Full disclosure: The author works for the Ken Romley Campaign.
What happened to NC-02? It seems to have fallen off the radar screen. When the 2018 election cycle began back in 2017, political analysts saw it as one of two potential pickups in Congressional races in North Carolina. The group Swing Left, Daily Kos and the DCCC both said NC-13 and NC-02 looked promising. In both districts, Trump won by less than ten points and both are primarily suburban.
As the primary approaches, though, NC-02 has been almost invisible in the national and even local media. Coverage of the primary in the Raleigh suburban district has taken a backseat to Republican primaries in NC-09, where incumbent Robert Pittenger faces a rematch with Mark Harris, and in NC-03 where incumbent Walter Jones is being challenged by two people.
The primary in NC-02 is also overshadowed on the Democratic side by NC-09 and NC-13. First-time candidates Dan McCready in NC-09 and Kathy Manning in NC-13 have posted impressive fundraising totals. With both expected to win their primaries the media is already covering them a general election candidates in competitive races.
In North Carolina’s Second Congressional District, incumbent Republican George Holding has token primary opposition, but the Democratic side has a race that will determine whether or not the district gets national attention—and money—to make it competitive in November.
Linda Coleman represented much of the district as a legislator and county commissioner and was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in both 2016 and 2012. The political establishment sees her as the front runner because of her name recognition and deep ties to the district. However, her fundraising has been lackluster, in part, because many people don’t see her as a viable candidate against Holding. Her profile as part of the political Democratic establishment that ruled the state up until 2011 is a liability in the conservative-leaning district.
Wendy Ella May is an activist, veteran and minister who is transgender. She received the endorsement of Indy Week, the alternative newspaper in the Triangle. She’s running a grassroots campaign and has raised little money.
Ken Romley is a high-tech entrepreneur and businessman who has created four business in the Triangle. He’s a first time candidate drawn into politics by the election of Donald Trump and the dysfunction in Washington. He calls himself a problem solver who can fix things. He’s raised more than $200,000 and added another $360,000 of his own money. He’s the only candidate running televisions ads.
Romley’s profile would be attractive against Holding. He’s a businessman and political outsider who moved to the district 25 years ago for jobs and quality of life, like many of the people who live there now. Sixty-five percent of the people who live in the district moved there from somewhere else. And he doesn’t have the baggage or scars of a political career.
FiveThirtyEight says that “none of the three Democratic candidates has yet caught fire with donors.” That’s due, in part, to the nature of the primary. Coleman has twice won primaries for lieutenant governor against better funded candidates. It’s hard to bet against her in a primary, but her profile as part of the old Democratic establishment makes her look like a real longshot to pull the conservative voters she’ll need to win the general election.
If Romley wins, it will certainly be seen as an upset over the more established Coleman. However, a Romley victory could also bring the money into the race that’s been sitting on the sidelines. His profile matches up well against Holding who has not proven to be a prolific fundraiser himself. Romley also has big donors waiting in the wings if he becomes the nominee.
The district is easily as competitive as NC-13. It’s the most urban/suburban district held by a Republican, exactly the type of district Democrats are targeting this year. As a Congressman, Holding has also been AWOL. He’s not held a town hall type meeting since he won in the newly drawn district in 2016. And as the Rocky Mount Telegram said, “Holding hasn’t been seen in the area since taking office years ago.”
The national Democrats will only target the district if the nominee can fund a large part of the fall campaign. Romley is the only one who appears able to do that. If he upsets Coleman tonight, maybe the national and local media will put the race back into the spotlight.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >