Primary coloring book: US Congress Part 1

by Kirk Ross

Now that traditional low voter turnout has determined the make up of most of the boards and bodies that comprise the government closest to the people, let’s take a look at what’s up with that distant entity on a hill to which we dispatch 15 stout-hearted North Carolinians as our representatives in the national cacophony.

Not every one of those serving will face a May challenger (Sen. Richard Burr, of course, isn’t up until 2010), but many will and, if rumblings are to be believed, the primary season could be a little more active than usual.

US Senate

Sen. Elizabeth Dole almost had a primary challenger and it’s still a little confusing how this went down, but at a recent Haywood County GOP event a fellow named Victor Burgess reportedly got up and said he was running in the primary because Dole was out of touch. A few days later apparently someone was in touch with Burgess because he decided not to run after all. So, no, it doesn’t look like Dole needs to worry about this spring.

On the Democratic side, NC Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro is officially in and it probably doesn’t matter whether she was out before she was in. That’s the fuss right now, but once the race starts up, that’ll be history.

Hagan, the five-term state senator who, as the daughter of a Lakeland, Fla. mayor and niece of the Sunshine State dreadnaught known as Lawton Chiles, grew up around politics. She knows how to campaign and makes the Democratic primary for US Senate a natural point of focus here and around the nation. Like her opponent, Jim Neal, Hagan says she wants to keep the race fixed on defeating Elizabeth Dole.

A third declared Democratic challenger, graphic artist John Ross Hendrix of Cary, is among a growing list of folks who “left the Republican Party in disgust” and decided to run as a Democrat.

US Congress

Districts 1 and 2, occupied by GK Butterfield and Bob Etheridge respectively, don’t appear to be heading toward a primary, but beyond there is a string of contested races.

Third District Congressman Walter Jones Jr. of Farmville drew his primary challenger, Onslow County Commissioner and former 82nd Airborne platoon leader Joe McLaughlin, in May. McLaughlin, who resides in Jacksonville, says he is opposed to Jones’ opposition to the war in Iraq. The upside to this race is that it will put a focus on veterans’ issues early on. The other upside is that Jones has already referred to fans of Rush Limbaugh as “Kool-aid drinkers.”

Jones or McLaughlin will face Marshall Adame, also of J-ville, in the general.

• Fourth District Congressman David Price has yet to see a challenger pop up, but the longtime incumbent has faced several – all from the left – in the heavily Democratic and always-bristly Fourth. This year should be no different.

• Fifth District Rep. Virginia Foxx already has a challenge from the Dems via Roy Carter who lives near West Jefferson, but nothing brewing in her party even though the 12-county Fifth is a huge chunk of territory.

•Sixth District Rep. Howard Coble, now serving his 12th term, already has opposition in the general election (and may have more), but no word on a challenger from his own party. The Dem side of the Sixth includes David Crawford, who had rejoined the Greensboro City Council race as of press time. He’ll face Johnny J. Carter of Summerfield who filed to run in September.

Next week: More on the congressional races, a look at the governor’s money and random speculation about whatever else comes up.