Personal touch important while campaigning


Miles Layton

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

While I was at the YMCA in Elizabeth City, I overheard two women talking about the ongoing congressional election after reading a story in The Daily Advance. Early voting for the primary has started with the primary being held April 30 for the District 3 and the general election scheduled for July 9. 

One woman was somewhat knowledgeable, while the other had no clue that our end of state is seeking a new congressman in the wake of Walter B. Jones Jr.'s death in February. She's not alone as there are many such people across eastern North Carolina who are either not aware, don't care or may be waiting to see who emerges as each political party's standard bearer because let's say it, there's too many freaking candidates.

Congressional seat features 17 Republicans, six Democrats and two Libertarians.

What would've been better, certainly more cost effective, would have been if Democrat and Republican leaders had chosen two strong candidates for each primary with the winners battling it out for the general election.  

That didn't happen and wasn't going to happen due to changes to the primary system that can certainly trace their steps back to the echoes emanating from the Watergate era. Campaign funding mechanisms largely have shifted too. More voters identify as independent than as supporters of the major political parties.

This weakened party system delivered a bucket of Republican presidential candidates in 2016 with Democrats posting a record number of contenders for 2020.

We've had quite a few congressional candidates visit our neck of the woods in recent weeks.

Get used to it because mathematically, unless something magical happens, no candidate will receive more than 30 percent of the vote. There's a solid chance there will be second primary election July 9 with the general election being Sept. 10, so donors and would-be voters should get ready for a long hard shag.

Candidates – get comfortable passing the hat.

Candidates from congressional races I've covered in the past told me that most of their time was spent on the phone raising money. So whoever wins the general election will need to be a champion fundraiser – an important skill to have as that person will have to start beating the streets again for cash needed to mount any re-election campaign in 2020.

Most likely when the dust settles out among the winners and losers of the first primary, money from near and far may pour into these campaigns. If the DC party professionals and/or state Democrats see this race as a loser, and the national media decides not to make this a referendum on Trump, then the price of admission to Congress may be adjusted accordingly.

The district went for President Trump, a Republican, in 2016 by a margin of 24 points.

Though the prevailing winds favor a Republican, this is the first chance Democrats have to capture the district in more than 20 years. Divided times being what they are and with this district being more purple than red or blue, change is possible. Jones was wise enough to know how to straddle the divide. Whoever wins is going need that skill too.

Despite some candidates' delusions of grandeur, there is no front runner in either party. It's anybody's game because of the dynamics of a shortened campaign season.

Few candidates have any name recognition and even fewer have had any time to build a solid campaign organization. Thus a longtime legislator with solid party bonafides may get beaten by a guy with cousins living in each county across our congressional district — largest in the state.  

Candidates, who send representatives but don't visit our neck of the woods, have even less of a chance of wooing those hardcore voters who are as yet undecided. Social media helps get the message out, but it does not replace the personal touch. And just because a candidate has a few signs up at key intersections means nothing

Sure, it may be more efficient to be campaigning and expending financial resources in larger markets such as Greenville or New Bern. Perhaps that's why candidates from these cities think they've got an edge.

To be blunt, a mayor or a legislator from some place else doesn't mean squat to Chowan County voters — what have you done for us!?

Some of these candidates pay lip service to places they consider as low priorities – time draining visits to the sticks. That's the kind of advice that may come from a hired gun campaign consultant who probably doesn't know the district and will move on quickly after the votes are tabulated.

Don't believe me about how important the personal touch is to voters? I watched Bob Steinburg defeat a well-heeled business man – Clark Twiddy – in the GOP primary and Democrat Cole Phelps in the general election for the NC 1st Senate District.

Steinburg's victory may look easy in retrospect, but his win was far from certain to those paying close attention, so he campaigned hard, very hard. One moment Steinburg would be at Layden's Country Store talking one-on-one with a prospective voter and the next he might be at a birthday party for a senior citizen living at a nursing home in Elizabeth City.

What kind of person do we want representing our interests in Congress?

Hopefully, we'll elect somebody reasonably sane who is not motivated by ego or to be a bomb-throwing ideologue intent on pursuing bizarre policies that insist that night is day and cow farts are dangerous.

Wouldn't it be great if we could elect someone who doesn't get sucked into the political divide but can serve the district's needs first, not the political parties or lobbyists?

We need to elect a leader who can work with President Trump or be strong enough to tell him “no” – same is true with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her crowd. That person also will need to be strong enough to stand up to a social media mob that may gather after a selfie is posted of lunch with Congresswoman AOC at Chic-fil-A.

Last advice to candidates: We're not stupid – we know when you're talking out of both sides of your mouth, so just tell us the truth because our country has lot of problems that need to be solved.

Miles Layton is a staff writer at the Chowan Herald. He can be contacted at mlayton@ncweeklies.com.