May 6, 2014

US Congress: Aiken, Crisco go down to wire

Less than 400 votes separate Clay Aiken from Keith Crisco in the fight to replace US Rep. Renee Ellmers, who won her primary in North Carolina's District 2.

The battle between Keith Crisco, a moderate, business-friendly Democrat, and former “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken came down to a very slim margin Tuesday night: As the vote-count neared completion, Aiken led by fewer than 400 votes.

At 11:30 p.m., Aiken took to the stage to thank his supporters and say he was confident that he would be in the race in November. Crisco said earlier in the evening that the race was too close to call and didn’t comment further.

The winner will face U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a two-term Republican incumbent from Dunn, who handily defeated GOP challenger Frank Roche, a former radio talk-show host and economist who lives in Cary.

Ellmers issued a statement saying she was “humbled and honored” to win support of primary voters in the district.

In other congressional races, Woody White conceded to David Rouzer in the contentious Republican primary in the 7th Congressional District. The crowded 6th Congressional District GOP primary race was too close to call at press time, and a runoff remained possible. Maverick Republican Rep. Walter Jones defeated his challenger, Taylor Griffin.

Distinct differences

For a pair of Democrats, there were striking distinctions between Crisco and Aiken.

Crisco, 71, of Asheboro is more closely tied to the state’s Democratic Party establishment. He served as Commerce secretary in Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration, and spent time on the local school board and City Council in Randolph County. He was raised on a farm in Stanly County.

He was endorsed by many of the leading state government officials from the Mike Easley and Perdue eras, as well as city and county politicians throughout the district. His success in the textile industry made him a wealthy man – which was good, because Crisco’s campaign dipped into his money substantially, outspending Aiken by more than 3-to-1.

If Crisco was the establishment candidate, Aiken was a spinoff. His campaign was put together by veteran Democratic figures, who wanted to present him as a fresh choice. Aiken, himself, campaigned as someone who wasn’t stuck on Democratic doctrine and could shake up entrenched, partisan politics in Washington.

Aiken, 35, of Cary was generally regarded favorably – if unexpectedly – in formal appearances and meet-and-greets, where his ability to articulate issues quickly proved his candidacy wasn’t a whim by an entertainer looking for something interesting to do. Like Crisco, he was also born and raised in the state.

Aiken appeared many times on national television news shows. While that was a level of publicity Crisco couldn’t expect, it also didn’t guarantee any viewers from the 2nd Congressional District’s nine counties were swayed. Aiken was endorsed by labor, teacher and civil justice PACs.

Crisco swamped Aiken with TV ads, mailers and signs, and hammered away at Aiken’s failure to attend any meetings of a national committee on disabilities to which President George W. Bush had appointed him in 2006. Aiken responded with his own last-minute attack ad criticizing Crisco for owning textile manufacturing plants in Central America, in an attempt to undercut Crisco’s boast that 120,000 new jobs were announced while he was in state office.

Ellmers will be tough to beat in November. The 2nd Congressional District was drawn to favor Republicans, and in fact in the 2012 election the worst-performing GOP candidate still would have won that district.

Rouzer-White close

In the 7th Congressional District, Rouzer had 56 percent of the votes, to 37 percent for White. Chris Andrade was a distant third, with 7 percent, according to unofficial and incomplete tallies.

The district stretches from Johnston County to the southeastern coast, and the Republican primary winner will be considered the favorite to win in November after the Republican-controlled redistricting process earlier this decade made an already conservative-leaning district more conservative.

Rouzer, a former state senator from Johnston County, campaigned on his Senate record and his work in the Washington, D.C., offices of former U.S. Sens. Jesse Helms and Elizabeth Dole. Rouzer was the GOP nominee in 2012 and narrowly lost to U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, a Lumberton Democrat.

White, a Wilmington attorney and chairman of the New Hanover County commissioners, portrayed Rouzer as a D.C. insider who would go to the nation’s capital to get along with GOP leadership. White reminded voters often during the race that he was a lifelong resident of the district who has built a law practice and raised a family there.

Rouzer said he believed the foundation he laid in his 2012 congressional race and his “strong conservative record” in the state senate for two terms helped him in this race.

“All throughout the day, when I was out campaigning, the feedback was very good and I felt like we were gaining momentum daily,” Rouzer said.

In the Democratic primary in the 7th District, Wilmington real estate agent Jonathan Barfield Jr. defeated Walter Martin Jr., a Princeton town councilman and former police officer. Barfield had received 55 percent of the votes to Martin’s 45 percent, according to unofficial results at press time.

The primary winners in the 7th District will square off in November, along with Libertarian J. Wesley Casteen. The seat is open after McIntyre, who has represented the district for 18 years, decided to leave the House after this term.

Berger leading

In the 6th Congressional District GOP primary race, with only early results, Phil Berger Jr., the Rockingham County district attorney and son of state Senate leader Phil Berger, led the nine-member field, with 37 percent of the votes, followed by Mark Walker with 24.5 percent.

Bruce VonCannon was third, followed by Zack Matheny, Jeff Phillips, Don Webb, Mike Causey, Charlie Sutherland and Kenn Kopf. The district is an open seat, with U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, a Greensboro Republican, retiring.

The two-person Democratic primary in the 6th district was led by Laura Fjeld of Hurdle Mills, who had 56 percent of the votes at press time. Bruce Davis, a child care center operator from High Point, had 44 percent at press time.

The 6th District includes parts of Greensboro and Guilford County, several counties along the Virginia border and parts of Durham, Orange and Alamance counties.

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