When realtor Leigh Brown entered the Republican primary for North Carolina’s ninth district, news outlets said she would be financially competitive with Dan Bishop. Friday brought confirmation that they were right. The PAC for Brown’s industry, the National Association of Realtors, has placed between $400,000 and $900,000 in ad buys in the district. Confirmation is lacking, but it seems obvious that their investment will benefit Brown. Bishop’s clown-themed ad looks like literal child’s play by comparison.
From a bird’s-eye-view perspective, the realtors’ investment looks like money well spent. Brown, to the extent that we know much about her yet, resembles the profile of a Charlotte Republican. A prominent Re/MAX executive from the Cabarrus County exurbs, she represents the business class that dominates life in Charlotte. With so much money backing her, she should quickly emerge as Bishop’s chief competitor, if not the outright frontrunner.
There are problems with this assessment, however. The political geography of Mecklenburg County is not uniform, and it doesn’t all favor Brown’s buttoned-down business Republicanism. The Mecklenburg County section of the 9th district primarily encompasses non-Charlotte parts the county. Important portions of this area are Bishop country: more right-leaning and, by the evidence, open to his brand of reaction. Officials in Matthews and Mint Hill sought authorization to secede from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and create new, heavily white “municipal charter schools.” Given this, and their election of HB2’s architect, it’s fair to say that these New South communities have demonstrated a weakness for the darker politics of Old North Carolina. (This, of course, is not to impugn individual voters.)
Brown can’t necessarily count on support in those environs. Nor is it guaranteed that her exurban home will translate into strength in its fellow outlying counties. Cabarrus County is the home of NASCAR executives and successful professionals who wanted more space. But the 9th district’s larger exurban area is Union County, which, like the Triangle’s Johnston County, remains influenced by its rural roots. Union elected Stony Rushing to the County Commission; Rushing is socially conservative enough to earn Mark Harris’ endorsement. Whomever gets the most traction in Union County, Brown doesn’t have a profile perfectly crafted to win there.
You’d rather have hundreds of thousands of dollars on your side than not. Brown should be grateful to her industry for this lucrative intervention. Before we overinterpret the advantage it confers upon her campaign, however, we should consider who really votes in NC-09. She may be the candidate of Charlotte in a district expressly drawn to leave Charlotte out.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.