Republican U.S. Rep. George Holding made an unusual move last month for an incumbent in a GOP-leaning district: He launched a TV ad campaign calling his little-known Democratic opponent an “odd duck” who raises chickens and supports Bernie Sanders.
Holding faces attorney and Marine Corps veteran John McNeil in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of suburban Wake County as well as portions of Harnett, Johnston, Franklin, Nash and Wilson counties.
Holding says he’s running ads about McNeil because he doesn’t want to take chances in an unusual election year.
“You never know how things are going to play out on Election Day,” Holding said. “In this presidential race, you never know how that suburban vote is going to break. You’ve got to contrast yourself with your opponent.”
Holding’s ads make the case that “if Hillary wins,” voters will want a conservative like him in Congress. Holding has endorsed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, but hasn’t campaigned much with the billionaire as other N.C. Republican members of Congress have. “I’ve got my hands full with my own race,” Holding said.
The ads boosted the name recognition for McNeil, whose campaign has raised a total of $55,000, while Holding had $324,000 on hand Oct. 1. But McNeil has embraced the “odd duck” label as a quirky campaign slogan.
McNeil bought hundreds of rubber ducks that feature the Marine Corps uniform, and he gives them out when he campaigns. Supporters take pictures with their “odd duck” and post them on social media.
“Our response was to take his nasty ad and use his millions against him,” McNeil said. “Twitter has exploded, Facebook has exploded.”
McNeil says he thinks Holding’s ad, with its reference to him as an “urban farmer who raises chickens,” will backfire.
“To insult or criticize farmers or the middle class, how any congressman would think that’s a good idea, I will never understand,” McNeil said.
Holding defends the ad, which he says isn’t a jab at agriculture. “I thought the ads were a nice lighthearted way of drawing a contrast,” he said. “He’s cut from a Bernie Sanders cloth, and I’m cut from a more conservative cloth.”
The two candidates do have major policy differences. McNeil is supportive of the Iran nuclear deal, which Holding opposes.
“He’s got these grand plans for military expansion,” McNeil says of the lawmaker. “We’ve been at war for 15 years because our politicians didn’t think long and hard about the ramifications of getting in and fighting in Iraq.”
Holding supports expansion of military involvement in the Middle East. “We are less safe today than we were 15 years ago,” he said. “The threat from terrorism is real. ... If that takes more military engagement, that’s something that we need to do.”
Holding wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a proposal from House Republicans. “If you look at the whole plan, it’s all about making the insured have control over what they’re getting, rather than Washington putting out one of these one-size-fits-all plans,” he said.
McNeil does not want to repeal the law commonly known as Obamacare, but he wants to make a number of improvements. “We knew these problems were going to show up, but in six years no one’s fixed them,” he said.
Education: Wake Forest University
Professional experience: U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina
Political résumé: Two terms, U.S. House
Family: Married with four children – three girls, one son
Education: UNC-Wilmington; Wake Forest Law School
Professional experience: Lawyer
Political résumé: First run for office
Family: Two adult children, two grandchildren