The race for the state’s 47th Senate District is a case study in the political battle of freshness versus experience that characterizes this mid-term election across the country.
The race in the 47th pits 60-year-old Democrat Joe Sam Queen, a three-term state senator and incumbent, against Ralph Hise, the 34-year-old Republican mayor of Spruce Pine going for his first state seat. If elected, he would be the youngest person in the Senate.
Recent polls show Hise ahead of Queen, who is facing a tough race in this Tea Party year.
According to a mid-September opinion poll by the Carolina Strategy Group, Hise was leading Queen by 12 percent. Queen’s edge with Republicans and unaffiliated voters had slipped considerably since the group’s June survey.
Both candidates are campaigning on a fairly narrow platform, pinning their hopes on strategies for job creation.
Hise is toeing his party’s line when it comes to campaign promises: he wants to bring jobs back to stimulate the flagging economy and drum up work for the unemployed of the district by deregulation and lower taxes, hoping this will encourage small businesses to swell their employment ranks a little more.
“The backbone of our economy is small business, and we must create an atmosphere for them to develop and thrive, rather than be taxed to death,” said Hise. “We must look to reduce government.”
His strategies for accomplishing his goals, while not clearly defined, all revolve around lower taxes and slashed spending to boost jobs and revenue.
“Ralph will fight for us,” promise his television ads. “He’ll cut taxes, end the waste and get people back to work.”
Queen, however, has a different tactic for job creation: bringing state spending to the western part of the state. Queen doesn’t promise to end state government spending, but he advocates bringing it back to the district, where it can be spent creating jobs and improving education.
Queen preaches a message of reinvestment for salvation, promising to continue bringing home the kind of funding and support from Raleigh that he says he’s been pulling in as senator. He points to initiatives like the Golden LEAF Foundation, the N.C. Rural Center and other government-funded job-creation initiatives as the way out of the recession, and promises to keep plugging for them and for the district’s colleges and universities.
He’s working to remind voters of what he’s kept in their district: the agricultural research station in Waynesville, “$250 million of assistance to distressed mountain communities,” and the quarter-cent sales tax in Haywood County to benefit Haywood Community College, among other things.
According to the Carolina Strategy Group survey, though, a steady stream of funding from Raleigh may not be what voters in the 47th are looking for. Fifty-one percent told pollsters that they think Republicans would be better managers of the state’s debt, compared to only 31 percent who would favor Democrats as managers.
This isn’t Queen’s first heated battle, however. He’s faced several cut-throat election cycles, most notably going up against former Sen. Keith Presnell, by whom he was unseated in 2004 but edged out in the last two races.
In this year of incumbent backlash, Hise’s no-spending mantra coupled with his freshness in the political game seem to be currying favor with voters, at least according to the most recent polling numbers.