Skip to comments.Hopefuls try to differentiate themselves in race for Burr's seat
Posted on 04/12/2004 5:39:03 PM PDT by TaxRelief
U.S. Rep. Richard Burr's decision to seek the U.S. Senate seat of John Edwards may have some Piedmont Triad voters remembering the 1970s television comedy "Eight is Enough."
With the primary election more than three months away and the general election seven months off, eight candidates are already in a messy tussle for the Republican nomination for Burr's 5th Congressional District seat.
They include current and former state legislators and a black conservative activist.
There's also a soy supplement executive and the scion of the Broyhill furniture family.
Though most campaigns only heat up in the final weeks before a vote, this one has been tumultuous for months, with allegations of campaign finance rulebreaking and an anonymous mudslinging e-mail.
Their personalities aside, the candidates' platforms reveal few differences on issues like free trade and health care. They also have largely identical - and conservative - views on tax cuts and a tobacco quota buyout (for), abortion and gay marriage (against).
Burr does not plan to endorse anyone.
The fierceness of the campaign may result from the crowded field, said Jack Fleer, a Wake Forest University political science professor.
"I do think there is a serious issue for the candidates to try to distinguish themselves for the electorate," Fleer said.
At a forum last month at a Forsyth County high school, the candidates summoned conservative pedigrees, business experience or religious fervor as reasons that undecided voters should choose them. But some voters sounded like they would prefer fewer choices.
"They're very similar," added Keith Hooker, 32, a small business owner from Kernersville. "I want to find a candidate who doesn't lose their backbone when they get elected."
The 5th District covers all or part of 12 northwest North Carolina counties. Statewide GOP candidates regularly capture the district by more than 20 points.
The electorate includes mountain families who have voted Republican since Reconstruction, and members of the conservative churches that dot country and suburban roads. The district is anchored by Winston-Salem, home of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco.
Though the region has been hit hard by manufacturing layoffs caused by a sputtering economy and exacerbated by U.S. free-trade policies that many link to President Bush, all the candidates align strongly with the president and most observers expect the GOP primary to anoint Burr's replacement.
"It would take something that I can't even imagine for a Democrat to win this race," Appalachian State University professor Dennis Grady said.
The race for Burr's seat got an early kickoff last year, when Burr decided to run for Senate.
Many candidates have been on radio and television with ads since the fall. Winston-Salem city councilman Vernon Robinson and state Sen. Virginia Foxx cried foul after they were accused by voters of violating campaign finance laws.
A third, Nathan Tabor, had a speeding citation given a public airing - along with other allegations - through an allegedly supportive e-mail forwarded to media outlets by someone identified only as "Pastor Randy."
"I thought there would be a lot of acrimony," said candidate Joe Byrd of North Wilkesboro.
Ed Broyhill, whose grandfather began Broyhill Furniture and father is former U.S. Rep. Jim Broyhill, has the highest name recognition. Broyhill now runs an investment banking firm in Winston-Salem and touts his business experience and political heritage as assets.
"I've had a sense of compassion and identity to North Carolina that goes back generations," said Broyhill, who though a newcomer to campaigning has raised money for Burr, former Gov. Jim Martin and the first President Bush.
Broyhill has been endorsed by former U.S. Sens. Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth and former President Ford. His detractors complain that he's never held elected office and that he loaned his campaign $500,000 for the race. They also raise a failed mail-order furniture venture that Broyhill helmed.
"I tried to do my level-headed best during that period," he said.
Foxx, from Banner Elk in Avery County, said she's voted consistently against tax increases and worked against government waste in her 10 years in the Legislature.
"My past record tells you all what I'll do in the future. I've fought for conservative values all my life," she said.
Robinson is trying to become the first black Republican to represent North Carolina in Congress in more than a century.
"Our country is under attack, internally by liberal federal judges and the homosexual lobby, externally by al-Qaida and the illegal immigration invasion," Robinson said.
Robinson won friends and enemies when he erected an illegal Ten Commandments monument outside City Hall in January. It was removed one day later, and Robinson has bristled at suggestions it was a campaign stunt aimed at shoring up support from the religious right.
By the end of 2003, Robinson had raised more than $1.1 million for his campaign, making him the fund-raising leader.
Foxx and Robinson have both dismissed the campaign finance complaints lodged against them as politically motivated.
Two first-time candidates argue that they bring business smarts to the race. Tabor is a vice president at family-owned Revival Soy. He cites the 130 people the company employs as proof he knows how to create jobs.
"I'm simply a Christian, a conservative and a Republican," Tabor said.
Like Broyhill and Burr, Jay Helvey attended Wake Forest. He won a Fulbright scholarship and later worked at J.P. Morgan & Co. In late 2001, Morgan pulled the plug on a software spinoff he led, causing the company to declare bankruptcy.
Helvey believes his understanding of currency markets makes him a strong candidate, and has urged Bush to force China to devalue the yuan so U.S. products will be cheaper compared to imports.
"I think we need more people (in Congress) who understand the global economy," he said.
Although less well-financed, three other candidates are running hard for the GOP nomination.
There's Byrd, a state parole officer and former Wilkes County commission chairman; Ed Powell, a state representative, motor vehicles commissioner and transportation board member during the 1970s; and David Vanhoy, an air compressor distributor and volunteer firefighter.
Internal polling by the candidates gives Broyhill the top name recognition among voters, with Foxx and Robinson close behind.
Helvey hired Carter Wrenn, a former Helms consultant, to work for him and raised $878,690 by Dec. 31. Helvey "is kind of a fresh face," Grady said. "He has raised some money and has a good campaign organization under him."
"I tried to do my level-headed best during that period," he said,
(snip..referring to a failed mail-order furniture venture that he helmed).
It appears that his best ain't enough...LOL.
That's what I get for posting early in the morning. WHat I meant to say was:
I can't tell you how tired I am of his and Jay Helvey's incessant, insipid radio commercials.