well-funded challengers. Martin, a politically experienced and media-savvy twenty-eight-year-old who raised more than $55,000 through June and has netted endorsements from Equality NC, restaurateur Ashley Christensen, and retired longtime NCMA director Larry Wheeler, could pose an acute threat. We still think Crowder wins, but we wouldn’t be shocked if she didn’t.
6–5 on: David Knight | 2–1: Stef Mendell
Two years ago, Mendell bested Bonner Gaylord by 526 votes out of 11,130 cast. On Election Day, Gaylord had more than $100,000 in the bank, and he declined a runoff he might have won. Mendell started this cycle as the council’s most vulnerable incumbent, and she drew perhaps the strongest challenger in David Knight.
Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at firstname.lastname@example.org. The odds on the District E race have been edited to reflect that in a two-person race, one person has to be a favorite. The odds in the District A race have been similarly adjusted.
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