Saunders: District attorney hopefuls spar over who is biggest, best Republican

bsaunders@newsobserver.comJuly 15, 2014 

  • On the ballot today

    Wake County District Attorney – Republican runoff: John Bryant vs. Jeff Cruden. The winner will face Democrat Lorrin Freeman in November.

    Orange County Sheriff – Democratic runoff: Charles Blackwood vs. David Caldwell Jr. The winner will become the next sheriff, because there is no Republican opposition in the fall.

    6th District U.S. House – Republican runoff: Phil Berger Jr. vs. Mark Walker. The winner will face Democrat Laura Fjeld in November. The 6th District includes part of Durham County.

    Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“Gosh, I hate to see this campaign end.”

That statement has been made exactly – hmm, let’s see – NEVER in the history of politics.

Some of us may feel that way Tuesday, though, as the battle between John Bryant and Jeff Cruden ends when voters go to the polls to pick one or the other in the Republican Party runoff for the Wake County district attorney’s office.

The winner will face Democrat Lorrin Freeman in the fall.

That should be a good race, but can it possibly be more amusing than one in which a couple of candidates with similar backgrounds try to tar their opponent with the same brush the opponent is using on them?

High hilarity ensues, I tell ya, when they both try to tout their street cred – suite cred? – over the other, try to convince voters that they’re the better Republican.

Bryant and Cruden are members of the same profession and followed similar paths to get to their current political position, which has made distinguishing one from the other so difficult.

They’re both attorneys – Bryant in private practice, Cruden in the DA’s office – so they can’t whomp each other upside the head with that club. Nor can either attack his opponent because he was formerly a Democrat: They both were. Dagnabbit.

Both now claim to have always been conservative at heart, though, and both invoked the names of Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan – deified Republicans who started out, if Cruden and Bryant are to be believed, on the wrong foot.

When they weren’t questioning each other’s credentials, Bryant campaigned on what he said is a plan to “reduce crime by improving coordination between government” and cops, while Cruden touted the endorsements of area sheriff, police and firefighter associations and his 20 years in the DA’s office.

Bryant, 60, ran for the N.C. Senate as a Democrat in 1996, lost and switched teams.

Considering how long ago it was that Bryant was a Democrat – long enough, presumably, to get all of the Democrat out of his blood – one might conclude that he has the upper hand in convincing GOP voters that he has repudiated his shameful past more than has Cruden.

Not so fast there. Even though Cruden was a Democrat until 14 months ago, when he changed his party registration to Republican after 30 years, he said it wasn’t his fault.

It was his granny’s fault, he said.

Cruden’s grandmother, you see, raised him and she was “an FDR Democrat,” he said, so naturally he registered as one, too. “However, I have always been a Conservative, both fiscally and socially,” Cruden said in a written response sent to friends after Bryant attacked his political past, which was a lot like his.

Who can blame a man for not wanting to disappoint his grandma?

Since neither was a clear-cut winner in out-Republicaning the other during the campaign, I expected them to go further back – to when they were unaffiliated tots – in order to establish their conservative bonafides.

Cruden: I’m more conservative than you are...

Bryant: Well, I’ve been conservative longer than you.

Cruden: Oh yeah?

Bryant: Yeah.

Cruden: I’m proud to say that when I was 5, I was kicked out of a commie day care center for refusing to share my Tonka toys with the other tykes. My feeling then, and my feeling now, is that they’d done nothing to deserve them. Letting them play with my toys would have set them on a self-defeating path to government dependency.

All of those former kindergarten mates of mine? They are now contributing members of society, and I’m convinced that my brand of compassionate conservatism is the reason. If you give a kid a toy, he’ll play with it for a day. If you make that kid go out and work for the money to buy his own toy, well, he’ll probably be too old to play with it by the time he earns enough to pay for it.

Bryant: Hmmph. I was so conservative as a baby, that every time mother put a blue blanket on me, I instinctively kicked it off. I couldn’t sleep unless I was swathed in the red one.

Cruden: Aw, fiddlesticks. I only became a Democrat in the first place because I didn’t want to let my dear old, gray-haired granny down. I’ve apologized for the sins of my misspent youth. Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms both made the same mistake I made, yet both became standard-bearers for our beloved party.

Bryant: Sir, I knew of Ronald Reagan, I watched Ronald Reagan in “Bedtime for Bonzo,” and believe me, sir. You are no Ronald Reagan.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or

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