Potential candidates are constantly getting "mentioned" for higher office, but who's doing all that work? Why, the Great Mentioner, of course. In this new ongoing series, Daily Kos channels the Great Mentioner and catalogs all the notable candidates who might run in 2016's most important races.
Democrats are hoping to give Republican Sen. Richard Burr a run for his money
Swingy North Carolina will host two critical statewide contests next year, but while Attorney General Roy Cooper has emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee to take on Gov. Pat McCrory, the Senate race is far less defined. While McCrory had a reputation as a moderate during his days as mayor of Charlotte, in office he's been anything but. McCrory and legislative Republicans have pushed one of the nation's most conservative agendas, and Cooper is hoping it will be McCrory's undoing. But while McCrory's personal poll numbers aren't great, he'll be very well funded, and unseating him won't be easy.
On the Senate side, Republican incumbent Richard Burr is still quite anonymous despite his ten-year tenure, and Democrats think they have a shot at knocking him off in this light red state. However, no notable candidates have stepped up to challenge Burr, and it's unclear who will enter the ring with him.
National Democrats' first choice is Kay Hagan, Burr's former Senate colleague. While Hagan lost re-election last year, she kept things close in the face of terrifying political winds, and her campaign skills and fundraising abilities would give her the chance to upset Burr under more favorable conditions. Hagan herself hasn't ruled anything out, though there's no telling how likely she is to enter another high-stakes race. Hagan's own favorable ratings are still quite bad following the 2014 election, though, making them an obstacle to a successful comeback.
If Hagan declines, State Treasurer Janet Cowell would become the Democrats' foremost plan B. Cowell has been touted by party operatives, but she hasn't said anything about her plans and would need to give up her post to run. Cowell won re-election 54-46 as Romney was carrying the state 50-48, so she does have experience attracting crossover voters. Still, despite her statewide position, she isn't well known: A recent Public Policy Polling survey gave her only a 14-16 favorable rating, with 69 percent of registered voters offering no opinion of her.
There are other options beyond Hagan and Cowell, but none of them are particularly obvious choices. Former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, who currently serves as U.S. secretary of transportation, doesn't sound interested in running, though he hasn't publicly declined. Democratic operatives recently told Roll Call that they could land former Rep. Mike McIntyre, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, or state Rep. Grier Martin, but like Cowell, none of them have said anything about their plans. McIntyre won a tough race in 2012 after the GOP tried to gerrymander him into oblivion, so he is capable of prevailing under bad conditions. But McIntyre retired in 2014 rather than go through another bruising (and likely losing) campaign, so his politicking days may be behind him. McIntyre is also quite conservative, which could hurt him among the party rank-and-file.
Cunningham actually ran for this same seat in 2010, so he might be interested in another try. But he badly lost the Democratic primary despite national party support, and he may not want to risk another defeat. Martin was recruited in 2008 but passed, so it's anyone's guess if he's more keen this time. However, now that Democrats are deep in the minority in the state House, he has a lot less to lose if he takes his chances on the Senate.
There are a few other names worth watching. State Sen. Jeff Jackson has earned plenty of attention, and like Martin, he's stuck in the minority for the foreseeable future. Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane is popular in the state's second-largest city, though she identifies as an independent. McFarlane's predecessor, Charles Meeker, had talked about running for governor but might decide to try for the Senate rather than face Cooper. Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Jones has been a potential statewide candidate for years but has never taken the bait. One other interesting option is UNC System President Tom Ross, who was forced to resign by the Board of Governors in a controversial move that appears to have been motivated by partisanship. Ross himself hasn't voiced any interest in seeking office though.
Tar Heel State Democrats have had a rough few cycles, but North Carolina remains competitive enough to give them a shot at Burr if political conditions are favorable. The GOP starts out with a clear edge in this polarized state, but national Democrats are almost certainly going to go after the incumbent. We saw a very close and expensive Senate contest back in 2014, and we may yet see another one.
For all of our posts in the Daily Kos Great Mentioner series, click here.