Special election for Congress draws dozens of candidates



by Jordan Green

The creation of the new 13th Congressional District stretching from Greensboro to Iredell County has set off a scramble of political hopefuls who will be mobilizing supporters in a special election — likely to draw few voters — that is scheduled for June 7.

A total of 22 people have paid the $1,740 filing fee to put their names on the ballot for the new 13th Congressional District, which splits Greensboro while taking in High Point and stretching into Davidson, Davie, Iredell and Rowan counties.

The contest, whose Democratic and Republican primaries will be decided in a June 7 special election, has attracted people who were previously candidates in other congressional races before the federal courts threw out the old maps, some state lawmakers who had a hand in drawing the new maps, people who lost their races in the regular March 15 primary for other seats and other random political enthusiasts.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, 41.4 percent to 31.6 percent, but the 13th still generally tilts towards the GOP: Had the district been drawn in 2008, it would have narrowly split, with Democrat Kay Hagan prevailing in the US Senate race and Republicans John McCain and Pat McCrory carrying the vote in the presidential and gubernatorial races.

Four out of the five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for the 13th District live in urban Guilford County, while the 17 Republicans are spread out across the largely rural district.

Among the Democrats, Bruce Davis of High Point has been campaigning the longest. He ran unsuccessfully for the 6th District in 2014 and then reentered the race in the current cycle. Previously, the Congressional district lines ran through his yard, but the redrawn maps put him squarely in the new 13th District. Davis represented High Point on the Guilford County Commission from 2002 to 2014.

“I’ve always considered myself a champion of High Point,” said Davis, who cites education and economic development as his priorities. “I have to look out for High Point; it’s my home. For every election I’ve run, High Point has been divided. This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity where everyone in High Point who’s wanted to support me can do so.”

Bob Isner, a Greensboro developer, said he made the decision to run on the morning of March 25, the final day of filing. He’ll benefit from a certain amount of name recognition — his son is the professional tennis player John Isner — but the candidate cites his work transforming downtown Greensboro as his primary qualification. He’s responsible for three signature projects: the new urbanism-inspired Southside development, CityView Apartments and Deep Roots Market.

“Being an engineer — engineers are problem solvers — I’m not going to be governed by party lines and that sort of stuff,” Isner said. “Based on what I’ve done, I identify a problem and try to solve it.”

The campaign website for Adam Coker of Greensboro pledges that the candidate will fight for “bringing an end to mass incarceration and addressing institutional racism and classicism,” along with more standard positions referencing jobs and economic development, and improving services to veterans. Coker has worked in furniture, trucking, construction and the nonprofit sector.

Mazie Ferguson, a former president of the Greensboro Pulpit Forum who helped organize the struggle to raise wages and working conditions for K-Mart workers in Greensboro in the 1990s, filed for the congressional race after losing her bid for state labor commissioner to Charles Meeker in the March 15 Democratic primary.

Kevin D. Griffin, a CEO of a staffing agency who has been involved with the Durham Living Wage Project, similarly retrofitted his unsuccessful US Senate campaign after losing the Democratic primary to Deborah Ross on March 15 to take a crack at the new 13th District. Griffin lives outside of the district in Durham, which is allowed under an antiquated state law.

The contest will be a scramble, with extremely low turnout and little opportunity for candidates to differentiate themselves in the large pack. The outcome of the two party primaries is likely to come down to which candidates are most successful at motivating their supporters to get to the polls.

Andrew C. Brock, a state senator from Mocksville, is only one of a string of Republican state lawmakers who are gunning for the new district. The crowded field also includes state reps. John Blust of Greensboro, Julia Howard of Mocksville and Harry Warren of Salisbury. All four voted in lockstep with their party during the recent special session in Raleigh to overturn Charlotte’s ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their preference — a move that has prompted outrage in the North Carolina’s urban areas and led to threatened boycotts from out of state.

George Rouco, a former CIA officer who practices law in Mooresville, initially filed to run as a challenger to Republican Robert Pittenger in the 9th District, but decided to continue his bid when the lines were redrawn to place him the new 13th. He said he was motivated to run by anger at Pittenger for voting for the omnibus budget bill last December, which he said violated the lawmaker’s pledge to not raise the debt limit.

Kay Daly, a former communications director for the North Carolina Republican Party and frequent guest on Fox News, initially challenged incumbent Renee Ellmers in the 2nd District, calling her former opponent a “gutless politician” and a “craven weasel.” On her campaign website, Daly advertises her opposition to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and his predecessor John Boehner while boasting that she’s “less PC than Trump.” The candidate has pocketed endorsements from James Dobson of Focus on the Family, former Reagan advisor Gary Bauer and other conservative luminaries.

Hank Henning, a member of the Guilford County Commission who lives in High Point, overcame opposition from the tea party-inspired Conservatives for Guilford County to win his current seat, but his campaign literature reads like an overheated Ted Cruz screed

“Our federal government is broken, populated by far too many arrogant politicians interested solely in political preservation,” Henning wrote in an email announcing his campaign. “Our borders aren’t secure, our national security is a mess, our economy is leaving too many Americans behind, our veterans are shortchanged, and our values are under attack.”

Other Republican candidates include Jim Snyder, a lawyer from Lexington who made an unsuccessful US Senate bid in 2014; David W. Thompson, an unsuccessful candidate for state House who lives in Mooresville; Dan Barrett, an Advance resident who maintains a labor and employment law firm in Clemmons; and Farren K. Shoaf, a conservative Christian broadcaster in Mocksville. No information was available about Chad A. Gant, Jason A. Walser, Kathy Feather, Matthew J. McCall and Ted Budd as of press time.

Finally, the new district has drawn out Vernon Robinson, who infamously erected a Ten Commandments monument in front of City Hall when he served as a member of the Winston-Salem City Council in 2004, and who recently served as campaign director of the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee. Summing up Robinson’s brand of resentment-based, conservative identity politics, the Winston-Salem Journal once wrote, “Jesse Helms is back! And this time he’s black.”

Robinson, who lost his city council seat to Molly Leight in 2005, lives outside the 13th District.

Robinson’s campaign website is full of ad hominem invective and crude humor. Identifying the House and Senate Republican leadership as one of “major threats to the republic,” Robinson faults them for supposedly capitulating to President Obama, including by funding what he terms “planned butcherhood.”

His threat list also includes “Russia and remnants of communism (China, North Korea, Cuba and the faculty lounges in most American colleges and universities),” and — wait for it — “cultural Marxists like the mayor of Charlotte (who recently passed the ‘bathroom bill’) who are attacking our educational, cultural, religious and other institutions.”

  • Stuart

    Isner will win. Robert Isner has been a successful businessman and entrepreneur his entire life. He is a job creator and he knows how to fix problems. Isner has employed hundreds of people throughout his business career! I’m not sure any of the other candidates can say that especially none of the Democratic candidates

  • fancygapva

    What happened to Alma Adams who is my current (12th District) Representative? I’m In SW Greensboro and not even sure whether I’m in the 13th District or not at this point.
    I’ve looked for a new district map but can’t find one.

    • Jordan Green

      Southwest Greensboro is in the new 13th District. The redrawn 12th is now contained within Mecklenburg County, and no longer runs the length of I-85 from Charlotte up to Greensboro.