The founder of a new vodka distillery is challenging U.S. Rep. George Holding of Raleigh.
Sam Searcy, a 40-year-old Holly Springs resident and a Democrat, announced his candidacy Monday morning.
“I feel like our representation in North Carolina’s 2nd District is completely out of touch with what people go through in the district,” said Searcy, who has four young children. “My set of life experiences and business experiences are a better fit. I understand what people go through. I’ve been at the table when you’re trying to figure out how to afford to put your second kid in day care.”
Searcy is hoping to present a contrast with Holding, who comes from a prominent banking family in the Triangle and who the Center for Responsive Politics estimates is worth more than $6 million. Holding is in his third term as a congressman. He represented the 13th District for two terms, but ran in the 2nd District in 2016 after redistricting and defeated incumbent and fellow Republican Renee Ellmers in 2016. Holding defeated John McNeil in the general election, winning more than 56 percent of the vote.
Searcy grew up in Hendersonville in the western part of the state in a working-class family that, at times, struggled to pay their bills, he said. He graduated from Appalachian State – the first in his family to graduate from a four-year college, he said – before earning his law degree at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.
He moved back to the Triangle and worked in clinical research before deciding to open Greybeard Distillery and produce Bedlam Vodka with two other owners. Searcy said the vodka, produced from rice, is available in all North Carolina ABC stores and was shipped to the ESPYs, ESPN’s annual awards show which will air Wednesday. He said the company now has about 10 employees.
“It’s a testament to the business community here in this area, in North Carolina. It’s very vibrant and vigorous. It allows successful businesses to take off. I’ve enjoyed being in the private sector,” Searcy said. “I want to take that private sector experience right into Washington.”
Searcy said he decided to run for public office because of accountability and accessibility, complaining that Holding took a trip to Sri Lanka instead of holding a town hall meeting during the lead-up to the House’s vote on the American Health Care Act. Holding traveled to India and Sri Lanka on government business during the recess in late February.
“How much more out of touch can you be?” Searcy said.
Holding said in February that he talks to constituents on a regular basis but that town halls are effectively events put on by activists.
“These are opportunities to protest,” Holding said at the time. “I don’t think it’s proper to treat these as what folks would think of as a genuine town hall.”
Searcy is not the first Democratic challenger in the district, which covers much of northern, southern and eastern Wake County, western Johnston County and parts of Harnett, Franklin, Nash and Wilson counties.
Wendy Ella May, a transgender woman, announced her candidacy as a Democrat in May. May, a disabled military veteran from Johnston County, calls herself a “New Deal Progressive Democrat” and was a Bernie Sanders delegate at the Democratic National Convention.
Searcy, who said he has been a Democrat since he has been able to vote, said he changed his registration to unaffiliated to vote for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the 2016 Republican primary. Searcy said he liked that Kasich expanded Medicaid in his state, bucking the party line. Searcy said he voted for Hillary Clinton in the general election, but said the nation “didn’t have a great choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.”
Searcy said he is a “supporter of the 2nd Amendment as written in the Constitution” and, when asked about his stance on abortion, said that “health-care decisions are best left to the woman involved, her health-care provider and maybe her faith.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee included North Carolina’s 2nd District on its expanded list of targeted races, released in late May.
The DCCC placed three North Carolina districts on its original list of 59 Republican-held seats it wants to contest in 2018 – the 8th (represented by Richard Hudson), the 9th (represented by Robert Pittenger) and the 13th (represented by Ted Budd).
On Friday, the Cook Political Report moved the 9th District and the 13th District from “solid” Republican to “likely” Republican. Those are the only two North Carolina seats on Cook’s list of competitive races.
This story has been updated to reflect the correct date of the ESPYs.