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State senate rematch already in the making

Last fall’s election is barely in the rearview mirror, but battle lines are already being staked out for 2016.

And voters may be looking at a rematch for the state senate seat that sprawls from Waynesville to Murphy, spanning seven mountain counties. Both N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, and challenger Jan Hipps, D-Waynesville, say they will run again in two years.

Both announced their intentions during the annual county conventions of their respective parties — Davis while making the rounds to county Republican conventions in March, and Hipps during similar rounds to Democratic conventions last weekend and this coming one.

At the Haywood GOP convention, Davis acknowledged there were rumors floating around that he wasn’t going to run again. But he said those rumors were not true and he had every intention of another run.

Despite low approval ratings for the Republican-backed agenda being pushed in Raleigh, Davis won re-election by a comfortable margin in November, with 54 percent of the vote compared to 46 percent for Hipps.

But Hipps believes she will be able to build on the groundwork she laid last time.

Hipps was a non-stop campaigner in the last election. She often went from dawn to dusk, six days a week, making a giant circuit across the far west multiple times in a week, meeting and greeting, speaking and listening, shaking hands and walking the streets.

Davis said Hipps worked harder on the campaign trail than any candidate he knows, and he respects her for that.

Last time, Hipps was a relative unknown out of the starting gate. But this time, she will already have name recognition at the outset of the campaign and can build on momentum she already has.

“This time I have name recognition, and face recognition,” Hipps said.

Meanwhile, Davis has won the seat three elections in a row and will boast six years as a legislator by the time 2016 rolls around. That tenure comes with mounting political clout in the halls of the General Assembly. He has landed two chairmanships on key committees — including the powerful base budgeting committee.

Meanwhile, Hipps would essentially be a benchwarmer as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled landscape.

“That’s not the way it ought to be but that’s the way it is,” Davis said, offering a frank assessment of the political workings in the legislature. “I have a lot of influence here that she wouldn’t have and that allows me to serve my constituents.”

That will still be to his favor in 2016, as long as a power flip-flop between parties isn’t projected.

Both Hipps and Davis would have to clear their respective party primaries to appear on the ballot side by side again in 2016. It’s doubtful Davis would have any competition from a fellow Republican.

So far, Hipps is the only Democratic to publicly announce her candidacy. But it’s early yet, and may not stay that way.

Hipps said she began thinking about another run the morning after the election. And as a result, she has kept her campaign pin on and continued traveling the region interfacing with the public, albeit at a reduced pace from full-fledged election season.

Why run again? The state is being damaged by the regressive policies of Republican leaders in Raleigh, Hipps said, and those concerns have little hope of getting fixed in the next two years.

“The problems continue. The plan is to continue with more of the same,” Hipps said.

For Davis’ part, he said the progress Republicans have made needs to continue.

“We are still in the process of getting good things done,” Davis said.

Davis said his role as a legislator has been filled with personal and professional sacrifices — like the 600-mile round trip he makes back and forth to Raleigh weekly for half the year. 

“It is not fun. It is rewarding to make a difference, but it is a lot of work. It is an incredible honor,” Davis said.

On paper, the seven-county senate district — including Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Clay, Graham and Cherokee counties — is almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. But voting patterns, including the wild card of growing number of independent voters, makes the race appear as a toss up in most political polling. It’s also too early to say how the dynamic of a presidential and gubernatorial election year will influence more local races.

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