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The Race To Replace Coble: 'It's A Wonderful Chance For A Republican' Says One Analyst

It was a small audience at a forum for 6th Congressional candidates at UNC-Greensboro last week.
Jeff Tiberi

Early voting for begins this Thursday and candidates for federal, state and local offices are making a final push leading up to the May 6th primary.

In the Republican leaning 6th Congressional District a crowded field of conservative hopefuls is vying for the republican nomination to replace 83-year-old Howard Coble, who is retiring later this year.

When Coble was first elected to the US Congress, North Carolina had about 60 percent fewer residents. That's about four million people. You could still smoke on planes. Michael Jordan was a rookie with the Chicago Bulls.

The long-time incumbent is stepping aside leaving a significant vacancy. 

"This is a wonderful chance, the seat is open - well it's a wonderful chance for a Republican at least. It's a good year for Republicans. If you get the nomination for your party you're going to be in Congress. And once you're in Congress there is a good chance you can stay there," said Charles Prysby is a Political Science Professor at UNC-Greensboro.

Meeting the public

Some of the men campaigning for the 6th Congressional seat were in an old lecture hall on campus at UNCG last week. At the start of the forum there were fewer than 20 people in the audience. The forum featured four Republicans and a Democrat,.

Students asked questions and the conversation flowed from education to climate change, the war on drugs to minimum wage and touched briefly on foreign policy.

"It's surprising that you don't have more what I would call high quality Republican candidates," Prysby said.

He says a common path to Congress is first working as a state legislator. None of the candidates in the 6th have any experience in the General Assembly. By comparison, three candidates in the race for the open 12th congressional seat are current state legislators.

"Experienced candidates, people who have had elected office. So this is not a reflection on the inherent quality of some of the people - they may be absolutely wonderfully people. But of the nine Republicans I think only three have held elected office," added Prysby.
Those three are a city councilman, a county commissioner and a district attorney.
Determining just who is leading the race, or even faring well, can be difficult in congressional primaries.
As far as key indicators, political scientists say watch the polls - there aren't any independent ones here, and the money - plenty of that.
In the sixth, a considerable amount of campaign contributions have been used on TV ads. As best we can discern these are the front runners:
Zack Matheny has the longest tenure in elected office of anyone in this field. He is fiscally oriented and is considered a moderate.
"As a Greensboro City Councilman and small business owner I have worked diligently to promote economic development and create jobs in our region. When elected to congress I will bring my regional approach to job creation alive for everyone in this area. I will not rest until everyone who wants a job can find one," said Matheny, in a TV spot.
Phil Berger Junior is the elected District Attorney in Rockingham County. Name recognition is in his corner.  His father, Phil Berger, Sr. is the leader of the State Senate and perhaps the most powerful politician in Raleigh. The younger Berger has dropped the junior from all campaign literature. He has Tea Party ties, wants Obamacare repealed and was an outspoken supporter of Amendment 1.
"We beat the courthouse crowd and today prosecutions have more than tripled. I kept my promises and that's what I'll do as your congressman. Obamacare - no way. Spending and high taxes - cut 'em. When I say I won't comprise our conservative values, I mean it."
Pastor Mark Walker was the first to get in this race, actually planning last spring to take a shot at Coble. He wants major tax reform.
"Like you I love my family and I love this country. But our government is out of control. Washington needs strong leadership that will defend our constitution and protect our freedoms. Together we can make a difference. We've done it before and with God's help we the people can do it again," Walker said
There is Bruce VonCannon a Princeton graduate who touts his years working in Hong Kong as a bank CEO. KennKopf is a clinical psychologist. Jeff Phillips is a Guilford County Commissioner. And still more - Don Webb the financial advisor, Mike Causey the veteran, and Charlie Sutherland who is retired. 
According to the latest finance reports Matheny had the strongest first quarter of 2014 and leads Republicans in terms of cash available. The top fundraiser and the candidate with the most cash on-hand isn't named Berger, Matheny, Walker or even VonCannon. 
Democrat Laura Fjeld has received $350,000 in support. She's competing with Bruce Davis for the Democratic nomination. This district is viewed as firmly republican though.
"Well lets just say for example that Fjeld gets the Democratic nomination and outspends the Republican candidate considerably. I don't think even that would be enough in this district in this year," said Prysby.
What is expected: a Republican run-off. If no candidate secures at least 40% of the vote in two weeks, the top two primary finishers head to another election in early summer. 

Jeff Tiberii is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Jeff joined WUNC in 2011. During his 20 years in public radio, he was Morning Edition Host at WFDD and WUNC’s Greensboro Bureau Chief and later, the Capitol Bureau Chief. Jeff has covered state and federal politics, produced the radio documentary “Right Turn,” launched a podcast, and was named North Carolina Radio Reporter of the Year four times.
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