The contest in Senate District 31, which conjoins the eastern end of Forsyth County with Davie County through a narrow strip south of Winston-Salem, pits a staunch social-conservative lawmaker against a progressive challenger.

Redistricting last year made District 31 more competitive, but the partisan index published by the conservative Civitas Institute still gives Republican incumbent Joyce Krawiec a four-point advantage. In an election year seen as a potential blue wave, Democrats have a much more narrow path to the majority in the Senate than in the House, and they’re pinning their hopes on Terri LeGrand, a Wake Forest University administrator, to take them across the finish the line.

“It’s likely this seat will determine whether we have a Democratic majority,” LeGrand told Triad City Beat in a Zoom call. “The most important first vote I will cast will be for independent, nonpartisan redistricting. I look forward to restoring democracy and making sure the district lines are fair. After that particular vote, we’ll get started at the other important work of expanding Medicaid and investing in a job-training program.”

Krawiec, a delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention who has made restrictions on abortion the centerpiece of her seven-year tenure in the state House, defends the current system, which allows the majority party to draw district lines — a process that has produced a succession of maps over the past decade that have been struck down by the courts as unconstitutional.

“Our North Carolina Constitution clearly defines the process for redistricting,” Krawiec said in an email to TCB. “According to the constitution, redistricting will be done by the legislature. Democrats, who controlled the legislature for 140 years, never saw fit to change the constitution. I find it strange that now we hear a clamor for a redistricting commission.”

The two candidates also differ on the issue of expanding Medicaid to cover those who do not earn enough to qualify for federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, with Krawiec opposing expansion.

“This pandemic has shown us how many people lack healthcare coverage and what the dangers are when people become unemployed and lose coverage,” LeGrand said. “It’s critical that we expand Medicaid and cover as many people as possible. If we did it tomorrow — and I hope we do — hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians would have coverage. It’s more important than ever.”

Krawiec said her first priority is covering people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“These severely disabled people have been on a waitlist for an average of seven to 10 years,” Krawiec said. “I want to see Medicaid expanded to cover this population first.”

The race has attracted significant national attention from Democratic-aligned groups. One such group, Swing Left, is targeting the race as part of its “Super State Strategy,” which aims to flip the White House, the US Senate and state legislatures with the express purpose of “rolling back Republican gerrymandering.” In May, LeGrand received the endorsement of EveryDistrict, another national organization focused on flipping seats from red to blue. And in August LeGrand was one of 10 North Carolina candidates who received the endorsement of President Obama, who spotlighted them as “sticking up for working-class people, restoring fairness and opportunity to our system, and fighting for the good of all Americans — not just those at the top.”

LeGrand is a prodigious fundraiser whose receipts as of the most recent filing period ending on June 30 totaled $465,942, compared to only $85,417 raised by the Krawiec campaign. But fundraising totals don’t necessarily predict success: In 2018, as a candidate in the right-leaning House District 74, LeGrand raised $746,473 for the entire campaign cycle, but still lost to Republican Debra Conrad, who only raised $189,528.

Senate District 31 (courtesy NCGA)

Reflecting national support for LeGrand’s candidacy, several contributions of $5,000 or more come from donors in places like California, New Mexico, Texas and Washington, DC. Her biggest supporter is the NC Democratic Party Senate Caucus, which has been paying her campaign manager’s salary since the beginning of the year.

Beyond her overwhelming fundraising advantage, LeGrand has also attracted broad support, with 2,086 separate contributions averaging $223, compared to Krawiec, who has reported 66 contributions averaging $1,294. Krawiec’s largest donation, at $10,800, comes from Truist North Carolina PAC, while she’s raised a total of $14,750 from various sources in the daycare industry.

Krawiec has responded to the challenge from LeGrand by attempting to paint her opponent as an outsider, noting that LeGrand moved into the district shortly after the new lines were drawn and that she’s garnered support from out of state.

Her attack line against LeGrand echoes President Trump and the national GOP in an effort to undercut her opponent by accusing her of being in favor of “defunding the police.” Krawiec cited an article in the Kernersville News as the basis of her claim, telling TCB: “My opponent uses misleading language to attempt to hide the fact that she wants to defund police. She recently told the Kernersville News she wanted to ‘reallocate’ police funding but denied wanting to defund.” LeGrand reiterated her position that she does not support defunding the police in a statement to TCB.

The Kernersville News article raises the issue of defunding the police — a demand of many protesters who have been in the streets decrying police abuse — and then states: “LeGrand said, no, that’s not something she supports. What LeGrand does support is taking a hard look at how funding is dispersed and then funding what we value. For LeGrand, that would be putting more money into mental health and social services.” The article quotes LeGrand as saying, “I think that it’s important that we fund social services in a much better way. We should take a look at that.”

LeGrand responded to the death of George Floyd by issuing a statement in late May pledging to “follow the lead of the Legislative Black Caucus,” while acknowledging that as a white person she hasn’t lived the experience of people of color.

In terms of specific reforms, LeGrand told TCB that she supports lifting restrictions on access to police body-worn camera footage, but said she would have to study a proposal to create a registry to prevent problem officers from migrating from agency to agency.

In the wake of revelations that John Neville died from asphyxiation during an encounter with detention officers at the Forsyth County jail, protesters in Winston-Salem have called for a ban on the use of prone restraint.

“As a lay person who’s not schooled in any kind of restraint techniques, it seems like that would be unnecessary,” LeGrand said. “Especially now that we know that caused the death of John Neville, I can’t imagine that any law enforcement agency would think that would be an appropriate means of restraint.”

Krawiec’s response to Floyd’s death and the months of protests that have followed has been relatively muted. Asked what legislative changes, if any, she would support to address systemic racism and police abuses, Krawiec attempted to turn Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough’s endorsement against her opponent.

“John Neville died under the care of Democrat Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough, whose endorsement Terri LeGrand was strongly touting until recently,” Krawiec wrote in an email to TCB. She added: “I am the law-and-order candidate, but I only want the best and safest officers.”

LeGrand has also gone on the attack against Krawiec, calling a bill filed by Krawiec accelerating the termination the parental rights of expectant mothers struggling with substance abuse disorders after nine months “lack[ing] in understanding and empathy” and representative of “a cruel and paternalistic approach to governing.”

Krawiec defended the bill in an email to TCB as a way “to expedite permanency for children in foster care.” She wrote: “Currently, children are languishing in foster care, being moved from foster family to foster family. Children become more difficult to adopt as they age. All children need and deserve a stable permanent home.”

Like other Democrats attempting to flip Republican-controlled seats in the Triad, LeGrand pledges on her campaign website to “support common-sense gun safety laws, including universal background checks and a ‘red flag’ law that would allow petitioners to ask a judge to issue a gun-violence restraining order to remove firearms from people found to be a risk to themselves or others.”

Krawiec declined to state her position on a number of gun-safety issues, including red-flag laws, responding only generally by saying, “I would like to see gun laws enforced.” Asked specifically whether background checks should apply to gun shows, Krawiec responded, “All gun laws should always apply, everywhere, even at gun shows.” (North Carolina does not currently require sellers at gun shows to conduct background checks for long guns.)

Both candidates present themselves as supporters of public education.

Krawiec calls herself “one of the biggest champions of education,” saying she “helped pass $9,000 in raises for public school teachers, bringing their salaries to $54,000 on average.”

LeGrand said the General Assembly needs to do a better job of consulting teachers before setting the budget.

“Before we pick a number, we need to talk to teachers,” she said. “We need to have committee hearings and bring them to Raleigh. What are they spending their money on? I see teachers spending $500 out of pocket for classroom supplies. What are their needs? We need to look at the data. What are teachers making in surrounding states? What does the average bachelor’s degree holder make compared to the teacher?

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