The Grumpy Old Men election

Published February 1, 2024

By Tom Campbell

I’ve put off writing about the 2024 elections as long as I can, but with the “Super Tuesday” Primary election in 14 states a month away, we need to check in. Currently, our March 5th Primary isn’t on the radar of most voters.
Some are calling this year’s presidential race the “Grumpy Old Men” election, reprising the 1993 movie of the same name. The not-so-subtle moniker points to the advanced age of both party’s candidates. But age is only a straw man for more serious objections.
It was always understood Trump was going to get the GOP nomination. The token opponents hung around hoping lightning would strike and the “Orange Jesus” would somehow be disqualified. People are tired of the circus and incessant noise. A large number just don’t like him or his antics, but spineless Republicans (leaders and officeholders) refuse to take him on, fearing Trump’s (or his cult’s) anger, personal threats and violence.
The real objection to Joe Biden’s re-election is not his age. Many Democrats and Republicans alike are afraid Biden will be incapacitated during a second term and Kamala Harris will move into the oval office. Let’s speak some truth! The major opposition to Biden is Harris, and we speculate this is largely due to her race. There, I said what nobody wants to say.
If the candidates are grumpy voters are even grumpier, especially voters under 30, Blacks and Latinos. Nobody is excited about enduring the longest presidential election contest between now and November 5th. They have tuned out and turned off.
This grumpiness extends to our state contests. We’re hearing crickets from candidates, largely because political donors are uninspired and are sitting on their money. Nobody, except political operatives, seems to object.
Republican legislative gerrymandering in 2023 has put a damper on election excitement. In 2022, North Carolina elected 7 Democrats and 7 Republicans to Congress. Three incumbent Democratic Congressmen didn’t even file to run for re-election this year and no Democrats bothered to run against two Republican incumbents. The huge disfunction in Congress is a surely a factor, but the malaise is primarily due to gerrymandered districts. The belief that our state engages in fair elections is disappearing.
A couple of congressional primaries might generate some excitement, especially the 6th district where three Republicans will vie to replace Democrat Kathy Manning, who opted not to fight a stacked gerrymandered deck. Bo Hines, defeated in 2022 in another district, Addison McDowell, and former Congressman Mark Walker, defeated by Manning, are the players. There will be scrum for the GOP nomination in the 8th district seat vacated by Dan Bishop.  Frequent GOP candidate Mark Harris is trying for a comeback. Democrat Wiley Nichol decided his 13th district was so unfriendly he chose not to run and Kelly Daughtry, owing to her previous exposure in the district, might emerge from the 14 GOP contestants.
The gubernatorial campaign might also be heating up. Democrat Attorney General Josh Stein has been running for governor for more than a year and accumulated a large war chest. His primary challenger, the Black former Supreme Court Justice, Mike Morgan, got into the race late, has not gotten much money or traction. No excitement here.
The Republican gubernatorial race should be more interesting, but so far isn’t. Mark Robinson, the bombastic Black Lieutenant Governor, endorsed by Trump, is the current front runner. Many traditional Republicans (what few of them remain) dislike Robinson’s Trump-like candidacy. Treasurer Dale Folwell, who can be controversial, should logically mount a serious challenge, but even with the State Employees endorsement the Treasurer hasn’t generated much excitement. And Bill Graham, the Salisbury trial attorney, has Senator Thom Tillis’ endorsement. Graham warns that if Robinson gets the nomination Democrats will once again win the Governor’s office.
Veteran congressmen Dan Bishop (R) and Jeff Jackson (D) will end up running in November for Attorney General. There might be some interest in the vacant Auditor’s position, with Jessica Holmes (D) likely facing Republican Dave Boliek, Jr., former chair of the UNC Board of Trustees come November. Three Republicans want the nod to succeed Folwell in the Treasurer’s primary and Democrat legislator Wesley Harris has the recognition edge over the three Dems wanting the nomination. Four Republicans are competing for the vacant Labor office, with legislator Jon Hardister the best known. The Insurance Commissioner’s primary race will be a test of whether incumbent Mike Causey, who has alienated legislative leadership, Blue Cross and the News and Observer, can win over Robert Brawley, a former Republican legislator.
Polls have little real value at this early stage, but unless the vibe changes soon we could see a much lower turnout than in 2020. Outcomes will depend on who and how vote. For now, voters are not interested.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965.  Contact him at