Republican voters in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District face a tall task this spring. They must select a nominee from a crowded primary field with barely any time to get to know each candidate.
In November, Republican Mark Harris edged Democrat Dan McCready by a little more than 900 votes. But the state elections board called for a new race after it found a Harris campaign operative in Bladen County illegally tampered with absentee ballots.
Harris pulled out and 10 candidates filed last month to vie for the GOP nomination. The party primary will be held May 14.
Upcoming 9th District Dates:
- April 24-May 10 - Early Voting
- May 14 - Primary
- Sept. 10 - General Election, if there is no primary runoff
- Nov. 5 - General Election, if there is a primary runoff
Shannon Thompson and her husband, Bobby, were among the 80 or so people who attended a Republican candidate forum organized by the Cumberland County Republican Women's Club earlier this month.
"To listen to the stories and what they had to say and what their ideas are. I don't know a lot about some of them, so I hope to learn a little bit more about what their game plan is for us and who to vote for," Shannon Thompson said, explaning why she wanted to attend the recent dinner-time event at Morgan's Chop House, in Fayetteville.
More Speed Dating, Than Political Forum
With eight of the 10 GOP candidates appearing – and two minutes apiece for introductions and to each answer three policy questions – it felt a little more like speed dating than a political forum.
Candidate Albert Wiley Jr., introduced himself as a cancer specialist, currently practicing near Morehead City.
Fern Shubert, of Union County, served three terms in the North Carolina House in 1994, 1996 and 2000, and one term in the state Senate in 2002. She lost a bid for governor in 2004.
"I'm a CPA, that's what I've done for a living. The two things I seem to have a talent at are doing taxes and finding fraud," she told the audience.
"I've lived in Scotland County, I've lived in Robeson County, believe it or not, purchased my first handgun here in Cumberland County at Jim's, we played softball here at Pope Air Force Base," said Union County Commissioner Stony Rushing in his introductory remarks at the forum.
"I served for 11 years in the Marines, I volunteered for two tours in Iraq, served in '05 and '07 there, I served as a Mecklenburg County commissioner, in the minority," said former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour.
As for single mom and businesswoman Stevie Rivenbark, she told the potential voters: "I'm running for Congress to fight the socialist propaganda that's being pushed across the United States of America today. This propaganda pushes the idea that we are the party of exclusion."
Candidate Gary Dunn's opening statement sounded like a rundown of interests in a personal ad: "And I go hiking every day and I have fun at almost everything I do. If I don't think I'm going to have fun at it I'm probably not going to do it."
State Sen. Dan Bishop, of Mecklenburg, tried out a campaign slogan: "I'm running because Dan McCready is the wrong Dan to represent you in Congress. He doesn't represent our values, he won't defend the president, he won't tell you where he stands."
"What you need," Cabarrus County realtor Leigh Brown told the audience, "is a congressional representative who will help the House support the president so that the decisions from the judiciary branch are not trying to create legislation."
GOP Voter Wants Someone Who Will 'Stand With The President'
Arthur Maxwell, Jr., said he was glad he attended the forum with his wife, who's a member of the Cumberland County Republican Women's Club.
A 70-year-old, lifelong Cumberland County resident, Maxwell said he and the guys he gets together with for a weekly luncheon and political roundtable are staunch Republicans.
"The party has to get some people in there that [are] going to stand with the president," said Maxwell.
Union County Commissioner and gun range owner Stony Rushing would seem like an ideal candidate for Maxwell and his buddies. Like Maxwell, Rushing thinks Mark Harris won fair and square and that his November victory should have stood.
Rushing said if he is sent to Washington he would support President Trump's agenda 100 percent.
"If we don't support President Trump in doing something to secure that border we are going to be in even worse shape and very fast," Rushing warned.
Maxwell said the other candidates impressed him, too, even if he couldn't recall all their names.
Ninth District GOP Candidates Are:
- Chris Anglin
- Dan Bishop
- Leigh Brown
- Kathie Day
- Gary Dunn
- Matthew Ridenhour
- Stevie Rivenbark
- Stony Rushing
- Fern Shubert
- Albert Wiley Jr.
It will not be easy for the candidates to distinguish themselves from one another on the issues.
On health care policy, for example, Matthew Ridenhour, Stevie Rivenbark, Leigh Brown, and State Senator Dan Bishop all had similar sounding positions.
"Competition by being able to purchase things like insurance across state lines so that you're not forced to buy only local plans," said Ridenhour.
"We've got to get to a place where health care is driven by consumers, where we can literally shop online and determine where we're going to for our health care because it is capitalism and that's what this country was founded on," said Rivenbark.
"We need [a] good, competitive market and selling insurance across state lines makes things more affordable because you have more competition," said Brown.
"Restore competition, restore transparency in pricing, restore the role of the consumer in the medical transaction," said Bishop.
The key, according to Cumberland County Republican Party Vice Chair Jackie Taylor, will be selecting a GOP nominee who will motivate voters to go to the polls.
"It's very difficult in a non-presidential election to get people to want to come out," said Taylor, who attended the forum.
Not All GOP Candidates Join Forum
The 9th is a golf putter-shaped district stretching from the Charlotte area eastward to Elizabethtown in Bladen County. The district encompasses urban, suburban and rural areas.
Mecklenburg and Union counties have the largest blocs of registered voters – with close to 150,000 each. On the other end of the spectrum, Bladen and Anson counties have just under 16,000 each. Only Republican and unaffiliated voters may cast votes in the GOP primary.
Two candidates who filed for the 9th District GOP primary did not attend the candidate forum, in Fayetteville.
One of those candidates, Chris Anglin, was not invited to the forum. Anglin has been shut out of North Carolina Republican Party-sanctioned events. That is because Republicans see Anglin as a Democrat in thin disguise.
The Raleigh attorney and one-time registered Democrat re-registered with the GOP ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections to run for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court. His candidacy is seen as instrumental in taking votes away from Republican incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson and helping Democrat Anita Earls win the race.
The other candidate who did not appear at the forum was Kathie Day. Day is associated with an organization called the Global Prayer Movement. She did file to enter the primary race, paying the $1,700 fee, but then asked to withdraw her candidacy and to have her filing fee refunded. The state elections board denied the request because she had missed the statutory deadline to withdraw.
Primary Winner Must Be Prepared To Take On Well-Funded Democrat
The key to winning the 9th District GOP primary may have less to do with positions on issues than a perceived ability to beat the well-funded Democrat, Dan McCready, in the general election.
McCready's do-over campaign is fueled, in part, by anger over vote tampering in the last election.
But Republicans are angry, too. They are angry at what they feel was a legitimate GOP victory snatched away from Mark Harris by a politically motivated elections board with a Democratic majority.
"I feel that he rightfully won. I don't feel that he did anything wrong, um, purposefully," said Jackie Taylor, the Cumberland County GOP Vice Chair.
And candidate Stony Rushing is clearly trying to channel that kind of bitterness.
"This primary is not an opportunity, it's an obscenity," Rushing said in his closing statement.
Rushing has been endorsed by Mark Harris. Although, it should be noted, the bipartisan state elections board voted unanimously for a new election and Harris himself acknowledged a new race was warranted.
In his closing statement, Dan Bishop focused on his ability to raise money. He announced at the forum that his campaign had just released an ad that was part of a six-figure TV buy. Bishop also pointed out he won a state re-election campaign in November when many other Republicans were swept away by the Blue wave.
"I'm the candidate that is prepared financially to take this campaign across the district. I am the candidate who is prepared to do battle because I'm battle-tested," Bishop said.
The question is whether a bruising, extended Republican primary will leave the eventual nominee too battle-weary to mount a robust campaign in the general election.
With so many candidates, a September 10th primary runoff seems likely. At least one candidate vowed to forego a runoff and invited the others to make the same pledge.
Stony Rushing said the key for the GOP was to focus on the general election.
Libertarian Jeff Scott and Green Party member Allen Smith are running in the general election, too.