Soles' decision to step down excites the GOP

Staff WriterDecember 31, 2009 

— Republican Party leaders on Wednesday pointed to Democratic Sen. R.C. Soles' decision not to seek re-election as further proof of an imminent GOP tide. But Soles' departure may make his Tabor City seat harder for them to win, helping keep the Senate in Democrats' hands.

Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger said Soles was just the latest Democratic senator to pull the ejection lever.

"Long-serving pro-business Democrats in the state Senate are choosing to retire rather than seek re-election in a political environment where they face likely defeat," Berger said, highlighting Gov. Bev Perdue's anemic poll numbers, a corruption investigation against former Gov. Mike Easley and a national political climate trending Republican.

Soles' decision, however, seemed to be prompted more by personal trouble than by politics.

Three weeks ago, a grand jury asked prosecutors to request an indictment of Soles on charges of shooting a young man in the leg in August. A Republican poll showed 53 percent of those surveyed in Soles' district had an unfavorable view of him. The criminal case would have handicapped his campaign, an ideal situation for Republicans in one of the state's few competitive districts.

Instead Democrats can now field a candidate free of such baggage. "It would be foolhardy [for Republicans] to put this, all of a sudden, in their win column," said Chris Fitzsimon of the liberal-leaning N.C. Policy Watch.

Former Rep. David Redwine, a Brunswick County Democrat who lives in the district, said supporters have encouraged him to run. "I'll start thinking about it more seriously," he said Wednesday.

Republicans see further evidence of their rising fortunes in the announced exits of Democrats such as Sen. Tony Rand of Fayetteville and Senate majority leader up until this fall, who is resigning effective midnight tonight. He's under scrutiny over insider trading allegations by the ex-CEO of a company for which Rand chairs the board. Sen. David Hoyle of Gaston County, chairman of the finance committee, announced he won't seek re-election, as did Sen. Julia Boseman of Wilmington. Both Hoyle's and Boseman's districts are considered competitive.

Democrats hold a 30 to 20 majority in the Senate, so Republicans would need to gain six seats to win control.

'A noble calling'

Soles, 75, long was at the center of whispering in Tabor City about repeated run-ins with young men who were former legal clients.

In August, Soles shot Thomas Kyle Blackburn, 22, who was trying to kick in Soles' front door. At least part of the encounter was captured by a surveillance camera.

Grand jurors three weeks ago issued a presentment -- a legal step before an indictment -- saying they found probable cause to believe Soles assaulted Blackburn. The felony would be punishable by as much as two years in prison. Jurors asked prosecutors to submit bills of indictment.

Soles' lawyer, Joseph Cheshire of Raleigh, has said the shooting was self-defense.

"I plan to serve out the remainder of my term with the vigor and diligence my constituents deserve and I will continue to practice law," Soles said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "Public service is a noble calling and I have tried to live up to the ideals of a true leader."

mjohnson@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-4774

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