STATESVILLE RECORD & LANDMARK: Iredell a battleground: District 13 race could be national bellwether
Stock those election-season fallout shelters, Iredell County. Politics in these parts are about to go nuclear.
For months, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd’s re-election bid was the subject of national interest, particularly by Democratic Party leaders who tapped philanthropist and former lawyer Kathy Manning of Greensboro as their best bet to flip the District 13 seat. First she will face Adam Coker, a Greensboro Democrat who raises cattle on an Iredell County farm, in the May 8 primary. But Manning continues to pick up national support, and with it the potential for millions of dollars’ worth of advertising, social media analytics and good old direct snail mail funded by outside groups who otherwise wouldn’t be able to find Iredell on a map.
Of course, Republicans and GOP-friendly groups also will parachute into the race, checkbooks in hand, to bolster Budd’s counterattack. Early prognostications made the freshman Budd, a gun store owner and farmer from Advance, the odds-on favorite in District 13, where President Donald Trump pulled 53 percent of the vote in 2016 and Budd actually did better by picking up 56 percent.
That was before the special-election victory by a Democrat March 13 in a Pennsylvania Congressional district where Trump scored 58 percent of the vote in 2016. Conor Lamb’s close win over Republican Rick Saccone in a reliably Republican district, controlled by the GOP for the past 15 years, tilted the U.S. political landscape, including in North Carolina.
“If a swing can happen in a district that was that large of a Trump win, other (Republicans) need to think about how much insurance they may have in their own district and (in) 2016’s performance,” said Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College who studies and writes extensively about state and national elections.
Overnight, North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District – which resembles a sloppily forged anvil covering most of Iredell County, all of Davie and Davidson counties, and parts of Rowan and Guilford counties – went from safely Republican to utterly uncertain for the Nov. 5 general election.
On the offensive
Actually, there is one certainty: What started as an intriguing tussle is sure to escalate into a pitched battle. In fact, all three District 13 hopefuls already are lobbing verbal grenades.
“Our positive, pro-growth policies are under attack every day, and the last thing our families need is a limousine liberal elitist helping Nancy Pelosi enact her job-killing agenda,” Budd said in an announcement of his filing last month.
Pelosi, the House minority leader from California, has become a paragon of liberalism for Republicans looking to portray Democratic candidates as leaning too far to the left.
Manning, who picked up an early pledge of support of the Democratic National Congressional Committee, was ready to fire back.
“While the national attention on this race is appreciated, it only affirms what we’ve known all along,” Manning said in a statement to the Record & Landmark. “This race is competitive because people are tired of politicians like Budd not getting anything done in Washington.”
Coker, a late entry to the fray, also came fully loaded.
“Ted Budd has proven at every step of the way he is an extremist, not open to other viewpoints, and refuses to express any reasonable dissent or restraint of (the Trump) administration, which is clearly so unhinged,” Coker told the Record & Landmark. “(Bud) will be held accountable for his lack of civility and leadership.”
The party holding the White House traditionally experiences a net loss of congressional seats in mid-term elections. Backlash to Trump also has fueled a mobilization of Democrats looking to express their displeasure by displacing congressional Republicans.
Democrats must pick up 24 seats to take back control of the House. They see Budd’s seat as one of them.
“I’d say Budd is one of the most vulnerable incumbents anywhere,” said Gary Pearce, a Democratic political analyst from North Carolina who worked on campaigns for former Gov. Jim Hunt and several other candidates.
Pearce and Bitzer both pointed to the Pennsylvania race, where suburban voters pushed the Democrat over the top, as a potential bellwether for the District 13 contest.
More than one-third of voters in the 13th can be considered suburbanites, according to Bitzer’s analysis of registration data. About 46 percent live in urban areas (traditionally Democratic strongholds) and just 20 percent are rural (where Republicans usually prevail). That likely means Budd would need to win big in the suburbs by bucking what appears to be increased Democratic support in those areas.
Registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in the district, 36 percent to 34 percent, with 29 percent unaffiliated. Those numbers also signal a potential vulnerability for Budd, according to Bitzer.
“It has been traditional lore in North Carolina political circles that once a legislative district hits 35 percent Republican registration, the district tends to flip to the GOP in voting behavior,” he explained.
That leaves the 13th and 9th (where Republican Robert Pittenger of Charlotte also is running for re-election) below the GOP-safe trend line. Several respected election analysts, including Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, have moved the 13th and the 9th from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican.”
“The Republicans’ poor special election performances in general, combined with other factors such as the president’s low approval rating and a Democratic lead on House generic ballot polling, suggest the GOP House majority is in considerable danger,” Sabato wrote in his Sabato’s Crystal Ball newsletter after the Pennsylvania election earlier this month.
Unpredictability in District 13 all but ensures an influx of money. In fact, it has already begun, with Manning leading the way.
She raised $564,000 in the final quarter of 2017 while Budd brought in $183,000, according to the Federal Election Commission. Manning listed $522,000 in cash on hand, while Budd had $300,000. Coker has raised just $27,000.
During the current election cycle, Budd has pulled in 123 donations from political action committees totaling more than $288,000. He has raised $557,000 overall.
Manning has gotten just $7,000 in PAC money while collecting $526,000 in individual contributions.
But we likely haven’t seen anything yet. In the Pennsylvania race, Democrat Lamb raised nearly $4 million, while outside groups spent millions more on ads. Republican-affiliated groups alone spent $10 million in support of Saccone, who himself raised less than $1 million.
One other very real possibility: Trump stumping for Budd. After all, Trump National Golf Club Charlotte, in Mooresville, is in District 13. Budd said he would welcome the president’s help.
For the most part, Manning has not made Trump an issue, a formula that worked well in Pennsylvania for Lamb, who portrayed himself as a moderate.
With or without Trump’s involvement, the District 13 race will have the attention of Democrats looking to take back Congress and Republicans intent on defending their majority.
Historically, Republicans tend to turn out at a higher rate than Democrats, a trend Budd likely will need to see continue to top Manning, Bitzer said. But in the Trump era, convention has been turned on its head.
“The great unknown at this point is how high a Democratic wave could be,” he said.
So get ready, Iredell. A political onslaught is upon us.
» Absentee voting for the May 8 Primary Election is underway and continues until May 1. Ballots are available at www.co.iredell.nc.us/162/Elections or by calling the Iredell County Board of Elections at 704-878-3140.
» April 18: Deadline to register to vote or change party affiliation for the primary.
» April 19-May 5: One-stop early voting at the elections office, 203 Stockton St., Statesville.