Politics & Government

Holding tops Coleman, wins re-election in 2nd Congressional District

Rep. George Holding survived a strong challenge from Democrat Linda Coleman to capture his fourth term in the U.S. House.

Holding won 51.2 percent of the vote to Coleman’s 45.8 percent, dominating the vote on Election Day to overcome Coleman’s edge in early and absentee voting. Libertarian candidate Jeff Matemu took 2.8 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results posted by the State Board of Elections. Holding won by more than 28,000 votes on Election Day and by more than 16,000 overall.

“We got out there and told people, reminded them, that the economy is doing great because a lot of the policies we’ve been able to enact in Washington the last two years, and I’m really happy that that message got through,” Holding said during a victory party at the DoubleTree Hotel in Raleigh.

Just before midnight, and after Holding’s victory remarks, Coleman made her first appearance in a meeting room at Hampton Inn & Suites in Knightdale. By then, many of her supporters had gone home, leaving about a dozen people to applaud her for a hard-fought campaign.

She congratulated Holding on his win, but said she was not done fighting for people in the 2nd Congressional District. She said she would continue to push for people to have better access to “quality, affordable” health care, and more educational opportunity for all. She also offered to help find common ground among Republicans and Democrats, saying the nation was too caught up in divisiveness.

“We must stop the hatred. We must stop the fear mongering,” she said. “We have to come together, because we are all one humanity.”

Coleman’s loss, coupled with apparent Democratic losses in other contested races in North Carolina’s 9th and 13th districts, means Republicans will still hold 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats. Democrats, even without help from North Carolina, took control of the U.S. House on Tuesday night.

Holding, for the first time, will be a member of the minority party in the House.

““The challenges are going to be the same. Working across the aisle is difficult in Washington now because of the partisanship. But you’ve still got to keep working on it,” he said.

The Holding-Coleman race was one of the most closely watched U.S. House races in North Carolina in Tuesday’s “blue moon” election. There was no presidential, Senate or gubernatorial race on the ballot in the state, leaving three congressional races to garner much of the attention and outside spending. Republican Rep. Ted Budd held his seat in the 13th district in the Triad, and Republican Mark Harris led Democratic challenger Dan McCready in an open seat in the 9th district near Charlotte.

With control of the U.S. House at stake, outside groups spent more than $3.8 million in the 2nd district with much of the spending coming after polls in late August and early September showed a toss-up between Holding and Coleman. Democrats were seeking wins in suburban districts like the 2nd, which includes much of suburban Wake County and parts or all of Franklin, Harnett, Johnson, Nash and Wilson counties.

Coleman, a 69-year-old former Wake County commissioner and state legislator who twice lost statewide races for lieutenant governor, led for much of the night after receiving 57 percent of the Wake vote in early and absentee voting. But Holding, a 50-year-old former U.S. attorney, chipped away at the lead throughout the night.

Wake County’s votes were the last to come in.

Holding, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, helped write the Republican-passed tax reform bill. But he closed his campaign by hitting Coleman over her support for sanctuary cities, while outside groups, including the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, hammered Coleman as a tax-and-spend liberal.

Linda Coleman, a democratic candidate running for Congress in District 2, waits to greet voters outside of Pleasant Union Elementary School on Election Day. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

“With George’s proven record of cutting taxes for middle-class families and helping create more jobs, NC-02 families will have a strong representative in Congress who will fight for their interests,” said Corry Bliss, CLF’s executive director.

President Donald Trump cast the election as a referendum on his presidency, but Coleman focused her campaign on health care. Still Trump and his agenda were on the minds of voters as they voted.

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David Gonzalez, 70, of Fuquay Varina, voted for Trump in 2016, but opted to support Coleman on Tuesday, hoping a Democratic House of Representatives could serve as a check on Trump. Gonzalez said Trump has been divisive and hasn’t tried to bring the country together.

“It’s not so much what the Democrats are going to do for us, but rather they’re going to check him so that he doesn’t do the things that would harm us,” Gonzalez said, referencing Social Security and Medicaid.

“Maybe this midterm will shake him up a bit and he’ll realize, you know what, I can’t be saying the things I’m saying or doing the things I’m doing.”

But others voting at Willow Springs Elementary School on Tuesday morning supported the agenda of Trump and congressional Republicans.

“I like what the Republicans are doing and I don’t like what the Democrats are doing,” said Mark Feiner, 63, of Fuquay Varina, who is registered as an unaffiliated voter. “They (the Republicans) are putting America first.”

James Connor, a 43-year-old engineer from Willow Spring, said he voted Republican on Tuesday.

“I’m not just mad and voting like probably half the people are. I try to vote every time I can,” he said.

Conner Paszko, left and Nicholas Slipchenko watch the early returns at the North Carolina Republican Party election night gathering on Tuesday, November 6, 2018 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Raleigh, NC. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Democratic incumbents David Price, G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams won re-election. In addition to Budd and Holding, Republican incumbents Mark Meadows, Mark Walker, Patrick McHenry, Richard Hudson, David Rouzer, Virginia Foxx and Walter Jones won re-election. Jones was unopposed.

If Democrats take the House, Price — whose 4th district includes Durham, Orange and Wake counties — is slated to become the ranking member of the transportation and housing and urban development subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, a key post where he’ll have large sway over funding priorities in those areas. Price defeated Republican Steve Von Loor and Libertarian Barbara Howe.

Butterfield, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus who won his seat in a special election in 2004, will be serving his seventh full term in the House. His 1st district includes parts of Durham County and stretches north and east. Butterfield defeated Republican Roger W. Allison.

Walker, the chairman of the powerful Republican Study Committee, could be in position to move into Republican leadership after winning a third term representing the 6th district, which includes parts of all of Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Guilford, Lee, Person, Randolph and Rockingham counties. Walker defeated Democrat Ryan Watts.

Rouzer, who moved from Johnston County to Wilmington earlier this year, won a third term representing the 7th district, which includes much of the southeastern part of the state, including Wilmington and the southern half of North Carolina’s coast.

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The congressional elections were contested in districts that were declared unconstitutional due to partisan gerrymandering by a three-judge panel ruled in late August. Days later, the court concluded it was too late to redraw them before the election, leaving in place the districts which were first used in 2016 after the 2011 map was declared unconstitutional.

Both sets of maps were drawn by Republican lawmakers. In 2016, Republicans won 53 percent of the overall vote for U.S. House, but took 10 of the state’s 13 U.S. House seats. The judges have said that the districts cannot be used after 2018, a ruling that is sure to make its way to the Supreme Court.

The redrawn map in 2016 left Holding to challenge fellow incumbent Republican Renee Elmers in the 2nd district. He defeated Elmers in the primary and won the seat with more than 56 percent of the vote in the general in a district that Trump carried by more than nine points.

It didn’t take long for Holding and his campaign to realize 2018 — midterms are historically difficult for the party in power and Democrats were newly enraged by Trump’s surprising win — would not be quite as easy.

Holding began television advertising early, an attempt to increase his name identification in a district that was created in 2016 and an indication that his campaign was worried about sagging numbers.

A dark money group, benignly named North Carolinians For a Fair Economy and stocked with high-profile Democrats on its board, launched ads during the summer, pounding Holding for his votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Coleman, a former director of state personnel, was endorsed by the State Employees Association of North Carolina’s political arm. More than 13,800 state employees and retirees live in the district.

By late August, Holding was telling supporters that the race was tied, an assessment backed up by subsequent polls from Coleman and the Citivas Institute. Weeks later, outside groups sensing a tight race began pouring money into the race. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC linked to Speaker Paul Ryan, spent nearly $2 million. EMILY’s List, which endorsed Coleman, dropped nearly $1.5 million, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added another $370,000, according to federal campaign finance reports.

The political arms of MoveOn.org, the National Rifle Association, the Congressional Black Caucus and MomsRising Together also chipped in, pushing outside spending in the district past $3.8 million.

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; Twitter: @MurphinDC