The race for the Republican nomination in the 7th Congressional District has focused less on issues in Washington, D.C., and more about the candidates’ personal and professional lives.
The frontrunners – former state Sen. David Rouzer of Johnston County and Wilmington attorney Woody White – have taken different paths in life but now seek the same future. They want to represent Republicans on the November ballot and, ultimately, the district in Congress. Fayetteville veteran and political newcomer Chris Andrade has the same goal but has stayed out of tussles between Rouzer and White.
White, for the most part, has been the aggressor since entering the race in January. He had ground to make up in name recognition across the 7th District, where Rouzer was the GOP nominee in 2012.
Two years ago, Rouzer, now 42, lost to incumbent Democrat Mike McIntyre of Lumberton by fewer than 700 votes – the closest House race in the country. McIntyre isn’t running for re-election, creating an open seat, one Republicans believe is ripe for the taking after redistricting by the Republican-controlled General Assembly earlier this decade.
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White, 44, said recently the differences in life experiences between he and Rouzer are stark. He is a lifelong resident of the 7th District, has built a law practice, is married with two children, volunteers in his childrens’ classrooms, coaches Little League and is chairman of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.
“These are personal accomplishments in terms of serving a local community, building a business, doing things,” White said.
Rouzer’s background isn’t as conventional. He’s never been married and has no children, although he said he promised his mother he would get serious about that after the election. He spent much of his career working in the nation’s capital, as a staffer for former GOP Sens. Jesse Helms and Elizabeth Dole, as an appointee of then-President George W. Bush in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and as a lobbyist representing small tobacco companies.
More recently, Rouzer served two terms in the state Senate, representing Johnston and Wayne counties. He co-chaired several legislative committees as part of the Republican leadership that took over state government after the 2010 elections. In his current job, he helps market products for small businesses, including products used by farmers.
“I have led a life of public service in a lot of different capacities and different forms,” Rouzer said.
Agree on the issues
Rouzer and White largely agree on most federal issues. Both want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cut spending, reduce the deficit and remove regulations that stifle business growth.
In a recent debate and interviews, they took aim at each other’s work experience. White has focused on Rouzer’s stint as a lobbyist, using it to bolster his claims that Rouzer is a D.C. insider who will go to Congress and fall in line with the Republican leadership. White and his supporters, meanwhile, portray him as a everyday guy who will stand up to his party’s leaders.
Franklin Rouse, a Brunswick County business owner, supported Rouzer in the district until White entered the race. He said White is well-known in the Wilmington area as a volunteer, family man and businessman who was born and raised in the district. “I see Woody as a 7th Congressional District insider, not a Washington insider,” Rouse said. “Woody to me is very, very real.”
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican House majority leader, has endorsed Rouzer and helped him raise money. Rouzer said his D.C. experience and relationships with House leaders will help him address the district’s needs.
“I’m a known commodity, and that’s going to give me the opportunity to excel and excel very quickly,” he said. “I’m not going to come in as your normal freshman.”
Rouzer said his experience is broad, while White has spent his career as a lawyer representing criminals and suing businesses in “slip and fall” cases. “I don’t find anything conservative about that whatsoever,” Rouzer said.
White responded that the Constitution guarantees the right to an attorney but not to a lobbyist. He added he could recall only two “premises liability” cases he’s worked on in two decades as an attorney. The majority of his work has been representing clients “at critical moments in their lives” in civil and criminal court, he said.
Among his major accomplishments, Rouzer lists his four years in the state Senate, where he helped usher through GOP-sponsored regulatory reforms for businesses. In 2011, in his second term, the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research ranked him the 10th most effective lawmaker in the 50-member chamber. He ranked 46th in 2009 as a freshman legislator when Democrats controlled the Senate.
State Rep. J.H. Langdon Jr., a Johnston County Republican, was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee while Rouzer led the same committee in the Senate. Rouzer, he said, is a conservative who works hard for his constituents. Langdon said Rouzer was sensitive to constituents’ concerns and drafted meaningful legislation. “He has a good grip on the legislative process, which I think would be very helpful to working in Congress,” Langdon said.
White also has been active politically through the years. Today, he is chairman of the New Hanover County Commissioners. In 2004, he was appointed to fill the remainder of Patrick Ballantine’s state Senate term, when Ballantine ran for governor. White ran for a full term later that year but lost to former Democratic Sen. Julia Boseman of Wilmington. He also led the New Hanover County Republican Party for several years more than a decade ago.
A different view
Andrade, 56, is a military veteran from Fayetteville who’s never run for office and considers himself the “common citizen candidate.” He has steered clear of the conflict between Rouzer and White, saying “people are sick of that.”
“How can you expect to be a statesman … and you can’t make your case without petty bickering?” he asked.
He has drafted his own plan on immigration reform, which he sees as the nation’s top need. He supports the implementation of a special ID card for people who draw federal assistance, such as food stamps and Medicaid. He said he believes such a card will help remove fraud and waste from public benefit programs and could double as identification for voters.
Andrade also said repealing the Affordable Care Act wouldn’t solve anything and that he instead supports changes to simplify and improve it. He also differs from the other two candidates in that he believes every adult couple – regardless of sexual orientation – is entitled to be married.
The winner of the May 6 GOP primary will face the winner of a two-way Democratic primary in November. Libertarian J. Wesley Casteen of Wilmington will also be on the ballot. The winner of the GOP primary will be considered the favorite, as redistricting earlier this decade created a much more conservative district. The district includes all or parts of 12 southeastern North Carolina counties, stretching from Johnston County to the coast.
Patrick Gannon writes for the NCInsider.com, a government news service owned by The News & Observer. www.ncinsider.com