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The Daily Tar Heel

Being red in a blue district

nc gop election party

People watch results at the N.C. GOP election party Tuesday night.

U.S. Rep. David Price, a representative in his 15th term, faced a challenger. His opponent, Steve Von Loor had no experience in politics and faced a left-leaning district. Yet he is not alone. This skewed uphill battle is not uncommon in local elections.

 In North Carolina’s 1st, 4th and 12th congressional districts, Republicans face Democratic incumbents. Congressional District 4 covers parts of Orange, Durham and Wake counties. These counties all voted Democratic in the 2016 presidential election by a large margin. The current Representative for District 4, Price, has a significant incumbent advantage: he has been in office since 1987, except for a brief period.

The Republican challenger, Von Loor, is a businessman who was raised in Ecuador and has never held an elected office. Von Loor declined to comment to The Daily Tar Heel.

Mitch Kokai of the John Locke Institute said the tendency for newcomers to challenge incumbents is common and rational. In years where a “wave” of support for a party is expected, the notions of “safely Republican” and “safely Democrat” districts no longer apply. 

Political parties often figure that by putting a candidate in these elections, they have a chance to win. Kokai cited the 2010 midterm elections, in which Republicans made large gains nationwide, as an example.  

Rob Schofield, director of N.C. Policy Watch, argued that this election is marked by a potential “blue wave” of Democratic support. 

“I think it was an intentional effort by Democrats to capitalize on the wave of enthusiasm that was out there for combatting Trump," Schofield said. "People were motivated and mobilized right from the start by the election of Donald Trump, and so people wanted to do something wherever they were, even if they lived in districts that were Trump-supporting or Trump-leaning districts."

He said that this phenomenon is not just the result of overoptimism on the part of Democrats; it was already manifesting itself. In gerrymandered districts, Republicans previously had an 8-12 point advantage, he said, while polling suggests that Democrats are leading Republicans by that amount across the state as a whole.

"Because Democrats are running about that much ahead now, they’re actually competitive in a lot of districts that haven’t traditionally been competitive," Schofield said.

He pointed to the 2nd, 9th and 13th congressional districts as races where Democrats have become competitive in traditionally Republican-leaning areas.

Kokai and Schofield pointed to another reason parties may field a candidate with little chance of winning.

By putting up at least a token challenge, an underdog candidate can force the sure candidate’s party to divert time and resources to campaigning in the district. As a result, they will have less time and money to put to use in more competitive races. 

Gerry Cohen, former counsel for the N.C. General Assembly, lives in congressional District 4.  

“I’ve seen no trace of a campaign for Von Loor the GOP candidate nor Libertarian candidate (Barbara) Howe,” he said in an email. 

Kokai said some candidates want to make their opinions on an issue heard and will register as a candidate for a party without its endorsement, effectively paying for a platform to voice their positions.

Marcus Cooke is the Republican candidate for the District 56 General Assembly seat. As of the time of publication, Cooke and his campaign had not responded to requests for comment. But according to his campaign website, Cooke has worked as a scientist with the EPA for many years, and never before entered politics. 

Kokai said no one with endorsements, reputation and resources would try to take on a Democrat in such a blue district. While the N.C. GOP website lists Marcus Cooke as a Republican candidate, it is unclear how many resources have been devoted to his campaign. Unlike other candidates, his website is not linked to.

Some Republicans are optimistic, however. Cody Johnson, of UNC College Republicans, said that talk of a blue wave is premature, and he expected the Republican base to turn out in large numbers, in North Carolina and around the country. 

@EmkenNick

city@dailytarheel.com

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