Asheville Republican Congressman Mark Meadows’ extreme partisanship, attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and hypocritical fiscal responsibility make him a prime target for electoral defeat this year, according to three Western North Carolina Democrats who plan to challenge Meadows for his 11th District seat.
First, though, those candidates will square off against each other in a Democratic Primary Election for the right to face Meadows in November; others may yet come as well –- the filing period for candidates doesn’t end until Feb. 28.
Just one month before candidates start signing up to run for the 2018 elections, a three judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down North Carolina’s congressional districts as partisan gerrymanders that violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Rick Bryson, a current alderman in Bryson City, has his eyes on Washington, D.C., as he plans a run to represent North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District.
In a debate that focused on everything from Iran and health care to equal pay for women and earmarks, Congressional candidates Republican Mark Meadows and Democrat Hayden Rogers pushed back from the similarities that people draw between the two conservatives.
Looking at Mark Meadows today, it is difficult to imagine him as a self-described “fat nerd” wandering the high school halls in Tampa Bay, Fla.
The Republican candidate for the 11th U.S. Congressional District has come a long way during his life — both in his self-made success and actual distance.
Hayden Rogers grew up hunting, fishing and playing the chasing game ‘Fox and the Hound’ in Robbinsville.
Touting himself as the all-around Western North Carolinian, Rogers reminisced about his childhood in rural Graham County, just a short jaunt from his grandparent’s house.
Both considered conservatives within their own political parties, Republican Mark Meadows and Democrat Hayden Rogers have more in common than just a handful of political similarities.
Both are Christian, came out of humble beginnings to find success, married their high school sweethearts, have two children and are running for the U.S. House in North Carolina’s 11th District. The list could continue.
By Shannan Mashburn • Intern
Democrat Hayden Rogers has commanded the lead in the money race for the congressional election to take over U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler’s seat in Washington next year.
Neither Rogers nor his Republican opponent Mark Meadows raised a staggering amount of money during the spring and summer, when most candidates typically see a drop off in political contributions before the big push going into fall.
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.
The litany of Republicans from Western North Carolina running for Congress haven’t taken any cues from their counterparts on the presidential stage, where the once robust field of candidates has slowly been picked off until there was just one man left standing.
Although all eight Republican contenders for the 11th District seat have hung on to the bitter end, a few have clearly emerged as front-runners as the primary draws to a close.
Jeff Hunt, Mark Meadows and Ethan Wingfield have emerged as the Republican front-runners in the race.
“They are raising the most money. They seem to be putting together the most endorsements,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University.
In a recent poll of self-described Republican voters, Meadows, Wingfield and Hunt ranked top three, respectively. More than 40 percent of those surveyed were still undecided however, according to the independent poll by the Atlanta-based Rosetta Stone Communications.
It’s going to be “a tight race,” Cooper said. “It’s going to start coming down to things like name recognition.”
• Hunt is a 61-year-old Brevard resident who has served as district attorney of Henderson, Transylvania and Polk counties since 1994.
• Meadows is a 52-year-old Cashiers resident, former restaurant owner and real estate developer.
• Wingfield is a 26-year-old native of Weaverville, who started his only technology firm in 2003. He was recently a senior strategy consultant for Capital One.
Prior to the poll, Hunt and Meadows had already classified themselves as front-runners. Meadows said he feels good about his place in the race, while Hunt describes himself as the only candidate with a consistently conservative record. Hunt is the only candidate of the three who has held a political office.
Wingfield sprang onto the political scene late last year with an announcement that he had raised about $201,000 in 10 days — of that $125,000 was money he loaned himself, however, not individual contributions. Wingfield is pleased to be in the top-three field.
“Clearly, our grassroots support is surging, and we have the momentum in this race,” Wingfield said.
Something about what Wingfield is selling is catching on with voters, Cooper said.
“He is young. He is articulate. In some ways, it makes sense,” Cooper said.
On the Democratic side, Hayden Rogers has emerged as the front-runner, particularly in the money race.
Meadows has the most money of the candidates. But, much of it has come from his own personal wealth. The conservative Christian advanced his campaign $250,000. He received nearly $122,700 in individual donations. Of that, $9,200 came from political committees.
“Clearly, Meadows had the money from the beginning,” Cooper said.
However, Hunt has shown he has a more diverse base of donors and contributors, raising almost $138,000 for his coffer. Of that, political committees donated $395. He also loaned himself $11,600. As a district attorney, Hunt has run for office before, possibly giving him an established donor network to more easily tap.
So far, Wingfield has raised about $133,300, with $5,000 of that from political committees. Wingfield has loaned himself $200,000.
Both Hunt and Meadows received a large portion of their donations — more than 85 percent — from inside Western North Carolina. For Wingfield, only 12 percent of the individual gifts were from inside WNC.
However, none of the Republican candidates are raising much money this primary season, compared to one of their Democratic counterparts, Hayden Rogers, who rallied a war chest of $300,000 in just three months of fundraising, all of it from donations.
Rogers has emerged as the front-runner of the three Democrats running for the seat.
The broad field has made fundraising harder for Republican candidates. People either are not giving, waiting to see who will win the primary, or have split their contributions among a couple of favorites.
“It’s been split so many ways,” Cooper said. “The really base voters don’t know who they support and don’t know who is likely to win.”
So, to bolster their standing in the lineup, candidates are racking up lists of notables to endorse their individual message.
Just last month, Hunt received the endorsement of 11 fellow district attorneys, Bruce Briggs of Madison, Mayor Jimmy Harris of Brevard and Mayor Steve Little of Marion.
Meadows saw a huge boost in recognition and support with the endorsement by Jeff Miller, a Republican candidate for Congress who went up against Shuler in 2010.
Meadows has compiled an index of at least 34 endorsements, including Sen. Jimmy Jacumin, state Rep. Carolyn Justus, state Rep. Phillip Frye, state Rep. Mitch Gillespie and Sheriff Robert Holland of Macon County.
Wingfield has not announced any endorsements thus far.
However, in the end, who a candidate’s backers, both financially and verbally, are does not automatically translate to a victory.
“Money is important. Endorsements are important,” Cooper said, but ultimately, it is votes that count.
The Democratic voters have a considerably easier time — with three distinct candidates to choose from. Hayden Rogers is a Blue Dog Democrat from Murphy; and Cecil Bothwell is a liberal Democrat from Asheville; and Tom Hill, a retired scientist, is a comparatively unknown candidate from Zirconia.
Of the trio, the two standouts are Rogers and Bothwell, who both have previous political experience. However, Rogers has a clear upper hand in a conservative-leaning district, where he could draw a potentially broader base of voters come November than Bothwell.
“Bothwell is an ideological brand in some ways,” Cooper said. “He is the kind of person who can get really active support from a small group of people.”
The question is: Can Bothwell get enough 11th District voters to buy into his beliefs and plans?
“He obviously has an uphill battle,” Cooper said. “I just don’t know that that is a brand that will sell well in WNC.”
Rogers was the clear winner as far as fundraising goes this quarter. The former chief of staff to Shuler for six years, he has contacts in Washington and party connections that no doubt benefited his fund raising efforts.
“Rogers has had a real advantage,” Cooper said.
In just three months, Rogers raised about $301,000 — two-thirds of which came from individuals. The remaining came from political committees.
“It’s a sign of the strength of our campaign but also shows how well our message is resonating with voters,” Rogers said in a news release.
His ability to quickly raise funds in a primary and with a relative lack of competition will give Rogers an advantage over the Republican nominee, Cooper said.
“Rogers is going to have such a head start because he is able to focus on the general,” Cooper said.
Meanwhile, Bothwell has raised a total of about $58,000 during a more than six-month period, plus a loan of $4,000. All but $900 of his war chest came from individual contributions — lots and lots of them. Bothwell had many dollar-and-cent amounts compared to Rogers’ $100-plus contributions.
“We’ve attended more than 160 events in the district over the past year,” Bothwell said in a news release. “This contest will be a real test of grassroots organizing versus the big money power brokers in Raleigh and Washington, D.C.”
Less than half of Bothwell’s and Rogers’ contributions came from people in Western North Carolina, a calculation that can be indicative of what type of support candidates are receiving from people who can actually cast a vote for them.
“It is a very important metric,” Cooper said. “It is not what you’d want to see as a candidate.”
Cooper predicted that voter turnout for the primary will be low statewide. Most states only see a 3 or 4 percent voter turnout, Cooper said, and North Carolina will be no different. Those who do vote, he said, will have distinct leans to either the left or right — a fact that could “bode well for Bothwell.”
Rogers is considered a more conservative Democrat.
And although quantity of youth voters was a popular discussion topic in 2008, Cooper said this year would likely see low turnout among the 18- to 29-year-old age bracket as well.
“The youth turnout I do not think is going to be very good,” Cooper said.
Several of the Republican congressional candidates will attend a dinner and meet-and-greet starting at 6 p.m., April 27, at Southwestern Community College’s Swain County campus with an opportunity to meet-and-greet the candidates.
Among the 11th District Congressional Candidates who have confirmed their intent to attend are Spence Campbell, Jeff Hunt, Mark Meadows, Vance Patterson and Chris Petrella. Other congressional candidates will have representatives in attendance.
Bring a covered side dish, salad or dessert. The main dish will be provided.