Ellmers edges out Etheridge in tight race

staff writersNovember 2, 2010 

Challenger Renee Ellmers rallied against incumbent Bob Etheridge for the 2nd Congressional District seat.

Etheridge lost the slight edge he had over challenger Renee Ellmers. She now has 49.6 percent of the votes, while Etheridge has 48.5 percent with all precincts reporting.

Democratic incumbent David Price has beaten back Republican challenger B.J. Lawson, while incumbent U.S. Rep. Brad Miller has defeated Republican challenger William “Bill” Randall.

Price defeated challenger B.J. Lawson with 55 percent of the votes.

And in the 13th Congressional District, Miller has been declared the winner with 55 percent of the votes over challenger William “Bill” Randall.

The Democratic incumbents were leading Republican challengers even as their colleagues in other states were expected to tumble.

The expected GOP takeover means all could lose powerful positions that they hold in the Democratic-controlled House.

Price would lose his position as top appropriator for homeland security. Miller would lose his slot as chief investigator on science and technology issues. And Etheridge could potentially lose a seat in the Ways and Means Committee, an assignment for which he waited years to achieve.

Political scientists Andrew Taylor said the Triangle may be part of the good news tonight for the Democratic party.

“I’m wondering how many North Carolina seats will go, and whether Republicans across the country will be having a good night, but not so good in North Carolina,” said Taylor, of N.C. State University.

The tightest race appeared to be in the 2nd District, a largely rural and suburban district that curls clockwise from Franklin County, around through Johnston County and over toward Chatham, dipping a bit into southeast Raleigh.

There, Etheridge, a farmer and former state schools superintendent, faced an unexpectedly energetic challenge from Ellmers, a registered nurse from Dunn.

The campaign offered voters a stark choice: a seven-term Democratic incumbent who touted his support for Obama’s policies, vs. a tea party-backed newcomer who called for slashing the federal budget and repealing Obama’s successes.

Ellmers, 46, runs the clinic of her doctor husband. She became politically active in 2009 when she joined Americans for Prosperity on a bus tour across the state to protest the health reform law. She considered herself a tea party candidate and was endorsed by conservative activist Sarah Palin.

Ellmers campaigned on a repeal of the health care law. She said she wants to cut spending, but didn’t offer specifics beyond those related to Medicare fraud.

When an anonymous video was released in June that showed Etheridge grabbing a man on a Capitol Hill sidewalk and demanding, “Who are you,” Ellmers’ campaign immediately benefitted.

She cut an online ad questioning Etheridge’s actions, and raised nearly $25,000 in a day.

Still, Ellmers made little more of the video in her campaign. But outside groups smelled blood, pouring $360,000 into attack ads against Etheridge that highlighted the video.

Ellmers drew national attention in September with another ad, this one an online attack against the Muslim community center being planned two blocks from Ground Zero. She called it a “victory mosque” and linked its backers to terrorists. Parts of the ad were inaccurate.

Etheridge relied on a war chest of more than a million dollars, and talked up his support for the health care overhaul, the stimulus bill and financial regulatory reform, all priorities of the Obama administration.

The race in the 4th Congressional District offered voters in Orange, Durham and southwestern Wake counties a rematch of the 2008 race between Price and Lawson. Then, Price won with 63 percent of the vote.

But Price, 70, knows what a strong GOP year can do to an incumbent. He lost the seat in 1994 during the so-called Republican Revolution, only to win it back two years later. Price, a Duke University political science professor before he went to Congress, has long been popular among progressive voters in the western Triangle, but he has faced more scrutiny from voters in the Cary area.

Lawson, a 38-year-old Cary doctor and business owner, said he – like Ellmers – ran in part because of his concerns about health reform. He wants to repeal the health overhaul, and said he would rather rely on the free-market system of delivery. He favors abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. He also opposed the bailout structure that Congress passed under President Bush to save banks deemed “too big to fail.”

Price, meanwhile, aired a television ad against Lawson, and attacked his opponent as holding “extreme right-wing ideology.”

And the day before the election, controversy exploded around an ad that Lawson's campaign claimed was narrated by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman. Freeman denied that he recorded the ad and threatened to sue the campaign. Lawson's camp blamed a California ad agency that produced the ad, saying it had misled the campaign. The ad agency strongly denied that, insisting that it had been clear with Lawson that the narrator would be a Freeman impersonator.

Miller, 57, fended off a challenge from Republican Randall in the 13th Congressional District. It stretches from Greensboro eastward, along the counties bordering Virginia, and into Raleigh in Wake County.

Miller touted his work pushing the Obama agenda during the past two years, including the federal stimulus act and the financial regulation overhaul.

Miller, along with U.S. Rep. Mel Watt of Charlotte, wrote consumer protection language that formed a significant and controversial part of the financial legislation.

Randall has had his own challenges. He drew national attention when he accused BP and the Obama administration of conspiring to create the oil spill. He has gone through five campaign managers in the past year.

Like other tea party-backed candidates, Randall calls for the repeal of the health reform law and the abolition of the Department of Education.

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