Mark Meadows and Hayden Rogers came out on top last night in a Congressional election that at the beginning of the day boasted a full slate of 11 candidates.
The field of eight Republicans and three Democrats vying to represent the mountains in the halls of Washington was narrowed down. Rogers won 56 percent of the Democratic vote. Although Meadows emerged as the top vote getter on the Republican ticket, he received less than 40 percent of the votes — the minimum percentage required to officially win a race. Now, a special election must be held between Meadows and the second-highest vote getter on the Republican ticket, Vance Patterson, on June 26.
The Congressional race became a wide open contest after Congressman Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, announced he would not seek re-election after six years in office. Shuler was a conservative Democrat and had the ability to cater to both side of the political spectrum among mountain voters.
A wide field of Republicans were already lining up to take on Shuler, but after Shuler announced his retirement, the floodgates opened even wider for anyone with the dream of holding a congressional seat.
Republican voters particularly had a difficult time with a daunting eight candidates to choose from. The choice will be considerably easier when two distinct candidates emerge for the November election.
On the Democratic side, Shuler’s own chief of staff Hayden Rogers put his hat in the ring after Shuler’s retirement and has emerged as the victor in the Democratic primary.
Rogers said he is thrilled that he has moved one step closer to the possibility of representing the community that he grew up in.
“I’m really excited,” Rogers said. “We were sort of last to the dance, but we worked really, really hard to put a structure in place and get our message out.”
Rogers, 41, grew up in Robbinsville where he played high school football, majored in political science at Princeton University and now lives near Murphy.
Now that the race has narrowed, Rogers said he will continue to push his message of working together to move the nation forward rather than to the left or right.
“Whether it’s Mr. Meadows or any of the other Republican candidates for the most part, they are pushing a sort of fringe ideology,” Rogers said. “I really believe voters are looking for true leadership and open mindedness.”
Lauren Bishop, a Waynesville resident, said she was personally was sad to see Shuler step down and has now thrown her support behind Rogers who she believes can pick up where Shuler left off.
Many voters leaving the polls could not recall which congressional candidate they supported — or did not vote in the race at all, indicating that that particular primary race was not what necessarily drove people to the polls yesterday.
On the Republican ticket, Meadows, a 52-year-old Christian businessman from Cashiers, has advanced to the front of the Republican pack.
At about 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Meadows was optimistic but did not want to comment on the race at that time.
“We are excited about our vote totals at this point,” Meadows said at that time. Meadows did not return later calls for comment.
He is currently a real estate developer in Jackson County. Meadows has no previous experience in a political office.
His opponent, Vance Patterson, is a 61-year-old resident of Morganton. Patterson has 37 years of business leadership experience and started 16 companies. The TEA party candidate ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress in North Carolina’s 10th District in 2010.