For the first time in nearly two decades, a new name will fill the Democratic line on ballots in North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District in November.
It will be one of two politicians seeking higher office – Jonathan Barfield Jr., a Wilmington real estate agent and New Hanover County commissioner, or Walter Martin Jr., a private investigator and Princeton town commissioner. They are squaring off in the Democratic primary in the district long represented by U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, who decided not to run for a 10th two-year term. The district includes all or parts of 12 southeastern North Carolina counties, stretching from Johnston County in the north to Brunswick County along the coast.
Barfield, 48, owns Barfield & Associates Realty in Wilmington. He’s been a county commissioner since 2008. Although Barfield has eyed higher offices for years, McIntyre’s vote against the Affordable Care Act thrust him into this race. Barfield announced his campaign for the seat in February 2013, long before McIntyre said he wouldn’t run again.
A member of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees, Barfield said he sees the tens of millions of dollars the hospital writes off each year to care for uninsured patients. And, he said, he knows many real estate agents without health insurance. Among the first things he would want to do in Washington, D.C., if elected, is fix whatever flaws remain with the health care legislation.
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Martin, 53, owns Truth Investigations of Princeton, a private investigation agency. He previously worked for more than two decades as a police officer in Smithfield. He has been a town commissioner in Princeton – a town of about 1,200 people in Johnston County – since 1999. Martin, who filed to run on the last day of the candidate filing period, said he is seeking the U.S. House seat because he believes elected leaders are paying more attention to partisan desires than everyday people’s problems.
“I entered the race as a way to give the American people a platform to take their government back,” he said. “I’m more concerned with accomplishing that than getting a seat. If I succeed at that, then the rest doesn’t matter.”
Martin supports a change in the U.S. Constitution to allow voters to recall their federal representatives if they’re not satisfied with them.
“No business would ever allow their employees to operate in the manner that we’ve seen (in federal government) over the past few years because the business would be devastated,” he said.
Barfield said his leadership skills and ability to build coalitions make him well suited for a divided Washington. He pointed to the fact that he has served two stints as chairman of the New Hanover County commissioners despite being the only Democrat on the five-member board.
“It shows that I have tremendous leadership ability and skills and the ability to work with others of various backgrounds to accomplish our goals,” he said.
Barfield was president of the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors in 2007. The N.C. AFL-CIO and the N.C. Association of Educators endorsed his campaign. Martin said he hasn’t received any endorsements, but that his three decades working in various government positions give him more more real-world experience than his opponent. Along with his work as a Smithfield police officer, Martin also worked as a maintenance supervisor at Johnston Community College.
As a police investigator in Smithfield for about 17 years, Martin said he worked regularly with the school system and city, county, state and federal agencies. His job, he said, allowed him to interact with everyone from corporate CEOs to the most poverty-stricken residents.
“I have been out there where the rubber actually meets the road, and I don’t consider that to be a small thing,” he said.
Both candidates stressed the importance of economic development. Martin said he supports the federal government giving local and state governments low-cost loans to rebuild crumbling infrastructure. As a county commissioner in a coastal county, Barfield said he understands the importance of federal dollars for beach nourishment and inlet dredging.
Democratic Party officials in the district aren’t taking sides in the primary but said Barfield’s early entry into the race has given him a leg up on getting his name and message out in the large district.
Martin’s campaigning has consisted mainly of going door-to-door to talk to voters and answering media requests. Barfield put up signs throughout the district but said he’s not spending much money on the primary.
“Our main focus is really on looking toward November,” he said.
The Democratic primary race has been quiet compared to the more contentious Republican race in the district. Neither Democrat has raised much money, and neither has run a TV ad leading up to the primary. Both say they believe Democrats can hold onto the seat even though the district is much more conservative after the redistricting process earlier this decade. Most election prognosticators say a Republican is likely to prevail in the district.
The winning Democrat on May 6 will face the winner of a three-way Republican primary in the November general election. Libertarian J. Wesley Casteen will also be on the ballot.