There was no shortage of praise for retiring 83-year-old U.S. Rep. Howard Coble at the recent N.C. GOP 6th District convention. And there was also no shortage of Republican candidates there, vying to replace him.
With political goals ranging from protecting individual liberties to saving future generations from debt, 11 candidates – nine Republicans and two Democrats – are running in the state’s most crowded congressional race for Coble’s soon-to-be-vacant seat.
“We really have a hard choice and a great group of guys,” said 6th District N.C. GOP Chairman A.J. Daoud. “I’m in love with every single one of them.”
Michael Cobb, associate professor of political science at N.C. State University, said a runoff is likely.
“With that many candidates in the race and nobody being that well-known, it’s just really likely that nobody will get the 40 percent threshold,” Cobb said.
Most of the candidates have a background in anything but politics. Their collective resume includes banking, business, farming, teaching, finance and law. Just five of them have been previously elected to public office.
Democrat Laura Fjeld is leading in campaign funds, having raised $275,183. Republican Mark Walker comes in second at $203,843, followed by Republican Phil Berger Jr. at $177,676 and Republican Bruce VonCannon at $105,638.
Coble, whom Daoud introduced as the “last of the breed, a statesman for the state of North Carolina,” said whoever fills his seat should prioritize accessibility.
“The constituents more and more are demanding accessibility, and justifiably so,” Coble said.
Nick Vaughn, chairman of the N.C. Teenage Republicans, said he wants the new representative to be someone who is dedicated to the Republican Party and to running for office.
“I think what we need in this seat is someone with – like Howard before he ran – proven results and a record that we can look to,” Vaughn said.
On health care
The candidates split along party lines in their opinion of the Affordable Care Act. The Democratic candidates support it; the Republican candidates are united in their desire to see it repealed, though their alternative solutions to health care coverage differ slightly.
“I just have a strong belief that the federal government should not be involved in health care,” Republican Mike Causey said. “I understand the concept. They want to make sure everyone’s covered, but it’s not the role of the federal government to enforce that.”
Fjeld acknowledged the law’s logistical mistakes, but she emphasized her support for it.
“The rollout was an unmitigated disaster, and I hold the president responsible for that train wreck,” she said. “I will fight any politician who wants to put the coverage back in the hands of the insurance companies.”
That’s exactly what her Republican opponents would like to see happen. They stressed their desire to rely on free market principles, many of them adding support for some type of supplementary program for people without insurance.
“We can’t use criticizing Obamacare as a silver bullet for winning the election in November. We actually have to come up with a good plan,” VonCannon said.
Causey, who has run unsuccessfully for North Carolina insurance commissioner four times, would like to see a state-level health insurance system for people who are uninsured.
Charlie Sutherland, founder of Charlie’s Soap in Mayodan, said he would like to set up medical clinics for people without insurance.
Republican Kenn Kopf, principal counsel and secretary for Infosys Public Services, also suggested the creation of a high-risk insurance pool, to which every company selling health insurance must contribute.
(The state ended its high-risk health insurance pool, established by the legislature in 2007, on Dec. 31, 2013, because its enrollees would be covered under the ACA.)
Democrat Bruce Davis is the only candidate who said he supports amnesty for immigrants who have entered the country illegally.
“If you’re making a contribution to a community and certainly if you have children here, I don’t think it’s morally right to break up families,” he said.
Other candidates said they would support plans to strengthen borders while also providing a path to legal status.
For VonCannon, that plan takes the shape of a required ID card for all immigrants. Fellow GOP candidate Jeff Phillips agreed.
“Individuals who cannot produce a green card or do not have proper identification should not be eligible for government assistance,” Phillips said.
Causey advocated for a series of required steps to obtain legal status. Kopf thinks they should have to register with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, pay an affordable fine and file taxes while waiting in line behind prior applicants for citizenship.
“It’s hypocritical to expect these people to pay taxes without creating some kind of opportunity for these folks to be productive members of society,” Walker said.
Each of the candidates also supports steps to create jobs, cut spending and balance the budget.
“I would never vote for any increase in spending without a corresponding offset in spending somewhere else,” Causey said. “That’s what we have to have. We need a balanced budget amendment.”
Don Webb plans to cut nonessential federal government positions and re-institute the welfare-to-work program that was established during the Clinton administration.
Berger said he supports the Penny Plan, a tea party backed plan which would cut 1 cent out of every dollar of federal spending for five years and proposes to balance the budget by 2019.
Sutherland proposed eliminating the IRS, abolishing the income tax and instituting instead a fair tax on national sales, which he says would help the economy boom.