Videos of the two candidates discussing the issues are at the bottom of this story.
Republican N.C. Senate hopeful Molotov Mitchell’s campaign has been turning heads in the predominantly Democratic Raleigh-Cary district where incumbent Sen. Josh Stein is seeking a fourth term.
Mitchell (birth name: Jason Alexander Mitchell) has offered his donors T-shirts that say “My candidate can beat up your candidate.” He’s held a Bullets and Bourbon fundraiser with a chance to shoot AK-47 assault rifles. And he’s challenged his opponents to do pushups.
Mitchell – a conservative filmmaker and Krav Maga defense instructor – is making his first attempt at elected office. His campaign promises the “liberation of District 16.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
He’s been weighing in on national politics for years through his video commentaries and other films. In the videos, he’s argued that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, adding that “if I were a leader in the armed forces, I might be thinking coup d’etat right about now.” He’s called North Carolina’s Moral Monday protestors “ugly, mindless, littering, loitering hobos.” And his film “Gates of Hell” features a group of “black power assassins” who kill abortion doctors.
As a candidate, Mitchell has distanced himself from his video career. He says the commentaries were done in his role as an “entertainer.”
“It was to poke the bear on the left,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where Barack Obama was born.”
Mitchell’s campaign presents him as a Ron Paul-style Republican committed to “privacy, prosperity and protection.” He’s earned the endorsement of the Wake County Republican Party and counts state Sen. Neal Hunt and Angus Barn owner Van Eure among his top donors. Eure has donated $5,000 and Hunt $2,000 to his campaign.
Eure did not return a call on Wednesday seeking comment.
“As a business owner, I recognized how badly our senator was behaving,” Mitchell said. “He was voting against every good thing the N.C. GOP was doing.”
Stein, a Raleigh attorney, sees his record in the legislature a bit differently.
“I feel like I helped to change the nature of the debate, such that the battle this summer was whether the pay increase teachers got was adequate enough,” he said. “I think that Republicans running the state government made a series of bad choices ... but at least we forced them to do something for teachers.”
If reelected, Stein said he’ll push to bring teacher pay to the national average, restore tax credits for film production and historic preservation projects, and protect the drinking water supply.
Mitchell, however, is skeptical Stein can accomplish anything as a member of the minority party. “Josh Stein is politically impotent,” he said. “We need representation that can get something done.”
Mitchell also takes issue with Stein for mulling a run for state attorney general in 2016. He says the senator is “taking all of us for granted” and attending political events outside the district.
Stein argues he can still make a difference in a Republican-dominated General Assembly. “I won’t lie and say that I always win,” he said. “If you make the case as effectively as you possibly can, sometimes you prevail.”
He did that in 2013, when the legislature passed a bill that cut the early voting period by one week as part of sweeping changes to the state’s election laws. A Stein amendment requiring precincts offer the same number of hours for early voting passed. “I think that’s a positive step for our democracy,” he said.
Mitchell faces an uphill battle in the heavily Democratic 16th District, which stretches from Capital Boulevard west through N.C. State and northern Cary.
No one ran against Stein two years ago, and nearly 39 percent of voters are registered Democrats. Republicans, by contrast, make up 23.4 percent of the electorate. Stein also has a sizable campaign fundraising account, raising $446,000 by July 1.
Mitchell – who’d raised $22,177 by July 1 – thinks he can win by persuading unaffiliated voters, particularly college students concerned about privacy threats. He says he wants to remove a National Security Agency-funded Laboratory for Analytic Sciences from the N.C. State campus, which he calls a “spy facility.”
“If it turns out that those guys are spying on my constituents, I’m going to bounce them,” he said.
He supports fracking and “anything we can do to become energy independent so long as it’s environmentally safe and it doesn’t harm anyone in North Carolina.”
But Stein’s worried the current General Assembly isn’t doing enough to protect the environment. He voted against fracking. “I don’t think they did enough in the coal ash bill,” he said.
Mitchell has criticized Stein for promoting a bill that would have established what he calls a “transgender kindergarten curriculum.”
Stein said that characterization is an “unbelievable stretch.”
“It was a bill that requires all school systems to have an anti-bullying policy to protect all children including kids who are gay or lesbian or transgender,” Stein said. “If he thinks that’s a bad thing, then we see the world in a fundamentally different way.”
Mitchell has been called “anti-gay” because of a video he produced in 2010 supporting a Ugandan law that would impose the death penalty on homosexuals.
“What I supported was the right of Uganda to create whatever legislation it wants,” Mitchell said, adding that he doesn’t hate gay people or think they should be killed.
“I support the democratic process,” he said. “I really believe in freedom.”