State Politics

Cleary faces uphill climb to unseat Holding in U.S. House District 13

In 2012, Raleigh Republican George Holding promised to go to Washington and cut spending. He won the 13th Congressional District seat by 50,000 votes.

Now Brenda Cleary, the Democrat who is challenging Holding’s re-election bid, says he has gone too far.

During his first term, Holding voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and supported a budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Both measures failed.

While Holding says the country’s health care law is bad for the economy and the Ryan budget would improve the nation’s financial standing, Cleary claims the Affordable Care Act is a “huge step forward” toward improving the healthcare industry and that the Ryan budget “begins to turn Medicare into a voucher program ... and would be the beginning of the end of Medicare as we know it.”

“He’s so tied to cutting spending,” she said. “You can’t govern that way. Any kind of extreme ideology hurts anyone from serving the people.”

Holding supported the American Health Care Reform Act, which Republicans introduced in September, 2013, as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act.

The bill called for repealing the Affordable Care Act and sought to allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines, allow small businesses to form insurance pools, and expand Health Savings Accounts and help people with pre-existing conditions get insurance through state-based, high-risk pools.

Holding said he supported Ryan’s spending plan because it would have balanced the national budget in 10 years and paid off the national the debt in 40 years.

“If we’re gonna balance this budget, we’re gonna have to make some cuts and have entitlement reform as well,” Holding said.

Cleary faces an uphill battle to unseat Holding, a former federal prosecutor in the eastern part of the state who secured the conviction of former state House Speaker Jim Black on corruption charges and investigated former Gov. Mike Easley, who later accepted a plea in state court.

Holding, who is a member of the family that owns First Citizens Bancshares, has nearly four times as much campaign cash as Cleary, according to their latest finance report filings.

By the end of September, Holding had spent more than $340,000 and had more than $175,000 on hand. Cleary had spent about $8,000 by the end of September and had about $45,600 on hand.

Advocating for seniors

Cleary, a registered nurse with a doctorate in geriatrics, has never been elected to office. She became involved in Washington politics during her time as a director at the AARP Public Policy Institute from 2008 to 2011.

In that position, Cleary said she advocated for better Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid policies – which she thinks the district’s 97,000 seniors will appreciate.

She said she also “contributed to in-depth policy analysis in the development of the Affordable Care Act.”

With less money and name recognition than Holding, Cleary is knocking on doors throughout the nine-county district. It’s not easy, she said. The district stretches from Vance County in the northwest to Wayne County in the southeast and covers most of Wake County.

She tells voters that her AARP group advocated for expanding options for seniors.

“We looked at creating medical homes for seniors through their primary care practices, and I basically looked at how we could expand the workforce we needed,” Cleary said. “That means we, you know we need primary care physicians, but we need more PAs and we needed more nurse practitioners.

“Sometimes, primary care practices aren’t willing to take Medicare patients, so we were trying to create a larger workforce so that (patients) would have more options,” Cleary said. “I don’t really think that’s partisan.”

Cleary said she’s open to tweaking the Affordable Care Act after analyzing its effects over several years. In the meantime, her top priority is improving the economy.

Without offering specific ideas, Cleary said she supports expanding government programs to create new jobs.

“Maybe expand some of the jobs that the stimulus created in expanding our infrastructure,” she said.

Holding sees tax reform ahead

The race between Cleary and Holding has been relatively tame, though each candidate blames the other’s party for the ineffectiveness of Congress. Cleary claims the House won’t compromise, while Holding says dozens of “good jobs bills” passed in the House were blocked from consideration in the Senate.

“They’ve only passed one budget in the past five years,” he said.

If reelected, Holding says he’ll invest his attention on lowering and simplifying the tax code.

“You’ll have Paul Ryan as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and he is very committed to overall tax reform and I think that, as an issue, that will be really big in the next Congress,” Holding said.

He said he’ll also continue to push for stronger foreign policy.

Holding said the U.S. hasn’t offered enough support to Iraq, Ukraine, Japan or the Syrian rebels. He warned voters against electing Democrats who support the President’s plan to “withdraw from the world stage.”

“Successful foreign policy means your allies trust you and your enemies fear you,” he said. “That has been completely turned on its head.”