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Queen gets early challenger for state Senate seat

A competitive state Senate race appears to be on the horizon once again for Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville.

Andy Webb, a Republican challenger from McDowell County, has gotten a head start by already announcing his candidacy for the 2010 election cycle.

Webb is a three-term county commissioner in McDowell County and has been board chairman for six years.

“I look forward to getting acquainted with the good people of our district in the months to come,” Webb said in a press release last week.

Queen, who is serving his third two-year term in Raleigh, said Webb will have his work cut out for him.

The district spans six mountain counties, sprawling from Haywood County northward as far as Avery and back down to McDowell.

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“I can tell you having campaigned in this district, he has a lot of ground to cover,” Queen said. “He may be known in McDowell, but he is unknown elsewhere.”

Queen said he is already established throughout the district as an effective legislator, including Webb’s home turf of McDowell County.

“It is a rare week I’m not in McDowell,” Queen said.

Haywood and McDowell are the two largest counties in the district, and both candidates will be looking to pull down as many votes as possible on their home turf while battling it out in the remaining counties.

Queen narrowly eked out his first victory in 2002. He narrowly lost the seat in 2004, and narrowly won it back in 2006. But in 2008, he won by a comparatively comfortable margin of 54 percent, indicating he had finally begun to establish himself.

The sign-up period for candidates isn’t until early 2010, so it won’t be known for several months whether Webb will face competition in a Republican primary and advance to a final round against Queen. But getting his name out early could help Webb stave off other Republicans thinking of a run.

The past three elections, Queen has faced off with the same candidate, Keith Presnell, R-Burnsville.

Queen said it wasn’t a matter of if there’d be competition, but who the competition would be this year.

“I wasn’t expecting the absence of competition. My district is entirely too competitive to expect that,” Queen said.

Queen spent as much as $800,000 on the race in 2006, making fundraising a significant challenge for what has become one of the most expensive seats in the North Carolina Senate.

Webb said he was deeply concerned about the state’s financial situation.

“Tax and spend budgets year after year; scaring our state and local employees with cuts in critical jobs, starting at the ground level, is unacceptable,” Webb said. “There is more to sound budgeting than growing government through tax increases.”

Queen countered that this year’s budget marks the largest budget reduction in state history. However, Queen acknowledged that there will be plenty of fodder for opponents in this year’s state budget, which not only included budget cuts but tax increases.

“Anybody can pile on in this recession,” Queen said. “I’ll remind Andy which party created this recession. It wasn’t created in North Carolina. It was created from failed national policy, and we are doing the best we can to grow out of this recession and get back to prosperity for all. It will be tough for Republicans to make their case, and he needs to start early.”

Webb criticized what he called “a liberal world view from Raleigh” that is undermining mountain values.

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