High cost intimidates grassroots Democrats in NC swing district

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Beniah McMiller
Beniah McMiller (second from right), formerly a Democratic candidate for the 13th Congressional District, greets voters in Rowan County in December. (courtesy photo)

Facing a well-funded opponent backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, two grassroots Democrats have bowed out of the 13th Congressional District race.

The 13th, considered the most competitive of North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts, has drawn the interest of Swing Left, a political action committee that coordinates resources to try to mobilize Democratic voters in vulnerable Republican-held districts.

Scarcely a month after Kathy Manning, a Greensboro philanthropist and lawyer announced plans to run for the seat, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added her to its “Red to Blue” program, described as “a highly competitive and battle-tested program at the DCCC that arms top-tier candidates with organizational and fundraising support to help them continue to run strong campaigns.”

Manning, who formerly headed the Jewish Federations of North America, reported to the Federal Election Commission that she raised $530,000 through the end of 2017, including $7,000 from Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and a political action committee he founded.

Bruce Davis, the Democratic Party’s nominee for the 13th Congressional District in 2016, said Monday that he decided not to run this time around because of the exorbitant cost of the seat. Davis, a former Democratic Guilford County commissioner, raised $94,642 over the course of the 2016 campaign, including $22,000 loaned from the candidate. Ted Budd, who is now a first-term incumbent in the district, raised a total of $611,329, while the conservative Club for Growth PAC lavished $500,000 in independent expenditures on television advertising to support the candidate in the Republican primary. Davis lost the general election to Budd by 12.2 points. While his candidacy provided an object lesson in how difficult it is for an under-financed candidate to compete, his point spread was still the smallest of the 10 Republican-leaning congressional races in North Carolina.

“My biggest reason for not running is it costs too much money,” said Davis, who operates a daycare with his wife in High Point. “I invested a lot of my personal funds in that last race and had some debts that I had to pay off after the race. Of course, the money dried up, but I was still holding a lot of debt that I had to pay. Thankfully, I’ve paid off all that debt, much of it from my personal funds. It’s unfortunate that these seats go the highest bidder, but that’s what it’s turned into.”

Beniah McMiller, an instructor at Mitchell Community College in Statesville, announced on his Facebook page on Sunday that he is also suspending his bid for Congress in the 13th Congressional District, writing, “We have decided that this time it is more important to lead at home instead of abroad. Therefore we will be filing to run for North Carolina’s 34th Senate District seat.”

McMiller previous told Triad City Beat that he had been campaigning for the congressional seat since January 2017. McMiller and his wife met with Democrats in all five counties covered by the district over the course of the year.

“We sat down with Latino voters, we sat down with women voters — different demographics — going to churches,” McMiller said. “We just started off by listening. You can gain folks’ trust if you’re willing to have an honest conversation. I tell them: ‘I’d like to hear your concerns and how you think things are going.’”

McMiller’s campaign committee showed no fundraising on the Federal Elections Commission website.

Davis said McMiller, who is also black, is wise to not go up against Manning’s fundraising juggernaut.

“I think it’s smart that Beniah would delay his quest for a Congressional seat that costs so much money,” Davis said. “It’s very difficult for especially African Americans to raise that much money. The record shows that African Americans have a hard time raising money to contest congressional and even state legislative seats.”

One longtime contender for the 13th Congressional District seat has not been deterred by Manning’s decision to enter the race.

Adam Coker, a truck driver who placed third in the 2016 Democratic primary, filed again for the 13th Congressional District on Feb. 23.

“From securing investments and loans as a banker, to starting a small business in a recession because there were no jobs to crossing the country hundreds of times driving trucks delivering our prized furniture, to growing food to put food on our tables raising cattle and other animals, to working in restaurants or framing houses, I have struggled alongside my fellow North Carolinians all my life. I know the value of hard work and the dignity it brings. I know how heavy all our burdens have become in so many battlefields we find ourselves.

Coker, who has reported raising $27,154 through Dec. 31, said, “As your representative I will not be beholden to wealthy donors and lobbyists. I will work tirelessly to move all of us forward, to secure a future for all of us. I will not play on the fears of people but will call on all our communities as well as our leaders in Washington to be our higher selves. I will stand with all people committed to decency, fairness and justice.”

Manning, described in a campaign email as a “business and community leader,” filed on Feb. 21.

“I’ve lived in Greensboro for over 30 years and have spent the last several months traveling across our community listening to the concerns of people living in the 13th District,” she said. “Our community deserves bold leadership in Congress — not someone like Ted Budd, who is bought and paid for by special interests and only comes around in our community when there’s an election soon. We need better paying jobs, more affordable healthcare, and increased access to quality education to ensure our children are ready for the jobs of tomorrow. I’ve spent my career bringing people together to solve tough problems — it’s time for Congress to do the same.”

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