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Edwards, Reagan trade jabs in N.C.-11 Primary Election debate

Rep. Chuck Edwards (left to right), moderator Larry J. Ford and challenger Christian Reagan hold a Republican Congressional Primary Debate on Jan. 13 in Brasstown. Clay County Republican Party/Larry J. Ford screenshot Rep. Chuck Edwards (left to right), moderator Larry J. Ford and challenger Christian Reagan hold a Republican Congressional Primary Debate on Jan. 13 in Brasstown. Clay County Republican Party/Larry J. Ford screenshot

A Republican congressional primary debate hosted by the Clay County Republican Party on Jan. 13 revealed clear differences between the two candidates, incumbent Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) and Hayesville businessman Christian Reagan, despite mostly avoiding major hot-button issues and topics important in rural Western North Carolina. 

Vice Chair of the Clay County Republicans Larry Ford moderated the debate and asked questions about everything from insider stock trading to impeaching President Joe Biden, but barely a word was spoken about education, guns, health care costs, illegal drugs or any of former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles ahead of his Iowa caucus win.

Edwards sounded like a man running for president, blaming Biden for a litany of problems, while Reagan (no relation to the former president) leaned on his faith and an ultra-conservative, small government mentality.

Reagan has an uphill battle against the well-known incumbent and has raised just $11,321 through his most recent FEC filing , most of it coming from himself. This cycle Edwards has collected more than $724,000 in donations  from 439 contributions, 69% of which are from outside North Carolina.

The winner of the Primary Election will go on to face Asheville Democrat and legislator Caleb Rudow.

Insider trading

The first question of the afternoon centered on insider trading of stocks by members of Congress — something that resulted in increased scrutiny for an elected official from North Carolina back in 2020.

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In January 2023, the Securities and Exchange Commission ended its investigation  against Republican then-Sen. Richard Burr and his brother-in-law Gerald Fauth without taking action against either man for selling a substantial amount of stock on the same day.

That day, Feb. 13, 2020, Burr unloaded $1.65 million in investments after he’d been briefed by federal officials on the emerging Coronavirus Pandemic. Once Burr dumped the stock, he placed a 50-second phone call to Furth, who within minutes of the call proceeded to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own stocks.

Burr told CNBC that he didn’t rely on non-public information to inform his trading, and that was that.

According to Ford, existing law prohibits members of Congress from trading based on insider information but allows trading so long as those trades are reported. Ford asked the candidates if they would support legislation banning such trading.  

Edwards said that he thought a blind trust would be best to prevent insider trading. Reagan said he’d never do such a thing, but in a follow-up clarified by saying that he’d ban all trading, which would have made Burr’s actions a crime.

Social media

The next question relied on the mischaracterization of a lower court ruling that prevented the Biden administration from meeting with social media companies to discuss curbing the spread of misinformation about elections and the Coronavirus Pandemic, because the misinformation came from “conservative” sources.

The Republican-dominated Supreme Court blocked the lower court ruling  last October.

Nevertheless, Ford postulated that social media platforms like Facebook and X were “reportedly suppressing content from conservative sources … and actively colluding with the Biden administration.” 

Ford then attempted to conflate the issue with TikTok, which has been accused of censoring conservatives and has also been labeled as Chinese spyware by some. Accordingly, several states including North Carolina have banned the use of TikTok on government-issued devices. He wanted to know if candidates would support banning “the use of TikTok or other social media apps under such circumstances” but didn’t specify if that would apply to governments or to ordinary people.

Reagan said his campaign had advertised on “every social media platform you can think of” and that he opposes any bans.

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Christian Reagan. File photo

“It’s a freedom that I feel that we have, to be able to decide where we want to go and be able to participate in social media, so I would be reluctant to be against any social media platform in the country,” he said. “I think that you and I are smart enough to realize what’s going on with TikTok and if you feel like it’s a problem that needs to get resolved, then you use your money to do that. It’s called a free market.”

Edwards said social media has been weaponized because Joe Biden is in office; however, some of the most high-profile bans — including Donald Trump , Mike Lindell , Michael Flynn and Sydney Powell  — took place during the Trump administration and were later rescinded during the Biden administration. Those bans were specifically put in place not because the accounts were held by conservatives, but rather due to them spreading false information about the 2020 election.


The next set of questions centered on foreign policy, namely, two different wars that began during the past two years.

On the Middle East, Israel and the Houthi threat from Iran through Yemen, Ford asked if it was time for direct military involvement by the United States.

Edwards did not answer the question, instead blaming a “weak” Joe Biden.

“The thing that we have to do first is get a strong leader, such as a Donald Trump, back in the White House,” Edwards said.

Reagan did answer, claiming that he was “tired of the war machine” that has spent, by his count, $14 trillion on wars since 1990.

The true number is likely higher, as the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University says it’s $14 trillion since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“We can’t afford it anymore, guys. We’re $34 trillion in debt,” he said.

But just after voicing isolationist ideology, Reagan took a contradictory turn.

“Now, I will say this. With Israel, I support Israel and I think that what we need to do is we need to defend that country because number one, it’s God’s country, but more importantly, it’s a democracy, so we need to support that nation in the Middle East,” he said. “I’m just telling you guys, we have got to get away from policing the world because it’s destroying us economically and we’re broke as a nation and we have to admit that as a nation.”

Edwards jabbed back at Reagan, calling him “the gentleman from Smith County, Texas,” and saying that relative to China, Iran and Russia, “we are not spending enough on defense.”

Undeterred, Reagan said he supports a strong military but not using it to “police the world,” and then went on to precipitate a bizarre exchange by going on the attack against Edwards.

“This country’s in trouble, guys, and it’s in trouble because of people like this, who are the elite that represent Washington, D.C,” Reagan said, pointing at Edwards. “They come here, and they have the jargon, they have it down. But the point is, we’ve got to change how we do things as a country and we will never do it with people like this.”

Visibly agitated, Edwards fired back.

“There is nothing elite about Chuck Edwards,” he shouted, repeating oft-used but unverified campaign tropes that he’d grown up poor, that he’d watched his family’s lights turned off due to nonpayment and that he’d once found 83 cents to buy kerosene to heat his home until payday.

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Chuck Edwards. File photo

Edwards’ 2022 personal financial disclosure  lists assets of between $7 million and $35 million between his McDonalds fast-food franchises and his property rental business. The disclosure also shows earned income of roughly $101,000 and unearned income of between $1 million and $5.1 million. Henderson County property records list Edwards’ 1.7-acre Flat Rock home at an assessed value of $1.1 million.

Reagan, a mortgage broker, has not yet filed a personal financial disclosure.

Interjecting, Reagan said he never used the word “elite,” drawing guffaws from the crowd; Reagan subsequently apologized to Edwards, and the two shook hands.


Staying on foreign policy, the next question dealt specifically with Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Since the invasion of February 2022, Ford said, the U.S. has sent more than $75 billion in aid to Ukraine. A Pentagon audit released two weeks ago  said that the U.S. had failed to track more than $1 billion of that. Ford asked if candidates were willing to continue funding Ukraine, and if they support increased oversight of the aid.

“We shouldn’t be a part of that,” Reagan said, drawing polite applause from the crowd. “It’s a European issue.”

Edwards, in possibly his strongest answer of the night, took the opposite position.

“I was brought up in a world where communism was a bad thing, and where dictators were not allowed to invade adjoining countries and roll across continents, which is what Putin’s goal is right now at this time,” he said, drawing some applause of his own and demonstrating the divisiveness, even among Republicans, on the issue.

Ukraine aid should be linked to funding to secure the U.S. Southern border, Edwards said.

The moderator offered a follow-up to Reagan.

“Given your stance of, we should be isolated from Ukraine … what if Russia succeeds in taking over Ukraine and then goes against bordering countries which are members of NATO?” Ford asked. “So would you rather fight now, or a bigger war later?”

Reagan said he’d like to avoid the war altogether, despite that opportunity having long since passed.


Moving back to domestic issues, Ford brought up Social Security and Medicare, citing a 2023 report by trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds that says Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund will be insolvent by 2031 and that Social Security would be out of reserves by 2023, causing cuts of 11% and 20% to 24%, respectively.

Proposed solutions include raising the retirement age as high as 70, increasing the cap on taxable earnings from $160,200 to a higher or unlimited level, boosting the tax rate and/or capping benefits recipients can receive.

Edwards proposed that a debt commission comprised of elected officials and outside experts should make a recommendation.

“I have a personal goal of keeping the promises that have been made to the people that live and have worked so hard here in these mountains,” he said.

But during his 2022 campaign and in April 2023, Edwards refused to make any promises when asked about the possibility of GOP plans to cut entitlements.

Reagan didn’t specifically address Medicare, but said he thinks raising the minimum age for Social Security from 62 to 63 years, along with raising the tax rate from 6.25% (actually 6.2%) to 6.5% and raising the cap on taxable earnings from $160,200 to $200,000 would buy another 75 years of solvency.


Ford’s next question was whether the House should invest time, energy and public resources into impeaching Biden and/or Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, despite the chances of securing a two-thirds vote for conviction in the Democrat-controlled Senate being, as Ford put it, “Slim and none, and apparently, slim has left town.”

Both candidates said yes, despite a December report from NPR that the current 118th Congress, which recently spent three weeks fighting over who would lead House Republicans while pushing the government to the brink of shutdown, is the least productive Congress in decades and had passed just 27 bills.

The national debt

Federal debt now stands at just over $34 trillion, more than $100,000 for every person in the United States. Interest service on that debt is a growing federal budget item, accounting for 14% of all spending. How, Ford asked, would the candidates stop the growth in federal debt?

“This country is bankrupt. We are in horrendous financial shape. Joe Biden has added, let’s round it off and say $8 trillion in the last three years,” Edwards said.

On Sept. 30, 2016, four months before Trump took office, the national debt stood at $19.6 trillion, according to the U.S. Treasury Department’s website . By Sept. 30, 2020, four months before the end of Trump’s lone term, $7.3 billion had been added to that total. Since then, Biden has added another $6.3 trillion with a year still left in his term, making both presidents roughly equal in responsibility.  

Edwards blamed the previous Congress for spending money the country doesn’t have, and said that without Republican control of the Senate, reform could never happen. He said he wanted to “claw back” spending.

Reagan thinks the U.S. can drill its way out of debt by selling more oil and gas to foreign nations; however, in his biggest missed opportunity of the night, he failed to hammer Edwards on Edwards’ June 2023 vote to raise the debt ceiling.

Many conservatives believe that the first step in any debt reduction plan, even before spending cuts, is to stop asking for increases in the amount of money the country is allowed to borrow.

Electric vehicles

Federal subsidies for electric vehicle purchasers, Ford said, range from $6,500 to $7,500, even though the Federalist Society and the Association of Mature American Citizens call electric vehicles a “scam.” Neither candidate expressed support for continuing the subsidies, while both candidates took the opportunity to expose their bona fides as climate change deniers.

“The only climate change I know of is 10 years ago when we were building our cabin up here in the mountains, I left at five o’clock in the morning in August and it was 52 degrees,” Reagan said. “When I got to Texas the same day, it was 104.”

Reagan said the purpose of the green energy movement is “to extract money from the middle class in this country” and destroy it. Edwards believes green energy is a “fallacy” that “is being rammed down our throats” and that if successful will force Americans into buying cars, dishwashers and stoves that they don’t want.

“I don’t believe we should have a federal government that believes that they can ram those decisions down our throats,” he said, adding that like Reagan, he favors investments in oil and gas exploration.

Border security

Later in the debate, the candidates revisited the issue of the southern border, specifically, that “reports of single, military-aged men from countries that are antagonistic to the United States” are entering in “record numbers,” according to Ford. “Some report that the number of those military-age men exceed the number of our armed forces in uniform,” he said, before asking what could be done to stop it.

Edwards said he’d voted for HR 2 , which he called “the strongest border security bill in the history of this nation.” 

The bill hasn’t passed the Senate, but it asks for the resumption of construction on Trump’s border wall, along with limits on asylum and mandatory employer participation in an electronic reporting system. Edwards reiterated his desire for Ukraine funding to be linked to enacting provisions contained in HR 2.

Born and raised in Texas, Reagan said he had lifelong experience with illegal immigrants and that he thought there were maybe 60 million living in the U.S. today. The Pew Research Center  puts that figure at about 10.5 million as of November 2023, down from a high of 12.2 million in 2007.

Reagan went on to show the crowd that he, too, could get fired up on stage and again poke at Edwards.

“Every year, it gets worse. It never gets better, and you and I are paying the price, and nobody in Washington, D.C. is doing anything about it,” he said, adding that he favored using the U.S. military to shut the border.

Not one to take a slight, Edwards said he totally rejected the notion that no one was trying to do anything about it, especially in light of his vote on HR 2.

“All I can say is, the time for talk is over. These guys come here and they come for reelection and the two things they talk about is the reckless spending in Washington, D.C. and how the debt’s out of control and deficit spending is beyond something I’ve never seen in my life, and they talk about the southern border and how the problems continue to progress,” Reagan said. “I didn’t say that people in Washington, D.C., they’re not trying. I’m just saying you guys aren’t getting it done.”

Election integrity

Ford’s final question was purportedly about election security but in reality was whether candidates would support Congress overriding state laws in the name of “election integrity.”

Given the misinformation spread by the Republican Party’s leader, Trump, and some of his allies about election integrity, especially with a tight 2024 General Election right around the corner, the question was perhaps the most important of the afternoon.

After stating that the 2020 election was “a real problem” and that Trump had lost through a process that was “unfair,” Reagan took a traditional conservative position, saying that the federal government shouldn’t be involved at all.

Edwards disagreed and took the big-government approach, saying that from Washington he’s worked to influence how states conduct their elections.

The Primary Election will be held on Tuesday, March 5. In-person early voting begins Feb. 15.

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