RALEIGH — George Holding won the Republican nomination for the 13th Congressional District on Tuesday, likely assuring his ascent to the office in November in a GOP-dominated region without a strong Democratic candidate.
The one-time U.S. attorney benefited from aggressive fundraising and his wealthy family to smother the campaign of his main challenger, former Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble.
Holding’s victory in his first run for office signals his arrival on the national political scene, and he is already considered in state Republican circles to be a potential candidate for higher office.
Holding portrayed himself as a crime-fighting reformer who would go to Washington to “bust the system,” as he said in a recent TV debate. He tried to paint Coble as a career politician who talked like a budget-cutter but wasn’t. Both men staked out positions as the would-be heirs to the conservative legacy of the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms: Holding was his aide, and Coble is his nephew.
Tea party favorite Bill Randall of Wake Forest – who won the GOP primary in 2010 but lost in the then-heavily Democratic district to incumbent Rep. Brad Miller – was mostly on the sidelines of the fight between the two front-runners. He received a boost last month when former presidential candidate Herman Cain traveled to the Triangle to endorse him.
Reached Tuesday night at his campaign headquarters in The Velvet Cloak Inn in Raleigh, where he celebrated with family and supporters, Holding said he succeeded in contrasting his candidacy with Coble’s.
“I espoused what I’d like to accomplish in Congress, based on very conservative principles,” Holding said. “I think that resonated with the voters. We drew distinctions about Coble’s record, things he’s done over the course of his 20-year career that aren’t particularly conservative.”
Coble could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday night.
Holding said that even though he has never held office, he has seen how politics works through the corruption investigations and prosecutions he directed, and while working for Helms. “I got to see how the sausage is really made, and it’s a pretty disgusting process,” he said.
While Holding has been mentioned as a potential future challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, he wouldn’t speculate on that possibility Tuesday night, saying he would only focus on being the best congressman he could if elected.
In previous remarks, he has said he would go to Washington for a six- to eight-year commitment, noting he is 43 and has four children. “I want to be home by the time I’m 50 to tell my children I did the best I could,” he said.
GOP winner holds upper hand
This year, the redrawn 13th Congressional District is heavily Republican, encompassing nine counties that include parts of Wake and Durham. The only Democratic candidate, Bernard Holliday, is not considered a threat. Another candidate on the Democratic ballot, Charles Malone, dropped out of the race due to health reasons, although he won his party’s nomination Tuesday. Malone told The Associated Press recently that if he was the top vote-getter in the primary, he would leave it to the Democratic Party to appoint a replacement.
Miller, who was drawn into the new district, chose not to run again.
As a practical matter, Holding and Coble exhibited few differences when it came to fundamental issues. Doing away with the federal health care law, and abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education were high on both of their agendas.
The fray between Coble and Holding tipped toward hyperbole at times. Holding fired the first shot earlier this year by challenging Coble’s record as a member of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, where he has been since 2007 and is currently chairman.
Since then, Holding noted, the county’s debt had increased due to bond issues. And Holding portrayed the estimated $192 million cost of retiree health care as an unfunded liability that would amount to fraud if it was a business-funded retirement plan. He used both of those spending issues to paint Coble as someone who talks conservative but doesn’t vote that way.
Coble responded with a flurry of inflammatory volleys of his own, particularly hammering at a Holding family-funded super PAC formed by some local lawyers and longtime friends. That meant Holding was in the pocket of special interests and trial lawyers, Coble charged.
Coble poked at Holding’s lack of budgeting experience, tied him to the Obama administration (for extending his term as U.S. attorney to oversee investigations of Sen. John Edwards and Gov. Mike Easley), and both men called each other Washington insiders.
Holding created money edge
That super PAC – a first for North Carolina, permitted as a result of federal court rulings – allows for unlimited fundraising on behalf of a candidate, whose campaign committees are restricted by limits on individual donations. Together, Holding’s campaign committee and the super PAC, American Foundations Committee, raised $1.4 million that it could pump into TV and other advertising.
That swamped Coble’s fundraising abilities. His campaign took in $234,146, while Randall’s just $26,501.
Holding’s advertising firepower made a difference outside of Raleigh, where he and Coble have spent their lives. Holding was the top vote-getter in eight of the nine counties. (Randall won in Granville County, and he also received more votes than Coble in Franklin County.)
Holding had said earlier this year said he was surprised how few GOP voters seemed to know him, since he had been in the news for his high-profile prosecutions of public corruption cases.
“I think the race did punctuate the public’s consciousness a little,” N.C. State University political science professor Andrew Taylor said Tuesday afternoon, “but perhaps only because it seems to be the most competitive congressional primary in the area on a day when there aren’t many interesting contests further up the ballot.”
Holding left himself vulnerable to criticism from his opponents – and he got it – for telling people on the campaign trail that political action committees were corrupting Washington. When his family financed the super PAC, Holding and the committee’s organizers had to explain that their PAC was different because it was composed of relatives and friends, not outside interests.