Politics & Government

Democrats want to flip this NC congressional seat. They have candidates to choose from

Republican Rep. George Holding, the North Carolina congressional incumbent who by one measure had the closest 2018 race, has drawn several Democratic challengers for his 2020 re-election bid.

Wake County Public Schools board member Monika Johnson-Hostler announced her candidacy Wednesday. Retired Marine Scott Cooper, the founder of Veterans for American Ideals, announced in April he would run. Open Table United Methodist Church pastor Jason Butler filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission last month.

Holding defeated Democrat Linda Coleman by less than six percentage points in 2018 despite it being a wave election for Democrats, who gained 40 seats and took control of the House of Representatives. Libertarian candidate Jeff Matemu got 2.9 percent of the vote in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts or all of Wake, Franklin, Harnett, Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties.

National Democrats have the 2nd district on their radar, with EMILY’s list and the DCCC already naming Holding among their top congressional targets in 2020.

Johnson-Hostler, the executive director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said education, mental health and public safety will be at the core of her campaign. She said voters in the district want to be in touch with their elected officials, even in times of disagreement.

“What they want and desire as a community, as Americans, is to be heard in Washington, D.C.,” Johnson-Hostler said. “I will talk to them, not just while on the campaign trail, reflecting their voices in the process.”

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Scott Cooper, a 2020 Democratic candidate in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, is a retired Marine. He served as a Naval Flight Officer. Provided by the Cooper campaign

Cooper has been hitting the trail for months, posting photos on Twitter of various events throughout the district. He raised more than $300,000 in the second quarter, which ended in June. Cooper was endorsed by J. Marvin Gill, the African-American Caucus chair of the Franklin County Democratic Party.

Vote Vets PAC endorsed Cooper, who served 20 years in the Marines and was deployed eight times including multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Those that represent us have a sacred duty. That sacred duty means being a person of character and ethics,” Cooper told McClatchy in April. “I’m disheartened by what I’ve seen.”

Cooper supports Gov. Roy Cooper’s attempts to expand Medicaid and said health care is among his top priorities in the campaign.

“I’m heartened seeing fellow North Carolinians stand up and work for positive change. Traveling throughout the district over the past few months, it’s clear that people are looking for leaders who will put the interests of North Carolina families first,” Cooper said in a statement to The News & Observer.

Butler has spoken out against the United Methodist Church’s vote earlier this year to reinforce its ban on performing gay marriages and openly gay clergy.

“I felt almost sick inside because I knew that for so many of our LGBTQ friends this was yet another voice, another church saying that we close our doors,” he told CBS17.

Butler told Indy Week in a statement: “I believe the world is hungry for progressive faith leaders to speak up in this moment of chaos and give voice to the values of our faith that lead to the common good and the flourishing of all people.”

Democrat Steve Swenson has also filed his candidacy with the FEC. He loaned his campaign more than $10,000, but hasn’t raised any money from outside donors.

Holding, in his fourth term in the U.S. House, has raised more than $700,000 for his re-election this year. He has more than $400,000 cash in his account. Holding won re-election in 2016 by more than 13 percentage points before the closer general election in 2018.

Republican Rep. Ted Budd won his 2018 re-election bid in the 13th Congressional District by slightly fewer votes than Holding. But the percentage in the 2nd was closer.

Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.