RALEIGH — After months of watching his two opponents in the 13th Congressional District race throw mud at each other, Bill Randall is tossing a few mud balls of his own.
In the first televised debates between Randall, former Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble and former U.S. Attorney George Holding, pre-recorded and aired Sunday on WTVD and NBC-17, Randall sought to distinguish himself from the two leading candidates.
Holding and Coble, on the other hand, toned down their assaults on one another, and showed little difference in the substance of their political beliefs. Both lay claim as the rightful heirs to the late Sen. Jessie Helms: Coble is his nephew (and has been endorsed by his widow) and Holding served on his congressional staff.
Both have spent the past several weeks lobbing inflammatory accusations at the other while trying to stake out ground as the most thoroughbred conservative in the race. Randall, who lost by a wide margin to Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Miller in 2010, has been on the sidelines of the fight, receiving most of his attention when former presidential candidate Herman Cain came to Wake Forest last month to endorse him. Randall also has the backing of the tea party.
The 13th Congressional District covers parts of Wake County and stretches into Durham County to the north, Edgecombe County to the east and into Wayne County to the south. Miller chose not to run again after redistricting moved him into another district and turned the 13th District into a GOP stronghold. While there are two candidates on the Democratic primary ballot, Charles Malone has actually dropped out, and the other, Bernard Holliday, is not expected to have a chance in the November general election.
All three GOP candidates have been making the rounds, but they are not widely known outside Raleigh, even though Holding and Coble both grew up here. Randall moved to Wake Forest from out of state in 2008.
Earlier this year, Holding told a group of supporters that internal polling showed few people knew him even though he was the top federal prosecutor during several corruption cases against state officials. He claimed the poll showed even fewer people knew Coble, who served on the Raleigh City Council and unsuccessfully ran for state Senate before being elected to the Wake County Board of Commissioners, where he is chairman.
Holding’s profile has increased in the past few months through an aggressive campaign of TV ads that his opponents can’t match, thanks to fundraising that has left them out of the picture. As of mid-April, Holding’s campaign committee and a super PAC supporting him have raised $1.4 million, compared to Coble’s $234,146 and Randall’s $26,501. Holding’s campaign committee, which has raised more than half of that $1.4 million, is also $290,000 in debt.
Coble and Randall have called Holding on his earlier remarks that he would never take special interest money because it’s corrupting. But Holding counters that the American Foundations Committee is composed of family and friends, and not a traditional special interest group. Coble has received $6,000 from two hospital and insurance PACs.
It is part of the back-and-forth that has intensified in recent weeks. Holding has accused Coble of approving budgets with unfunded liabilities as a Wake County commissioner, and accused him of distorting his record. Coble disagrees with Holding’s math and contends the budgets have been balanced.
Coble has called Holding a Washington insider who has owned a home in D.C. for 13 years. (Holding says he bought the condo when he went to work for Helms and has kept it because it has skyrocketed in value.) Coble says Holding “willingly served President Obama’s administration for two years” (not mentioning that it was to oversee the investigation of Democrat John Edwards.) And he has run an ad suggesting Holding’s friends are liberal trial lawyers.
In Sunday’s debates, the trio presented their views on a range of topics.
Asked at the NBC-17 debate what federal programs they would cut, Holding and Coble agreed the No. 1 priority was doing away with “Obamacare” if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t. They also agreed getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education was next on the list.
Randall broke the spell by accusing Coble of double-talk.
“Paul Coble has had a head fake with Obamacare,” he said. “Paul Coble has been on the campaign trail and said that actually there are some redeeming qualities to Obamacare to some voters.”
For good measure, Randall added that Coble held a fundraiser at the home of someone who has donated to Miller, and that Coble endorsed a candidate for mayor of Raleigh – Dr. Randall Williams – who promoted Obamacare. (Williams has said he voted for Obama.)
Coble replied that there are parts of the federal health care law that people like, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions and children staying on their parents’ policy until they turn 26. He said those provisions could be accomplished without the current law.
Randall also repeated Holding’s claim that the Wake County budget hasn’t been balanced while Coble has been in office. He said it was Coble who first brought up the claim that neither Holding nor Randall had experience balancing budgets.
“He bundled debt and sent it forward to our children and grandchildren,” Randall said. “That’s disingenuous at best.”
Randall said he wouldn’t go to Washington “to be a maverick, but to build coalitions.” Holding, on the other hand, said, “I don’t want to go to Washington to work the system, I want to bust the system.”