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Congressional primaries like musical chairs

Back in the dark ages when I was in elementary school, we used to play a game called musical chairs. Since many YES! Weekly readers weren’t alive back then, here’s how it works. Let’s say there are 20 kids in the class. The teacher arranges 19 chairs in several orderly rows, and asks the students to begin the game by standing near or in front of a chair. She then drops the needle on a record and music starts playing, at which time the boys and girls are told to walk around and through the rows of chairs. Suddenly the teacher lifts the stylus, the music stops, and everyone is supposed to scramble to find a chair and sit down. The person left standing is SOL. As it turns out, musical chairs is the perfect metaphor to describe the Congressional re-districting in North Carolina that has led to next week’s primary.

Congressional districts are supposed to be drawn in such a way as to insure that each district has about the same population. Here in North Carolina, that’s about 700,000 people per district. So far, so good. The problem is that many southern States used to gerrymander their districts so that mainly white candidates could win. In other words, when the music stopped playing, the black guy was left without a chair. The Supreme Court then stepped in and ordered that we re-draw our districts to give black voters a chance to elect black representatives. The Supremes put us on a sort of probation so they could monitor our progress, and for a while, candidates of color were able to grab a chair every two years when the music stopped playing. But once the probation was over, our General Assembly re-arranged the chairs again, so once again we ended up with gerrymandered districts. This year’s primaries were scheduled for March 15 and candidates started lining up in front of the chair they wanted to occupy. But on February 5, before the music could begin, the US Court of Appeals ruled that our 1st and 12th district borders were unconstitutional. State lawmakers were ordered to re-draw those boundaries, and that, of course, affected the adjoining districts. Votes cast for Congress on March 15 were invalid, and June 7 was set aside for us to vote in the newly formed districts.

The problem is that dozens of candidates were suddenly thrown into newly re-drawn districts, many of which they no longer resided in, or wanted to run in because of stiff competition that hadn’t existed when they first filed to run.

Incumbent Alma Adams of Greensboro for example, was a shoe-in to recapture her seat in the old 12th district, but her home was moved into the new 13th that would not favor a Democrat. And so Alma moved to Charlotte to run in the newly drawn 12th, which serves Mecklenburg County. Incumbent George Holding of Raleigh had represented the old 13th District, but decided to try his luck in the 2nd when his district was re-drawn to include Greensboro, High Point, Lexington, and other Piedmont voting areas. Former Guilford County Commissioner Bruce Davis and newcomer Jim Roberts had both filed to run in the old 6th district, and challenge Republican incumbent Mark Walker. But when the music stopped, Davis ended up running in the new 13th, and Roberts is now running for a chance to unseat Virginia Foxx in the 5th. Not surprisingly, most Republican incumbents faired pretty well when the chairs were re-arranged this time. Foxx remained in the 5th, and Walker, who was going to be displaced from his old district, was saved by the good old boys in Raleigh who made a last minute change to the map in order to keep Mark’s residence in the 6th.

Of all the newly drawn districts, the 13th is the most wide open. With Holding deciding not to stand for re-election there, a total of 22 candidates filed for his seat, including 5 Democrats and 17 Republicans. Still, the Republicans are favored to win this race thanks to how our General Assembly drew the lines. The question is, which Republican will lap the field? The stakes are high because there will be no run-off allowed in any of the June 7 primaries. That means you only have to win by one vote to secure the nomination in any race. Until recently I would have expected Sen. Andrew Brock of Mocksville, Sen. John Blust of Greensboro, Davie Commissioner Dan Barrett or Rep. Julia Howard (also of Davie), to win their primary. But recently Ted Budd of Advance has become the odds on favorite to capture the 13th, both in the primary and in the general. That’s because a PAC named “Club for Growth Action” is expected to pour nearly a half million dollars into Budd’s campaign coffers this year. As of last week, they had already bought $150,000 worth of TV ads for Budd, which is three times the amount spent by Barrett or Howard. It’s also 100 percent more than any other candidate of either party has spent on TV advertising. Of the Democrats running in the 13th, Bruce Davis stands as good a chance as anyone to get the nod. But it will be difficult for any Democrat to win in November unless they raise a ton of money, and pay GOP voters to stay home.

Josh Brannon will most likely win the Democratic nomination in the 5th, but it won’t matter because Virginia Foxx (who is opposed by Patty Curran in the primary) is unbeatable in that district. Just ask her last opponent in 2014…Josh Brannon. Pete Glidewell is unopposed in the 6th district Democratic primary, and, in any other election year could give Mark Walker a run for his money. But Trump has surged ahead of Clinton in North Carolina, and if that trend holds, Walker will benefit from the Donald’s coattails.

Despite the confusion over who is in which district, I encourage everyone in the 5th, 6th and 13th to get out and vote next Tuesday. If nothing else, it will be a lot of fun to watch 30 adults scrambling to occupy six chairs once the music stops. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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