With a decade of experience in the state House, former Rep. Deborah Ross is the best-known of four Democrats competing for a shot at the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Richard Burr.
Ross is a Raleigh attorney who left her position at the regional transit agency GoTriangle to launch her campaign. She said her time in the legislature makes her the party’s best shot at knocking off Burr.
“When I get to Washington, I’ll be better equipped to work with my colleagues to make the Senate function for the people of North Carolina,” Ross said.
So far, Ross has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars more than her opponents, and she has landed endorsements at the national level from Emily’s List and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“I’ve put together a real campaign that will have the resources and the infrastructure it needs to carry this through to November,” Ross said.
Her opponents say she’s vulnerable to Republican attack ads because of her legislative record and her time leading the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina. Ross dismisses those concerns. But Republicans are already calling her one of the most liberal candidates to seek statewide office in years.
“No matter who is running, there will be negative ads,” she said. “I think that my values and my record have been really good for the state of North Carolina.”
Ross can rattle off a list of accomplishments that she pushed during her legislative career: An ethics reform bill. Tax credits for historical preservation projects. A plan to sell state-owned historic houses along Blount Street in Raleigh. Same-day voter registration at early voting sites. The new wing of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
“I was a highly effective legislator who got things done and worked across the aisle,” she said.
Ross says her Senate campaign is centered on “economic security and opportunity for every generation.”
She wants to see the federal minimum wage increased to $12 an hour “in the next couple years at least” and indexed to increase with inflation in the future. She also supports legislation that would guarantee equal pay for women doing the same jobs as men.
“We have more and more women who are the primary breadwinners in their family,” she said.
Ross said Congress needs to make college more affordable by expanding the Pell grant program and reducing interest rates on student loans.
She criticizes Burr for voting against Loretta Lynch’s nomination as attorney general. And she said he shouldn’t have voted for cuts to Medicare and Social Security as the costs of the programs mount.
“We can’t let our grandmothers suffer because of the policies of the past,” Ross said.
She did not offer specifics for how to fund that agenda but said that Congress needs “to look at our overall budget.”
Ross says North Carolina lawmakers are making a mistake by refusing to expand Medicaid – a decision she said is making the Affordable Care Act difficult to implement here. Congress, she noted, has the power “to make it more of an offer that you can’t refuse” at the state level.
“Medicaid expansion will create jobs in North Carolina,” she said. “Medicaid expansion will help our rural hospitals.”
Ross said she supports Second Amendment gun rights but thinks the country needs “common sense gun safety” regulations. She opposes allowing people on a terrorist watch list to buy guns, and she calls for closing “loopholes” that allow for some gun sales without background checks.
While Ross has the funding to get her message out, polls indicate she still has low name recognition among Democratic primary voters. More than 70 percent of voters in a recent Public Policy Polling survey said they had no opinion of Ross, and 55 percent were undecided on the Senate primary.
Education: Law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill; bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brown University
Professional experience: General counsel for regional transit agency GoTriangle, 2013-2015; former state director, American Civil Liberties Union
Political/civic resume: N.C. House of Representatives, 2003-2013
Family: Married, no children