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Queen to face new challenger

After three straight match-ups with the same Republican challenger, Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, will face a new opponent on the Republican side of the ticket this year.

Ralph Hise, the mayor of Spruce Pine, narrowly beat out two other challengers in the Republican primary for state senate and will take on Queen in the fall. The sprawling mountain district spans six counties, stretching from Haywood up to Mitchell and back down to McDowell, forming a horseshoe.

Queen has served in the state Senate since 2002, taking a two-year break after losing the seat in 2004, but reclaiming it again in 2006. For years, Queen faced off against the same opponent, Keith Presnell of Yancey County, over and over — in 2004, 2006 and 2008. The only year Queen lost in 2004 was marked by Republican sentiment in favor of Bush, a presidential coattails effect that spilled its influence onto state races as well. Years Queen won were all good years for Democrats.

Given the fickle nature of the seat, if a Republican tide manifests this November it could help Hise and hurt Queen.

A 33-year-old native of Mitchell County, Hise would be the youngest member serving in the state Senate. He is already serving his second term as Spruce Pine mayor.

Mitchell County leans heavily Republican, a territory where Queen picked up few votes anyway.

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The second runner up, Andy Webb, who trailed by just a slim margin of votes, was from McDowell County, which could have proved more formidable for Queen.

McDowell is the quintessential battleground county. It leans neither Republican nor Democrat, and neither Queen nor his opponents have ever had a home advantage there.

McDowell has been the only “swing” county in the race in past years, but had a candidate from McDowell been on the ballot, it could have proved challenging for Queen.

The toss-up nature of the district required a large and expensive campaign on Queen’s part, spending around $800,000 the past two elections. In his home county of Haywood, Queen took 64 percent of the votes in 2008, and won the district by 54 percent. He took four of the six counties that comprise the district — a marked improvement compared to past victories narrowly eked out.

The six counties comprising the district have markedly different leanings. In Avery and Mitchell, Republicans out number registered Democrats by 8 to 1. It means Queen has to win big in Haywood, his home county, to make up for the known losses to the north.

Queen supporters believe he can pull off a win.

“All his races are tough,” said Chuck Dixon, a Waynesville Democrat and Queen supporter, citing the nature of the district. “He has to work hard for all his votes.”

Dixon said the district is oddly drawn. The state legislature will redraw election district boundaries this term, however, so the party that wins usually gets to draw district lines to its own advantage.

N.C. Senate, 47th district

Republican – one advances

Ralph Hise: 4,965

Andy Webb: 4,610

Tamera Frank: 4,328

*Winner faces off against Democratic Sen. Joe Sam Queen in the fall.  

N.C. Senate, 50th district

Republican – one advances

Jim Davis: 5,467

Jimmy Goodman: 3,542

*Winner faces Democratic Sen. John Snow in the fall.

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