Three Wake County Democrats are vying for a spot on the November ballot for a chance to represent the 13th Congressional District.
The three primary candidates have more political experience behind the scenes than as drivers of campaigns, but they’re ready to put their knowledge to use in Washington.
The winner will face incumbent U.S. Rep. George Holding in the general election. The 13th district includes parts of nine counties, including Wake, Franklin, Nash, Edgecombe and Wayne.
Brenda Cleary, 62, highlights her experience examining national issues. The Cary resident worked for three years as a director of the AARP Public Policy Institute, which delves into everything from health care to transportation.
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Cleary ran the N.C. Center for Nursing, a nursing workforce development office, for 14 years. She said she can put her policy experience to good use in Congress.
“I want to be a force for good,” she said. “We can’t stand too many more years of this gridlock.”
Arunava “Ron” Sanyal of Raleigh has spent 20 years working behind the scenes in the state Democratic Party, including as a member of its executive committee. He’s also devoted time to coaching youth soccer.
“I have to give back something to America,” he said. “America has been good to me.”
Sanyal, 64, is a native of India who moved to the United States about 40 years ago. He’s worked for biotech companies in the region.
Virginia Conlon of Raleigh says her volunteer and work experiences – and growing up the daughter of a carpenter – make her a voice for people worried about finding and keeping good jobs. Conlon, a meeting and events planner from Raleigh, worked for the Food Bank of Eastern & Central North Carolina and volunteered for Meals on Wheels and other organizations.
“The economy really hasn’t returned like you see in the numbers,” said Conlon, 58, who said she quit her job to run for Congress. Younger and older workers continue struggling to find jobs, she said.
The district was drawn to give a Republican candidate an advantage. Holding, a former U.S. attorney, won the seat two years ago with nearly 57 percent of the vote. Voters in the district gave U.S. Sen. John McCain a 10 percentage-point victory over Barack Obama in 2008, the year Obama narrowly won the state.
But the Democratic primary candidates believe they can unseat Holding.
Their primary campaigns have been low-budget and old-fashioned, with the candidates meeting voters at small gatherings and at the polls. Sanyal spent hours this past week driving a truck with a large campaign sign through downtown Raleigh streets.
According to federal campaign finance reports, Cleary has raised about $26,000, Sanyal about $6,500, and Conlon about $4,000.
“I get to run regardless of the size of my wallet,” said Conlon as she waited to greet voters outside the Youngsville Public Library one morning last week. Conlon said she can win the seat in November without raising big money.