U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, R-Brevard, and Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, are considered the frontrunners in the race that also includes Michael Morgan, D-Black Mountain, and John Armor, R-Highlands. Morgan repeatedly has run for the 11th District seat on a platform that includes legalizing marijuana. Armor is a first time candidate.
The Smoky Mountain News is kicking off its coverage of the race with an informal poll of voters across the 15-county district. Through in-person and phone-based interviews, SMN asked voters how much they had heard about the race so far, whether politics were something they usually paid attention to, and if they could ask any candidate any question, what would it be?
SMN found that not only had most voters not heard much about the race — from candidates’ positions on issues to the fact there was even an election coming up — most didn’t pay attention to politics beyond presidential elections and most couldn’t name an issue that mattered to them that they would want to know where candidates stood on it.
Trekking the district
Headed out from Maggie Valley up N.C. 209 to Hot Springs where Dan Gallagher of Bluff Mountain Outfitters — a self-described former Republican — took a strong Libertarian stance in favor of liberal Democratic candidate Michael Morgan.
“I’m going to vote for Morgan,” he said, picking up the candidate’s yellow brochure from near the store’s cash register.
Morgan is more honest than either Taylor or Shuler, Gallagher said, specifically calling out Shuler for being a Republican in the guise of a Democrat.
“The one who’s running on the Democratic ticket, he’s a liar, he’s Republican,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher’s candidate most likely stands little chance of winning — or even making it past the May 2 primary in which he’ll have to beat Shuler to remain on the ticket. In the end, Gallagher said, voters will probably re-elect Taylor for another two years.
“It’s a shoe-in because people are idiots,” he said.
At Barnardsville Grocery in north Buncombe County, retired electrical inspector Bobby Allen said that he hadn’t heard much about the election at all and that he didn’t really get into politics.
“If I’m voting, I vote for the president,” said Allen, who moved to Asheville four years ago, but returns to Barnardsville almost every day to visit with old friends.
In Micaville in Yancey County, a postal worker who didn’t want his name used for fear of alienating what he described as his more liberal customers, said he liked the job Taylor was doing.
“Personally, I like Charles Taylor,” the postal worker said. “I think he’s a nice fellow.”
However, his mind wasn’t entirely made up as to whom he would vote for.
“If the guy’s going to do the job, I’m going to back him up,” the postal worker said.
The postal worker said that he would like to ask candidates about the hopes for local economic development.
“If there’s anyway they could continue to help our county with jobs,” the postal worker said.
Just across the street, Ron Robinson, owner of the Hillbilly Hock Shop, was eating lunch at the Micaville Grill. Robinson said while he hadn’t heard much about the election, his biggest personal issue was with the Iraq war.
“I don’t like the way things are doing with the troops over there,” Robinson said.
Robinson said the troops should be pulled out, but all in all Robinson said he only voted occasionally and didn’t feel as though he really could have a say so.
“I can’t fuss, I’ve been too many years one of the ones who ignored things,” he said.
Farther south in Marion, Carolina Interior Flooring Outlet employees Barbara Nelson and Leonora Cozart said it was a little early in the election season, but that they plan to get involved.
“We vote, I vote for local government,” Cozart said.
Sitting in the flooring outlet’s back office the women said they worried about jobs going overseas, particularly furniture factories. Consequently, McDowell County is seeing several businesses closing, Nelson said. A candidate who could do something to get jobs back to the county would have some appeal.
And — “Why don’t they lower gas prices?” Cozart asked.
In Rutherfordton, Wilda Hodge, owner of The Painted Daisy floral shop, echoed those sentiments, saying that gas and heating bills were getting excessive.
“It’s so hard on people with fixed income,” she said.
In general, she said she tends to vote for an individual candidate rather than just along party lines. Hodge said that she approved of the job Taylor has been doing in office, and liked his support for war veterans, as her husband is one.
“I don’t know anything about the other fella, but Charles Taylor, he seems fine,” Hodge said.
Just down the street in Hair Kutters Barber and Style Shop, Thad Hill stood trimming a customer’s hair and recognized Shuler’s name from his days playing professional football.
“I watched him play ball with Tennessee and Washington,” Hill said.
Hill said that he had supported Taylor, but wanted to know why he had missed so many opportunities to vote in the House.
“Ask Charles why he doesn’t show up to work, why he couldn’t get his butt to work,” Hill said. “I’ve voted for him ever since I’ve been able to vote, but I was disappointed with that.”
Football has given Shuler a certain amount of notoriety, particularly with Tennessee residents like Keith Harris who works with the Tennessee football program. Harris, who was eating dinner at Calvert’s Kitchen in Columbus in Polk County, said that voters needed to examine candidates individually rather than stick to party lines.
“My concern is people just go straight party still,” Harris said.
Cliff Freeman of Coleman Freeman Auto Sales in Hendersonville said that he tried to pick and choose his candidates rather than vote a straight ticket, but so far this election is too far off to really start paying much attention to.
“As a general rule I don’t concentrate real heavily on it until it’s pretty close to time,” Freeman said.
Asheville business owner Christy Miller said it was time for her to start getting more into politics.
“To be honest with you, I’ve never paid that stuff any attention,” said Miller, who owns C&A Used Furniture and just recently got her real estate license. “I’m going to start reading about it and stuff.”
Miller said she would like to know what candidates could do to help clean up local communities where drugs and prostitution are a problem.
Although Jeff Wait, the son of the owner of McDowell’s Office products in Waynesville, said that he didn’t pay much heed to politics, he would like to see more done for small business owners, something along the lines of incentives to help them get started and stay running.
John Parker, an owner of Bear Tracks Trading Company in Lake Toxaway also said that he didn’t get involved in politics.
“I don’t usually watch or even keep up with it,” he said. “I just kind of feel like there’s no hope.”
Swain County, where Taylor has long been involved in the controversy over whether or not to build the North Shore Road and Bryson City is Shuler’s hometown, should prove an interesting barometer for the race. But Na-Ber’s Drive In owner Ronnie Henderson said it’s too early in the season to really get involved.
“It’s just a little early for it,” Henderson said. “At this point I really don’t know much about it.”
But John Clour, an employee at Mystik gas station near the Graham/Cherokee county line, said that even though employees spend the day without a television and the local paper only publishes once a week, voters still should learn about what’s going on as a proposed new interstate may threaten the region.
“What’s their opinion on I-3?” Clour asked, referring to the highway a Georgia lawmaker has proposed to go from Savannah to Knoxville by way of Western North Carolina.
“It would wipe out our biggest tourist attraction,” Clour said, pointing to a map on the station’s counter to the curvy road through Deal’s Gap known as The Dragon. The Dragon draws motorcyclists and car enthusiasts from around the world.
In downtown Murphy, an antiques store owner who didn’t want her name used for fear of alienating customers said that she isn’t involved in politics personally. Rather, her husband makes election decisions for them both and usually they vote a straight ticket. However, the store owner said that — all things being equal — the biggest issue for her was whether candidates supported abortion.
Trent Anderson, an employee at Moore Insurance Services in Hayesville, was similarly disengaged.
“Me personally, I haven’t paid much attention to it,” Anderson said, adding that he had no idea what he would ask candidates given the chance.
However, in Macon County, Sandy Hedden, the wife of the owner of Hedden Brothers Well Drilling just outside Franklin, said she’s been keeping up with the election race mostly by reading the Asheville Citizen Times and through church, which she attends along with Shuler’s aunt.
“So naturally I’ve heard a lot about it,” Hedden said.
Hedden said that she usually doesn’t pay much attention to what candidates say about each other and just tends to make her own judgment about their abilities. Though she’s a Republican, she said she isn’t “die hard” — like her parents — and will vote for the man she feels will do the best job.
Hedden said she’d met Shuler and felt that he was a good, “Christian young man.”
“He’s a super nice young man, he really, really is,” Hedden said. “I would be sure of whatever question you asked of Health Shuler he would tell you the truth. That goes a long way.”