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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: Open congressional seat is an opportunity to elect an exciting progressive


Rep. David Price speaks outside of the N.C. Democratic Party headquarters in Raleigh on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. 

Last week, N.C. Sen. Valerie Foushee announced she would be running to represent the state’s 6th District — currently the 4th District — in the U.S. House.

She joins a growing field of Democratic hopefuls vying for retiring Rep. David Price’s seat, including N.C. Sen. Wiley Nickel, Nathan Click, Ashley Ward and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam.

If Foushee wins, she will sit safely in Congress for decades to come.

Despite holding one of the safest Democratic seats in North Carolina — a position he has held off and on for more than 30 years — Price has little to show for it. 

Price is one of the most senior members of the House of Representatives and was first elected around the same time as now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Despite its length, his tenure has been uneventful, with few notable leadership positions and lackluster achievements.

If Democratic voters play their cards right, the 6th District could elect a new titan of American politics, one positioned to take on powerful leadership roles and write a new chapter for the Triangle. To do this, Democrats should elect one of the women of color candidates who have announced their runs.

Foushee and Allam would be historic candidates — no woman or person of color has ever represented the district, let alone a woman of color. 

Allam, who announced her candidacy earlier this month, is no stranger to making history. When she was elected to the Durham County Board of Commissioners last year, she became the first Muslim woman ever elected to public office in North Carolina. Political newcomer Click, a Black man, would be a historic candidate as well.

In an institution like Congress, creating space for new, diverse leadership is incredibly difficult. Because there is a limited number of seats, it invariably requires asking someone with the power to give it up and step aside for someone else. While many notable representatives fought their way into Congress by ousting an incumbent — like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley notably did in 2018 — many diverse candidates break through when an incumbent retires.

The primaries held in the power gap left by a vacancy, like the one we will see in 2022, create new opportunities. Fellow members of the "Squad," Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, were elected to Congress after their Democratic representatives retired. 

Now-Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Rep. Ritchie Torres of New York are other historic candidates who seized the opportunity to run in the same way.

Foushee herself made the jump to the state Senate after her predecessor, Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, retired after nine terms.

An inspiring congressional candidate creates an impact beyond themself. When voters have a reason to turn out for just one candidate, they still vote for all the others. A candidate who could be historic, like Foushee or Allam, would increase turnout for less-funded down-ballot races that impact local politics and for presidential candidates voters aren’t too excited about.

But the 6th District cannot make the mistakes of the failed campaigns before it. When "safe" candidates win primaries, they flounder in the general. We can look no further than failed U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham, and more recently, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

Both candidates ran as safe bets: moderate, educated, white men. Cunningham got his most significant late-game surge from being exposed as an adulterer, giving voters a long-awaited reason to talk about him. But he still failed to win.

McAuliffe beat two progressive Black women in his primary — women who, if successful, would have been historic, not just for Virginia, but nationally — and went on to lose the general in a state that President Biden easily won a year earlier.

The campaigns of Foushee and Allam may be historic if they are invested in and given the chance. Beyond taking advantage of a rare opportunity to add new perspectives to our federal government, the 6th District has an opportunity to elect someone who will be making monumental change three decades from now.

If voters want to lay the groundwork for actual change in North Carolina, this is the moment to do it.


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