GOP touts throng of candidates

staff writerFebruary 27, 2010 

North Carolina Republicans have entered races for congressional and legislative seats in big numbers, apparently spurred by recent GOP successes and the grass-roots activism of the Tea Party movement.

When the three-week period for candidates filing for 2010 ended at noon Friday, Republicans were boasting of having set modern records for fielding candidates against nearly every Democratic lawmaker in Raleigh or Washington.

Republican candidates will run in all 50 state Senate districts in North Carolina. "I think that is the first time that has ever happened," said Senate Republican leader Phil Berger of Eden. "People sense an opportunity."

This is notable in a state where Democrats have controlled the legislature for all but four years since 1898, and where Republicans have often struggled to field candidates.

Enthusiasm by GOP candidates comes after a series of Republican victories in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and locally in the Wake County school board elections. The wins have breathed new life into a Republican Party that had been deflated during the last years of the Bush administration.

This summer also saw renewed activism by conservative groups opposed to health care proposals and other plans of President Barack Obama's administration. Some conservative groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, have helped the state GOP recruit candidates.

But Democrats said the outpouring of Republican candidates would not necessarily cause a shift of power in Raleigh in November. Democrats hold a 30-20 majority in the Senate and a 68-52 majority in the House.

"No one should be surprised that the teabag movement has had a positive effect for the Republican Party," said state Sen. Linda Garrou of Winston-Salem, who is chairwoman of the Democrats' Senate campaign committee. "As my Daddy said, 'It's not how many dance partners you have. It's who they are.' We think we have a great group of candidates for the open seats."

Democratic leaders said they had worked hard to recruit strong candidates in swing districts that will likely determine which party will control the legislature.

But the Republicans are taking the fight even to powerful Democrats such as Garrou. She is the co-chairwoman of the Senate budget committee, represents a strong Democratic district and has typically drawn only token opposition or none.

This time, two Republicans have announced for her seat. One of them is Nathan Jones, 37, an entrepreneur from Winston-Salem, who helped organize a Tea Party event last year.

"I'm one of the many people new to politics who feel a growing frustration about the complete lack of reality in our legislature and all our levels of our government," said Jones, who runs an employee benefits firm.

Jones was particularly concerned about the tax increases passed by the legislature last year. "Those things are leading people to say 'Enough is enough,'" Jones said.

Contesting every winnable race

In the 120-member state House, Republicans have candidates for 110 seats. House GOP leader Paul Stam of Apex said there are candidates for every winnable race.

In a sign of the GOP's aggressiveness, the party is fielding candidates even in traditional Democratic strongholds. There are 29 House districts where the Republicans have no Democratic opposition. But there are only eight districts where the Democrats have no Republican opposition.

Democrats say they are not concerned. "We just take a different approach," said House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman of Lexington. "We think we win by recruiting the best candidates."

There were also signs of anti-incumbent feelings against Congress, both Democrats and Republicans. Even though Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson represents a strongly Democratic district, four Republicans are running in the primary for his seat. One Democrat is opposing him.

Rep. Howard Coble of Greensboro, who drew no primary opposition two years ago, has five Republican primary opponents this year; one Democrat has filed. Rep. Patrick McHenry of Hickory, who had one Republican challenger last time, has three primary challengers this time; two Democrats are running for his seat.

Four GOP candidates are lining up for the House seat held by Democrat David Price of Chapel Hill; three Republicans filed for the House seat held by Democrat Bob Etheridge of Lillington, and two for Raleigh Democrat Brad Miller's seat.

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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