U.S. Reps. Renee Ellmers and George Holding tangled over their records during a spirited televised debate Thursday night, with Ellmers saying she wants an ethics investigation into Holding’s “lavish trips” that show that he craves taxpayer-funded luxuries.
Holding said he travels because he does not believe what the Obama administration says about America’s allies. He called Ellmers’ claims “Washington double-talk,” and an attempt to cover for her votes for “bad Obama deals.”
Holding used a debate question about immigration to highlight Ellmers’ vote against a bill amendment that prioritized for deportation people in the country illegally who are “sexual predators.”
Ellmers countered: “That amendment was completely meaningless, and you know it.”
Holding, Ellmers and Greg Brannon are competing in the Republican 2nd District primary race where two sitting congressmen of the same party are competing on June 7 to make the November ballot.
The WRAL-TV debate, moderated by David Crabtree, brought to life the contentions that until Thursday night had played out through interviews, campaign mail, television and radio ads. Ellmers is accused of being insufficiently conservative and Holding is said to have turned his back on constituents to please special interest groups in Washington, D.C.
“I am a consistent voice and vote in Washington,” Holding said. “Washington is a messed-up place right now,” he said, adding that he thinks people will appreciate his consistency.
Ellmers said she’s willing to work to get things done, even if it doesn’t fit with partisan stonewalling.
“If you want someone to go to Washington and be part of the doers rather than the do-nothing … then I would appreciate and be humbled by earning the honor of your vote,” she said.
Ellmers, a nurse who lives in Dunn, is seeking a fourth term, and Holding, a former U.S. Attorney and Raleigh resident, wants a third term. The 13th District he now represents shifted west when legislators redrew congressional boundaries. The state map was redrawn after a federal court ruled in February that two of North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, preventing voting in congressional races during the state’s March primary.
Brannon, a Cary obstetrician, has run twice in Republican primaries for U.S. Senate. He jumped into the U.S. House primary after he lost the March primary to U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.
Brannon was left largely out of the fray as Ellmers and Holding went at it, except when Holding brought up a radio interview where Brannon expressed his preference for 50 state militias.
“How are we going to defeat ISIS with state militias?” asked Holding.
Crabtree asked Brannon about his federal tax delinquency and a court judgment that Brannon mislead investors in a technology start up he co-founded. The state Court of Appeals upheld in the $250,000 judgment in April.
Brannon, who owes the IRS about $175,000, said he is paying it off, and that he’s going to appeal the investors’ case to the state Supreme Court. “I do not wavier in my truth,” he said.
Brannon said he is the anti-establishment candidate.
“If you like the way things have been going the last four to six years, you have two options,” he said.
“If conservatism is today’s Republican establishment party, if conservatism is status quo, then I’m no conservative,” Brannon said.
The pitting of two incumbents against one another makes for one of the most contentious primaries in the state, where both candidates can point to their records to help convince voters.
The legislature drew the 2nd District to elect a Republican, so the primary winner will have an advantage.
Ellmers has lost the support of some conservative groups such as the Koch-connected Americans for Prosperity. The conservative Club for Growth is also trying to defeat her. Ellmers, who early in her congressional career became a spokeswoman for House Republican leadership positions, said those groups are trying to make an example of her because she refuses to vote to satisfy their litmus tests.
Holding listed some of the organizations opposing Ellmers, including the American Conservative Union and National Right to Life. If they fit her definition of Washington special interests and insiders, Holding said, “I’m part of it.”
The Ellmers campaign is pressing on about a dozen government funded trips Holding has taken since 2013 to China, India, England and other countries. Her campaign said Ellmers has taken two government-funded overseas trips, but it does not count at least five privately-funded overseas trips Ellmers has taken.
The candidates’ eagerness to show contrasts obscured their agreement on such issues as House Bill 2. The three candidates agreed with the law’s requirement that people use public bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate. They also all want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.