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Analysis: Timmons-Goodson couldn’t overcome partisan pull in Fayetteville District

Fayetteville Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson seemed to have a shot at unseating U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson. 

She raised more money than the four-term Republican incumbent two quarters in a row. She caught the attention of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican group, which became so concerned it ran attack ads against her and poured more than $2 million into Hudson’s campaign in late October. Politico even changed the race rating to “toss-up” on election eve. 

But on Election Day, that momentum wasn’t enough to overcome the gravitational pull that kept the 8th Congressional District, which stretches from Charlotte’s eastern suburbs through Cumberland County, in Republican hands — even in a redrawn district that gave a Democrat the best chance in years.

Hudson defeated Timmons-Goodson 53.3% to 46.6%, according to the state Board of Elections

A big factor in this race and many around the state: polarization in a presidential year. 

“The age of the ticket-splitters is over,” said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies. Of the voters his group surveyed on election night, 91% said they voted a straight party-line ticket — an “extraordinary number” that “reinforces how polarized we are,” Newhouse said.

Most of the 8th District went red in the 2020 election. Source: North Carolina Board of Elections

This all-or-nothing style of partisan voting means down-ballot races generally follow the trend at the top of the ticket. For a candidate like Joe Biden, who underperformed in North Carolina, this left short coattails for Democrats at all levels, from local races to congressional contests. Although the state race has not been called by the Associated Press, the News & Observer has projected that President Donald Trump will still lead Biden after the remaining ballots are counted. 

Biden fared better than many down-ballot Democrats, keeping his opponent’s lead to less than 2%.

“The big story of the night was Biden ended up running ahead of a lot of the Democratic candidates for Congress,” said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political newsletter that predicts U.S. election outcomes. 

To win, Timmons-Goodson needed at least 60% of the Cumberland County vote, Coleman predicted back in October. She also needed to keep Hudson within 10 percentage points in Cabarrus County — his home turf.

She failed to hit those thresholds even though she outperformed Biden in Cumberland. 

What happened?

In the final week before Election Day, it looked like Timons-Goodson could defeat Hudson. The newly drawn district reunited Cumberland County, magnifying the power of its heavily Democratic electorate, and gave Hudson a substantial chunk of new turf where he had to introduce himself.

Combined with a strong hometown candidate in Timmons-Goodson, the new map fostered the most competitive race of Hudson’s career. The 8th District battle also was widely considered the state’s most competitive congressional contest. An October poll from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee even showed Timmons-Goodson ahead of Hudson by 3 points.

But ousting an incumbent is always a challenge. In late October, Hudson flooded the airwaves with a misleading ad attacking Timmons-Goodson’s judicial record and branding her “soft on crime.” The attacks went largely unanswered. The Democrat did not respond with a rebuttal ad — a move that might have blunted some of the impact.

While the influx of money and negative ads might have boosted Hudson’s winning margin by a few points, Coleman said they weren’t the main reason for Timmons-Goodson’s loss. Her race was an uphill climb from the start, he said, and the outcome reflected the statewide struggle of most Democrats.

On Election Day, Timmons-Goodson and Democrats statewide suffered from unexpectedly massive Republican turnout and a propensity for straight-ticket voting.

Coleman predicted the next few election cycles won’t be any easier for Democrats. The Republican-controlled legislature will lead the redistricting process, and gerrymandering is especially likely given the 2019 Supreme Court ruling that kicked gerrymandering cases back to the state courts. 

“I would say congressional elections are going to be probably an uphill climb for Democrats, at least probably for much of this decade,” he said. “That’s just a reality.”

 

Fact-check: Is Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson really ‘soft on crime’?

Speaker: U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, Republican incumbent in North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District. The district stretches from Charlotte’s eastern suburbs through Fayetteville and Cumberland County. 

Claim: Says in a TV ad that Democratic candidate Pat Timmons-Goodson is “soft on crime.”

In his campaign’s first television attack ad, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson claims his Democratic opponent Pat Timmons-Goodson was “soft” on crime as a state appellate judge and Supreme Court justice. 

“As a Supreme Court Justice, Patricia Timmons-Goodson made a name for herself — ‘Judge Softie.’ Timmons-Goodson was known for being ‘soft’ on crime.”

The video then cites two opinions from Timmons-Goodson’s tenure on those two appellate courts.

“Judge Softie let a man walk who stole half a million dollars — from his church. Judge Softie opposed putting tracking bracelets on sex offenders because it would ‘add to their shame.’ Patricia Timmons-Goodson: Too soft on crime, too liberal for Congress.”

The 9th Street Journal contacted Hudson’s campaign to request its background materials and evidence for these claims, but received no response. In the ad, the campaign identified two main sources — a 1998 News and Observer story and a 2010 article from the Associated Press

Analysis:

To check out Hudson’s claim, let’s explore the two cases he cites.

“Judge Softie let a man walk who stole half a million dollars — from his church.”

Timmons-Goodson was on a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals that decided in 1998 to resentence Brian Patrick Mullaney, a man who embezzled $478,000 from his Chapel Hill church. The ruling said an Orange County Superior Court judge originally sentenced Mullaney under the wrong law. He was arrested under the Fair Sentencing Act, but by the time his sentencing came around, the General Assembly had passed the Structured Sentencing Act in 1994. The newer law included mandatory jail time, but capped sentences at 10 months for people like Mullaney who had no previous criminal record. He had already served 11 months and eventually went free.

The Timmons-Goodson campaign says Hudson’s ad misleads viewers by taking the case out of context. 

“It didn’t have anything to do with whether he was guilty of embezzlement, or whether he’d been sentenced too harshly or not too harshly,” said Thomas Mills of the Timmons-Goodson campaign. “It had to do with which act was he supposed to be sentenced under.”

Appellate court judges rule based on legal or procedural issues with a lower court’s decision, which is different from a trial court judge who determines guilt or innocence. To say that Timmons-Goodson is “soft” on crime because of a procedural ruling that happened to give an embezzler less jail time is “just plain wrong,” Mills said.

“It’s not a question of being soft on crime. It’s a question of what the law and the constitution require in this case,” said Robert Orr, a former justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court and a self-described “Never Trumper” Republican who supports Timmons-Goodson.

“It’s just grossly disrespectful to the court system for these sorts of ads to be run,” he said.

“Judge Softie opposed putting tracking bracelets on sex offenders because it would ‘add to their shame.’”

Timmons-Goodson was on the state Supreme Court 10 years ago when she dissented from the majority opinion that it was constitutional to use tracking devices to monitor sex offenders, even if they were convicted before the General Assembly passed laws allowing it. She argued that this violated state and federal “ex post facto” laws, which protect people from being retroactively punished when new policies outlaw or legalize certain practices.

Like the 1998 ruling, this one also took place in an appellate court, meaning that the arguments were about procedure and constitutionality rather than a judgment on sexual offenders, Mills said. The central argument of the case was whether the use of ankle bracelets and other tracking devices constituted criminal punishment. 

“Dissents are based on the law, not on politics,” said former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Edmunds, who served at the same time as Timmons-Goodson.

Edmunds, a Republican, agreed that the case centered around the constitutionality of monitoring systems, and the fact that the defendants were convicted of sexually abusing minors gave the case a high profile. But he declined to comment further on the ad’s contents since he has not seen it yet and is friends with both Hudson and Timmons-Goodson.

Edmunds said he believed all his colleagues on the Supreme Court, including Timmons-Goodson, were very conscientious about setting aside their personal beliefs when it came to issuing judicial opinions, which is why he enjoyed working with them all so much.

“Just in the cases I’ve voted on, sometimes I cast a vote that, if it had been in another context, I might have voted differently outside of being a judge,” Edmunds said. “But having taken an oath to follow the law to the best of our abilities, sometimes doing that was inconsistent with what I personally felt.”

It doesn’t appear the Hudson campaign has any additional evidence to explain the ad. The campaign website doesn’t contain any other citations and we couldn’t find any other references in the ad itself.

The campaign has cited two cases that really don’t show what the campaign says. We rate the claim false.

Above, a screenshot of the Hudson campaign ad.

Fayetteville House race heats up, Democrat outraises incumbent by $600,000

With less than three weeks until Election Day, it’s game on for candidates in North Carolina’s most competitive congressional district. 

For the second time this year, Democratic challenger Pat Timmons-Goodson raised significantly more money than her opponent, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings. She raked in nearly $1.8 million in contributions between July 1 and Sept. 30 with the vast majority — nearly $1.7 million — coming from individual donors. 

Republican incumbent Rep. Richard Hudson brought in just over $1.1 million, with more than $660,000 from party committees and PACs. Timmons-Goodson had previously outraised him during the second quarter filing period by about $517,000. 

The Democrat shelled out more money than she raised, spending upwards of $1.8 million  in the third quarter. She’s left with $612,000 in cash on hand.

Hudson spent almost $1.4 million this quarter. But in contrast to his opponent, he still has more than $1.5 million in cash on hand heading into the race’s final stretch.

Timmons-Goodson confirmed her financial haul on Twitter over a week before the FEC released official numbers. Hudson’s campaign did not release numbers before the Oct. 15 deadline, which perhaps foreshadowed his surprisingly low numbers.

“People who give money to campaigns invest smartly,” said Chris Cooper, a professor of political science at Western Carolina University. “So the fact that she can put up those kinds of numbers says that there’s, at least, kind of a proof of concept—an idea that’s possible.” Now, for Timmons-Goodson, it’s a matter of turning those dollars into votes, he added.

The gap in fundraising isn’t the only reason to think things are tightening up in the 8th Congressional District, which stretches from Charlotte’s eastern suburbs through Fayetteville and Cumberland County. Here’s why this race could still be up for grabs:

Advertising is heating up — and voters are noticing

Yard signs and mailers and ads, oh my! 

“It’s getting aggressive with the advertising here,” said George Breece, an Army veteran and former state representative who lives in Fayetteville. He said he gets three to four mailers a week (some that are “as big as a damn car”), receives political phone calls and gets inundated with ads on radio and TV.

Both candidates spent more than $1.1 million on digital, radio and TV advertising, according to the most recent FEC filings. Factoring in mailers would bump the total even higher.

It’s typical for campaigns to advertise more as the election draws closer, Cooper said. But when there’s exponential growth in the amount of ad spending, that’s a sign of a competitive race.

“It has been and remains the most competitive district in the state,” he said of the 8th District.

‘Judge Softie’: Hudson releases first attack ad against Timmons-Goodson

Hudson’s latest ad brands Timmons-Goodson as “soft on crime” and assigns her the pejorative moniker “Judge Softie.” 

After opening on a photograph of the Democrat in judicial robes behind a court bench, the ad’s female narrator alleges Timmons-Goodson “let a man walk free who stole half a million dollars from his church” and “opposed putting tracking bracelets on sex offenders because it would ‘add to their shame.’” 

“Timmons-Goodson — too soft on crime, too liberal for Congress,” coos the narrator near the end of the video. 

Hudson’s campaign manager Robert Andrews told The 9th Street Journal in August that the campaign would focus its energy on Hudson’s accomplishments rather than attacking his Democratic opponent. 

“People always want to see going on the attack, or that sort of thing,” Andrews said in that August interview. “That’s not the deal right now. We just want to make sure that folks know who Richard Hudson is, especially in those new parts of the district.”

Andrews did not return phone calls seeking clarification on the change in tactics, but the shift likely means Hudson’s campaign views the race as more competitive than originally thought. 

“Hudson running attack ads is a sign that it’s possible that he could lose, and that he thinks that,” Cooper said. “There’s no need to get in the ditch if you don’t have to.”

Toss-up territory? ‘Lean Republican’ rating subject to change, national analysts say

As soon as the legislature released new congressional maps in 2019, Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed Hudson’s rating from “safe Republican” to “likely Republican.” The new maps, which axed Republican-heavy Rowan County and added the rest of Cumberland County, made the 8th District competitive for the first time since Hudson unseated Democrat Larry Kissel in 2012. 

Now ranked as “lean Republican,” the 8th District is the only seat in North Carolina from either party that’s ranked as anything other than “safe” or “likely.”

“Back in ‘08, the only seat that flipped in North Carolina — it was a Republican to Democrat flip — was in the 8th District when Larry Kissel beat Robin Hayes,” said Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “It could well be the only seat that flips again.”

Coleman said he agreed with Cooper that the 8th District is the most competitive congressional race in the state. In order to move it to “toss-up,” he and his colleagues Kyle Kondik and Larry Sabato would want to see public polling that shows Timmons-Goodson ahead, or statewide polling that shows Biden ahead, which could hint at a wave election. Both have emerged in recent weeks.

“On election night, when I’m watching the results come in, the first district I’m going to look at in North Carolina is going to be district eight,” he said. 

At top, incumbent Richard Hudson and Pat Timmons-Goodson are vying for the 8th Congressional District. Photos from their campaigns.

Dueling messages (and a little lawn mowing) in Fayetteville congressional race

One candidate offers to mow your lawn. The other brings you home to Momma. 

As Election Day nears, the two contenders in North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District are rolling out new video ads to set themselves apart. 

Ads have always played a key campaign role, but the slowdown in events because of the coronavirus means the targeted messages through videos and social media are even more crucial.

Ads from both Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson and incumbent Republican Rep. Richard Hudson stress how they’ll serve voters of the 8th District, which stretches from east of Charlotte through Cumberland County. Hudson’s ads focus largely on his congressional accomplishments, while Timmons-Goodson’s are more likely to criticize her opponent’s record and spotlight their differences on the issues.

“We want people to know that they have a choice,” said Timmons-Goodson’s campaign manager Matt Vari. The campaign currently has ads on TV, radio, and Facebook as well as by mail. 

In her latest TV ad, entitled “Face,” Democratic challenger Pat Timmons-Goodson pays a socially-distanced and masked visit to her mother.

In her most recent TV ad, Timmons-Goodson tries to humanize the burden of COVID-19 by paying a socially-distanced and masked visit to her 85-year-old mother Beulah Timmons in Fayetteville. Unlike her first ad, which highlighted her military upbringing and judicial career, Timmons-Goodson this time criticizes Hudson’s response to the virus and his stance on healthcare.

Her tagline: “I’m Pat Timmons-Goodson, and my momma and I approve this message,” she says at the end of the clip with a big laugh. 

Hudson’s first TV ad initially looks like a lawn care commercial. A man (who turns out to be Hudson) is seen mowing a pristine yard while two women on a porch discuss Hudson’s congressional accomplishments for military families and veterans. 

“That’s our congressman,” one of the women says in admiration near the end of the ad. 

“Fort Bragg’s congressman,” says the other, correcting her friend. “He does everything!”

Republican incumbent Rep. Richard Hudson promoted his latest TV ad on Facebook by issuing a contest: Donate to his campaign for the chance to have him mow your lawn.

On the same day the ad started, Hudson launched a contest on his Facebook page: Donate $10 to his campaign and you enter a drawing for him to mow your lawn. Or the winner can nominate a military family for his “lawn service.”

Hudson’s campaign manager Robert Andrews said their strategy was to avoid mentioning or criticizing Timmons-Goodson. Rather, the main goal was introducing Hudson to voters who were new to the 8th District since congressional maps were redrawn.

“People always want to see going on the attack, or that sort of thing,” Andrews said in an August interview with The 9th Street Journal. “That’s not the deal right now. We just want to make sure that folks know who Richard Hudson is, especially in those new parts of the district.”

While the candidates’ TV ads may strike similar tones, their Facebook offerings diverge. Of the 10 Facebook ads that were active in the last week, all of them asked viewers to donate money or help his campaign. Seven of them emphasized the critical stakes of the election by capitalizing words like “URGENT” and adding exclamation points.

True to Andrews’ August prediction, Hudson has no ads attacking Timmons-Goodson’s judicial or public service record. But the campaign does criticize her prominent Democratic supporters such as former President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.

“My opponent has officially been endorsed by Obama,” reads one Facebook ad that launched in mid-August. “Stand against the liberal mob and sign our petition to keep socialism out & keep North Carolina RED!”

Hudson indirectly criticizes Timmons-Goodson by attacking her prominent Democratic supporters, such as former President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Timmons-Goodson’s Facebook ads give her bio and strike a contrast with Hudson’s. Some of the ads feature news articles and op-eds about her candidacy. (Four of Timmons-Goodson’s 20 active ads contain an exclamation point.)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in May added Timmons-Goodson to its selective “Red to Blue” program, which provides fundraising and organizational support to candidates in highly competitive districts. But the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball still say the race leans Republican.

The National Republican Congressional Committee did not respond to several calls from asking for comment about the race. 

Timmons-Goodson outraised Hudson nearly 3-to-1 in the second quarter, according to June filings from the Federal Election Commission. But overall, Hudson has the greater total of $2.3 million raised, compared to Timmons-Goodson’s roughly $1.1 million, according to Open Secrets, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending. 

What it means to support the military to Fort Bragg House candidates

Most Americans don’t think about war every day. Many don’t even personally know a service member or veteran. At Fort Bragg, the nation’s largest Army post and one of the world’s largest military bases, the word carries a different meaning. 

“War is not just three letters in the alphabet here. It’s a way of life,” said George Breece, an Army veteran, former state representative and former chairman of the North Carolina Military Affairs Commission.

With its outsized influence in the 8th Congressional District, Fort Bragg automatically has the ear of its Washington delegation. Now, voters of the 8th District — which stretches from Charlotte’s eastern suburbs eastward to Cumberland County — must decide who they want as Fort Bragg’s next House representative. 

A military town that ‘beams with pride’

More than 120,000 soldiers and military family members live on base at Fort Bragg, and roughly 140,000 more live nearby in Fayetteville and other communities, said Elvia Kelly of Fort Bragg’s public affairs office. As the largest metropolitan area in the 8th District, Fayetteville’s voters could play a large role in the outcome of the congressional election.

One could think of Fayetteville as a “monotown” with one big employer: Fort Bragg. It’s hard to understate the installation’s influence on the local economy, said Kelli Cardenas Walsh, an Army veteran and a history and military studies professor at Fayetteville State University.

“People on both sides like to remind the community that without Fort Bragg, the economy of Fayetteville would greatly suffer, and I have no doubt about that,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, the Fayetteville community “beams with pride” and strongly supports the military, Breece said. But there’s also a downside to living near a major base. The community hurts when someone from Fort Bragg gets injured or killed in combat, said Dan Dederick, a retired Marine and one of North Carolina’s civilian aides to the secretary of the Army.

“You know these people, you like them, you go to church with them, your kids go to school with them,” Dederick said. “And then when something bad happens, they get killed or wounded, it’s real close and personal.” 

The base makes that close-knit community more diverse, too. Fort Bragg attracts people from around the country, Breece said, and sometimes service members marry overseas. The city hosts an international folk festival each year with a parade of nations to celebrate the different cultures represented. 

That combination of diverse city and traditional military base makes for intriguing voter demographics in Cumberland County: 43% of voters are registered Democrats, 23% are registered Republicans and nearly 33% are registered independents, according to Sept. 19 numbers from the North Carolina State Board of Elections. 

Unlike the rest of the 8th District counties, which traditionally vote Republican, Cumberland County historically votes Democratic. It was previously split between two districts, with the city of Fayetteville divided down the middle. 

This year, though, the redrawn maps reunite the entire county in one district and concentrate the power of the Fayetteville vote.

A proven incumbent, or a hometown challenger?

The incumbent in the race, Republican Rep. Richard Hudson, proudly calls himself “Fort Bragg’s congressman.” Serving the base is his “most humbling and most important duty,”  spokesperson Greg Steele said. Hudson’s commitment to Fort Bragg is proven by recent victories, Steele said, citing increased hazardous duty pay for certain troops and the creation of a pathway for service members to seek malpractice compensation from military health care providers

But Pat Timmons-Goodson, the 8th District’s Democratic challenger and the child of a Fort Bragg military family, argues Hudson has not earned the moniker he’s adopted. Standing up for soldiers, veterans and military families involves more than passing favorable legislation, she said.

“What our veterans and service members need are folks who will stand up with them in tough times,” she said. “That’s what leadership is, and that’s what it calls for.”

She criticized Hudson for his silence after intelligence officials concluded that Russians placed bounties on the heads of American soldiers and for his absence during a vote on the latest National Defense Appropriations Act. (Steele confirmed to The 9th Street Journal that Hudson was indeed not present for the vote.)

“I do believe that my opponent puts his political fortune ahead of the people within our district, including our military families and veterans,” she said. 

Hudson declined The 9th Street Journal’s request for an interview. Breece, who knows both candidates personally and will not endorse one, praised Hudson’s accomplishments and said he deserves the “Fort Bragg’s congressman” designation.

“Without question,” Breece said. “He’s worked very hard to get funding for whatever Fort Bragg needs.”

Rep. Richard Hudson, the Republican incumbent, stands outside Fort Bragg’s headquarters with Lt. Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla of the 18th Airborne Corps (left) and U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette (middle). Photo taken on Aug. 18. Courtesy of the Hudson campaign.

If reelected, Hudson will continue prioritizing military and veterans affairs, Steele said. His top priorities are pushing for additional funding to improve on-base housing and passing a bill he introduced in January to extend healthcare benefits for veterans’ caregivers. 

‘Losers’ and ‘suckers’

A piece published by The Atlantic in early September said President Donald Trump called service members who died in combat “losers” and “suckers” for “getting killed.” He also reportedly told former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” while visiting the gravesite of Kelly’s son, who was killed in action in Afghanistan 

As more news outlets, including CNN, the Associated Press and Fox News, confirmed various pieces of the story with their own reporting, Hudson took to Twitter to bash the article as “garbage” and a “hit piece.”

“I was there the next day when he stood in the rain to honor our fallen,” Hudson tweeted in the president’s defense. 

Steele offered no further comment, but said voters should look at Hudson’s track record to see what he’s done for the military community.

Timmons-Goodson, however, was outspoken on Twitter in her criticism of the president’s reported remarks.

“My father, brothers, nephews, and neighbors are not ‘losers’ or ‘suckers,’” she tweeted. Her father, Edward Timmons, served as a sergeant first class and an 82nd Airborne Army Ranger at Fort Bragg. “We all should honor the sacrifice of those who serve, our leaders should too,” she added.

A soldier, the father of congressional candidate Pat Timmons-Goodson, Edward Timmons, served as an Army Sergeant First Class and an 82nd Airborne Ranger at Fort Bragg and stands in military gear with a gun over his shoulder and a helmet on in a faded photo. Courtesy of the Timmons-Goodson campaign.
Candidate Pat Timmons-Goodson’s father, Edward Timmons, served as an Army sergeant first class and an 82nd Airborne Ranger at Fort Bragg. Courtesy of the Timmons-Goodson campaign.

Amidst the debate, Breece sees common ground: both candidates highly value the military. He’ll feel good about the election’s winner regardless of who it is. 

“Both of these candidates are very good and decent people, and they both understand Fort Bragg,” Breece said. I am confident that Fort Bragg will be well served.”

Democratic congressional candidate Pat Timmons-Goodson, left, speaks with three Fort Bragg veterans outside. All are wearing masks.
Democratic congressional candidate Pat Timmons-Goodson, left, speaks with Fort Bragg veterans. (Courtesy of the Timmons-Goodson campaign)

New map and new challenger bring energy to Fayetteville race

For the first time in years, political experts say North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District is not a safe Republican seat.

Last year, after throwing out gerrymandered district maps that favored Republicans, three North Carolina judges forced the Republican-controlled state legislature to draw more competitive maps. That changed the dynamic in the 2nd and 6th Districts, which Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Report rate as sure flips for Democrats. 

The 8th might be in play, too. Rep. Richard Hudson, the Republican incumbent, may boast more money in the bank, but Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson outraised him 3-1 in the most recent fundraising quarter ending June 30.

Sabato and Cook moved the 8th into the “lean Republican” column –– rather than the usual  “solid” or “likely Republican.” But they and other analysts are still skeptical that redistricting and a strong challenger will be enough to flip a district held by an eight-year incumbent.

New district, new challenger

The new 8th District stretches from Charlotte’s eastern suburbs across seven mostly rural counties to Fayetteville. 

Cumberland County, home to Fayetteville and Fort Bragg, historically votes Democratic, and the new maps move the once-split county entirely inside the 8th District. But the six other counties largely voted Republican in 2016 and 2018. 

Timmons-Goodson, the Democratic candidate, calls Cumberland County home. Born in South Carolina, she moved with her family to Fort Bragg when she was in elementary school. Her father served in the Army for 18 years. 

The 8th District stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville. Source: NC General Assembly

Timmons-Goodson’s experience comes from law and the judiciary, not the state legislature or business world. After earning undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she served as an assistant district attorney in Cumberland County. From there she rose through various judgeships, eventually becoming the first African-American woman on the North Carolina Supreme Court. President Barack Obama then appointed her to a six-year term on the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights.

“She’s not a woman who’s sitting there looking for the partisan side,” said Timmons-Goodson’s senior advisor Thomas Mills. “She brings a temperament that I think people are looking for right now.”

On the campaign trail, she stresses the importance of supporting veterans and military families, particularly with quality healthcare. The existing Veterans Administration healthcare system fails to meet the needs of veterans, she said in a recent interview with The 9th Street Journal, due to a high number of vacancies throughout the VA.

“The military community means a great deal to me, and my father was a veteran,” she said. “I had the benefit of the health care that’s provided through the Veterans Administration, and so I know how important it is to the veterans in this area.”

Timmons-Goodson faces Hudson, who has represented the district since 2012 when he defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. Larry Kissell. Hudson sits on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. 

Hudson was born in Franklin, Virginia, and grew up in Charlotte. He and his family now live in Concord. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Hudson first worked as communications director for the North Carolina GOP. For the next 12 years he worked as a staffer for four former GOP House members –– including U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes (R–N.C.). His wife, Renee Hudson, served as chief of staff to President Donald Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway. 

As Fort Bragg’s congressman, Hudson also prioritizes issues affecting veterans and military families, said campaign manager Robert Andrews. In addition to improving the VA, Hudson wants to ensure veterans have adequate pensions and access to affordable housing. 

Andrews said Hudson was not available for an interview in time for publication.

Will the 8th District flip?

Timmons-Goodson won’t discuss how analysts are assessing the race. Instead, she says her priority is to introduce herself to the voters and let them know how hard she will work for them. 

“I believe that a majority of them will say that the current representative should look for another job,” she said.

Timmons-Goodson has criticized Hudson for not speaking up for his constituents and for not speaking out against the president. She noted that when Trump called for a boycott of Goodyear tires, Hudson did not stand up for the thousands of workers that Goodyear employs at its Cumberland County factory. Hudson told local media that he was not aware of the president’s tweet until a reporter pointed it out to him.

The Hudson campaign chides Timmons-Goodson for out-of-state financial support flowing to her campaign, Andrews said. Outside of North Carolina her biggest donor bases were New York and California, according to second quarter Federal Elections Commission filings. FEC records show 134 donors from both states gave approximately $116,000 of the $846,000 she raised in the second quarter.

At the end of June, Hudson had raised $2.3 million, compared to roughly $1.1 million for Timmons-Goodson, according to Open Secrets. But she outraised him by about $517,000 during the second quarter. She says she’s aiming even higher for the third quarter and is “feeling really good” about the numbers so far. 

But strong fundraising by itself is not enough to win an election, says Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College. 

Moreover, Bitzer says the redistricting process only made the 8th District slightly more favorable for Democrats by including the entirety of Cumberland County. Hudson still has the advantages of incumbency and a generally friendly district, so Democrats will need high voter turnout, he said. 

Bitzer also says that national dynamics, maybe even more than the individual candidates, will likely determine the outcome of the 8th District. There’s a strong relationship between how a district votes at the presidential level and how it votes down the ballot, Bitzer said, and that pattern might be magnified this year.

For all the hype about being the “most competitive” district in North Carolina, the 8th District has a relatively slim chance of flipping, Bitzer concluded.

“If that seat went Democratic, then there’s a tsunami that has bowled over at least North Carolina, if not the rest of the country.”

At top, incumbent Richard Hudson and Pat Timmons-Goodson are vying for the 8th Congressional District. Photos from their campaigns.

Update: This story has been corrected to note that Timmons-Goodson moved to Fort Bragg in elementary school, not when she was 2 years old, and that she was an assistant district attorney, not the DA, in Cumberland County.