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In Western N.C. race, events show how Cawthorn and Davis are a world apart

In Bakersville on Oct. 3, about 50 of Madison Cawthorn’s supporters crowded into a wooden pavilion, nearly all without masks, many sporting Trump attire, a few in cowboy boots, and one with a “Women for Trump” button featuring the First Lady. As people crammed in awaiting the arrival of the Republican nominee for Congress in the Western North Carolina district, a golf cart rolled up with a Confederate flag waving in the wind.

A day later, about 35 supporters of Moe Davis gathered for a concert at One World Brewing in Asheville. Parties were spaced more than six feet apart as they sipped on beer and enjoyed a mix of jazz and country music. Though some wore Davis buttons, they preferred casual attire to the louder political styles of the Cawthorn supporters. Nearly everyone wore a mask.

“We stand for the flag”

Cawthorn’s event, promoted on Facebook as the “Mitchell County Meet & Greet!” was held in a covered shelter at the Bakersville Pavilion. 

As more people crowded under the shelter, they sat on the wooden benches, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder to make space. Those who couldn’t get a coveted seat or didn’t arrive early stood around the perimeter. Soon there were about 50 people.

Cawthorn was welcomed with cheers as he rolled his wheelchair through the dewy grass to the front of the pavilion.

“We, as patriotic Americans, say in this country we only kneel to Jesus Christ and our God. And we stand for the flag,” he told the crowd.

Cheers erupted. 

Many of Cawthorn’s supporters also showed their support for President Trump. Photo by Bella Caracta | The 9th Street Journal

The crowd became denser. People on the outside moved closer so they could hear him and get video and pictures with their phones.

It was a pro-Trump group. One of the few men who wore a mask had one that said “Trump” and a T-shirt that said, “Make America Great Again.” A teenage girl had “TRUMP” painted on her forehead in red and blue.

The fact that the president recently contracted the virus didn’t change Cawthorn’s view on masks. 

“I trust all of my supporters, people who come to my events, to make their own personal assessment,” he said during an interview with The 9th Street Journal after the event.

Many supporters looped through the meet-and-greet line more than once. Some wanted another picture, others just wanted to chat more. A few supporters brought him gifts. One woman handed Cawthorn a white envelope and someone else gave him a book. He signed posters with his face on it, posed cheek-to-cheek for photos, and shared laughs. 

Although he didn’t wear a mask during the event or while posing for photos, he offered to do so during an interview with The 9th Street Journal.

“If someone feels uncomfortable with me not being in a mask near them, then I want to take that precaution. Like when I see my grandparents, I always put a mask on,” he said.

However, about midway through the conversation, his blue mask began slipping down his face. It soon slipped below his nose, only covering his mouth. And he made no move to fix it. 

Plenty of hand sanitizer

At the event for Davis, the Democratic nominee, the merchandise table included hand sanitizer bottles with the campaign logo. The table was located on a balcony overlooking the stage and, like everything else at the event, was safely distanced from other tables and chairs.

Moe Davis hand sanitizer was available at his event. Photo by Bella Caracta | The 9th Street Journal

“We’re taking this virus seriously and want to do everything right,” said Davis. 

The event, located in the spacious outdoor seating area at One World Brewing, where they sell hemp ale and an IPA called Citra Bomb, drew about 35 people. They kept socially distant and waited to fill up plastic cups with beer from a brightly colored celestially-printed van. Two supporters opted for hard apple cider as they listened to folk singer Jane Kramer.

Davis, in a black mask, sat with his wife at a table, listened to the music and drank his beer.

On the high wooden fence beside Davis was a sign in the shape of a black heart that said “Black Lives Matter” and another that reminded customers to stay six feet apart. The establishment also had its own hand sanitizer at nearly every table. 

Davis’s supporters followed the sign’s directions. During the event, an attendee came up to him in an N-95 mask and kneeled on the ground, carefully keeping his distance.

Supporters at the Moe Davis event kept a safe distance from each other. Photo by Bella Caracta | The 9th Street Journal

At the end of the event, he thanked the campaign’s volunteers and contributors. When he said he pledged not to accept any corporate funding, the crowd cheered. 

“I want to make it clear that I wanna go to Washington and represent the people here in Western North Carolina,” Davis said.

In photo at top, a family poses for a picture with Madison Cawthorn. Photo by Bella Caracta | The 9th Street Journal

 

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.

Analysis: Cawthorn employs a national ad strategy while Davis stays local

The poetry of American politics is now written in emojis and hashtags. In North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, the emojis are wavy American flags and the hashtags are Western North Carolina towns. 

The animated star-spangled banners belong to Madison Cawthorn, the Republican candidate, who uses the icons in subtle national calls for financial support to galvanize potential donors who don’t even live in his district. That red, white, and blue might work particularly well among the GOP donor pool. A 2007 Pew Research Center  report showed that 73% of Republicans say they display the flag at home, in their office, or on their car, while only 55% of Democrats do. 

In contrast, the Facebook ads Democrat Moe Davis directs to voters within his district come complete with hashtags denoting local cities and photo backdrops of Western North Carolina’s rolling blue mountains. 

Although one might expect the 37-year age gap between the congressional candidates to be reflected in their ad campaigns on Facebook, each candidate employs their own savvy strategy to target their intended audience — one national, one local. 

The two candidates primarily focus their advertising on Facebook, investing much more money on the platform than Google and Youtube. Davis is also running ads on WLOS-TV. At the time of publishing, Cawthorn had spent $163,756 on Facebook, and Davis had spent $36,816. 

Cawthorn: A National Approach

The moment President Donald Trump phoned Cawthorn from Air Force One to call his primary win “beautiful” was the moment Cawthorn launched his pro-Trump brand as a valiant warrior against “radical leftists.” 

“Pro-Trump, Pro-Life, Pro-Gun, Pro-Law Enforcement,” read the caption of one ad posted in August.

Cawthorn’s appeal to Republicans on a broader, national level is evident in his villainization of high-profile Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez make more appearances in Cawthorn’s Facebook ads than Davis does. One ad pictures Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez with Rep. Ilhan Omar, all covered in a monochromatic blood-red hue while posing adjacent to a photo of Mount Rushmore. “Add your name to fight back against the mob!” the caption reads. 

An ad posted by Madison Cawthorn’s campaign shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar covered in a red hue while posing adjacent to a photo of Mount Rushmore. “Add your name to fight back against the mob!” the caption reads. (Courtesy of the Facebook Ad Library)

“Your support will help me combat Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and AOC,” reads the caption of another ad. 

Cawthorn’s Facebook ads didn’t mention his opponent by name until September. However, he recently launched a website and Facebook community (currently four followers strong) called Moe Taxes, dedicated solely to attacking Davis. 

Cawthorn’s strategy to garner support on a national level is underscored by Facebook ads utilizing buzzwords and phrases like “radical leftists,” “left-wing mob,” and “the socialist Left.” This language further polarizes voters, signals his alignment with the Republican agenda, and makes his ads generalizable to a broad audience beyond Western North Carolina. 

What’s the point of focusing on voters that won’t even have Cawthorn’s name on their ballot? Money. Like a signature at the end of a document, nearly all of Cawthorn’s ads on Facebook have a bold box in either red, white, or blue that says “DONATE NOW.” 

That strategy seems to be working. Compared with Davis, a greater proportion of Cawthorn’s individual contributions come from out-of-state, according to financial records from the Federal Election Commission analyzed by Open Secrets.

These advertising tactics and fundraising successes are in conflict with how Cawthorn has said congressional elections should run.

“I believe I should only be able to fundraise inside of District 11. That would mean that I owe my successes only to the people that I represent,” he said at a Sept. 9 debate.

Davis: A Local Approach

Davis is keeping it local, often addressing Western North Carolina voters directly in ad videos or captions. 

Unlike the all-encompassing American flag that Cawthorn garnishes his ads with, Davis applies hashtags, used to increase engagement and draw in audiences of interest, for specific counties in District 11.

#asheville #brevardnc #hendersonvillenc #wnc #nc #waynesvillenc #sylvanc #cullowhee #franklinnc,” were among some hashtags Davis used in ads where he talked about legalizing marijana and making Western North Carolina the “epicenter for alternative energy.” 

The tagged locales paint a clear picture of Davis’s targeted region. He’s focused on the “#blueridgemountains” area.

Those hallmark mountains also appear as Davis’s background for ads, further signaling his focus on Western North Carolina.

In a Facebook ad that ran regularly from August through September, Davis flaunted a poll conducted by his campaign that put the two in a “DEAD HEAT!”

A Facebook ad posted by Moe Davis’s campaign declared the District 11 race a “DEAD HEAT!”

The graphic shows Davis and his campaign logo, which features mountains, with 40% of the vote and Cawthorn, his name in plain black text, with 42% of the vote. 

In the caption, Davis distilled the choice down to “a 25-year veteran,” or a “25-year old QAnon believer.” 

On Oct. 8, Davis’s active Facebook ads were almost exclusively shown in North Carolina. Many of Cawthorn’s active ad campaigns were primarily viewed in California, Texas, and Florida, while several were primarily viewed in North Carolina, according to the Facebook Ad Library.

The local focus that anchors the content and targeting of Davis’s Facebook ads extends through his campaign. At the Sept. 9 debate, he made it clear he’s staying in the district. 

“Since the first of the year, I’ve left the district for one night. My opponent’s been jetting around the country with the Trump kids and up in Washington,” said Davis.

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 is Swing NC? And why did it give $53,000 to Deborah Ross?

About 10 blocks from the U.S. Capitol is a townhouse office with the kind of generic name you expect to find in Washington: Capitol Compliance Associates. It doesn’t seem like the kind of place that would help North Carolina Democrats funnel tens of thousands of dollars to their campaigns.

Capitol Compliance is involved with a fundraising effort that sounds like a band that performs at weddings, Swing NC. In reality it is a joint fundraiser between four Democrats running for the U.S. House and Senate: Kathy Manning, Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Cal Cunningham and Deborah Ross.

I stumbled across Swing NC, and then Capitol Compliance, when I was going through Ross’s campaign finance records for The 9th Street Journal. (She is running for the 2nd Congressional District, which is in Wake County.) It took days for me to unpack what this group entails and their money and I’m still not completely sure about the details. (I’ll update this story as needed!)

But I’m sure about this: our campaign finance system is a messy tangle of groups and bundlers and it’s difficult for anyone to make sense of it. The laws that govern the system are supposed to bring transparency to political contributions. But in practice it is hard to know the source of money and where it goes.

* * *  

I first became curious when I noticed in Ross’s receipts that as of June 30, Swing NC contributed $53,337.92 to her campaign. These donations were listed in four contributions.

This was the largest sum of money, out of 2,876 contributions, made to her campaign other than the $57,783 leftover from her 2016 Senate race. 

This was the first mystery for me. According to the Federal Election Commission contribution limits, the largest donation to an individual candidate committee is $5,000 per election from multicandidate PACs, local party committees or national party committees. Individual donations are capped at $2,800. 

Yet Swing NC contributed $43,795 and $6,539.17 on May 27 and $2,935 and $68.75 on June 30.

In the spirit of transparency, all candidates must report their contributions and disbursements in filings leading up to Election Day. 

I wondered why Swing NC was able to give beyond the allowed amount and, to add to the mystery, I found virtually no information about them. 

If you do a Google search for Swing NC, the first result will tell you to “find your swing” — at a 45-acre paddle and racquet sport campus that is coming to Raleigh in 2022. 

Ross could be a racquet sport enthusiast for all I know, but I ruled out the Swing NC sports complex as the source of her substantial campaign donation. 

At this point in my search, with nearly 25 tabs open and my computer fan hissing at me, I found the original FEC filings from Swing NC. The group’s filing statement of organization would solve the mystery, I hoped. 

It provided some answers, but also raised new questions. 

It turns out that Swing NC is a joint fundraising committee between Ross, Cunningham, Manning and Timmons-Goodson. The organizers filed to be a committee on March 3 and have raised $192,615 and spent $10,543.39, as of June 30. 

It is a collaboration between the four candidates to raise money, but it doesn’t have a website, team or much communication about the effort.

The report listed a Washington D.C. address, and it clarified that the group is a joint fundraiser. It also mentioned Judy Zamore, who was listed as the custodian of records and treasurer.

Those were important clues.

* * *  

So what is a joint fundraising committee and why would these four candidates opt into it?

To answer this question, I sought out Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher at the Center of Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks money in U.S. politics. He pointed me to their glossary of terms, which explains that the joint committees are a convenient way to raise money together. A committee can include two or more candidates, political parties (or both). 

Think of it like a co-hosted fundraising party (or parties). The group hosts events together, splits the costs and, ultimately splits the gifts that the guests bring (the donations). 

When I called Mayersohn, he told me this is a common practice in campaign finance. 

A joint fundraising committee is not a loophole to accept larger campaign donations, he said. Individuals can still give no more than $2,800 per candidate in the committee, regardless if they are donating directly to the candidate or through the team. With four candidates joined together in Swing NC the maximum individual donation is $11,200 to the team. 

But it’s easier for campaign contributors this way. Rather than receiving four separate calls or emails from Ross, Manning, Timmons-Goodson and Cunningham, the contributors just get one. This is all about efficiency. 

* * *  

Alan Swain, Ross’s Republican challenger, probably wishes he had his own Swing NC. He is alone in his fundraising efforts and is struggling. For every dollar Ross has raised, Swain has less than a nickel. He has raised a total of $53,867.13, compared with her $1.3 million. 

Put another way: The Swing NC collaboration alone has raised about the same amount as Swain has raised from all sources.

The address listed for Swing NC is Capitol Compliance’s townhouse. Zamore, who signed the FEC documents, happens to be the principal and founder of the firm as well. 

Her bio indicates she is a skilled political fundraiser with more than 14 years of experience. This election cycle, Zamore served as chief financial officer in Sen. Cory Booker’s presidential campaign. Under her direction, Booker raised a record $1.35 million in just 36 hours towards the end of his campaign in Iowa. 

Throughout the 2020 election cycle Capitol Compliance is tracking $3.2 million to 130 campaigns, funds and PACs helping candidates up and down ballots. Other clients include Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois, who are both running for reelection. 

Mayersohn clarified that Capitol Compliance is not raising funds on the candidates’ behalf, but instead is just filing FEC reports for the Swing NC team. 

“There’s a lot of ins and outs to filing FEC reports and these are the people who are very familiar with them,” Mayersohn said. 

Hiring an outside firm to manage these regulations is a common practice, he said. 

“It is the same reason that you would use an accounting firm or anything for any other purpose,” he said. “It’s their specialized expertise on how to handle loans and things like that.”

* * *

The list of donors to Swing NC ranges from ecologists in San Francisco, to people who are unemployed. Donations started at $100 and were capped at the maximum individual donation of $11,200. There are 181 donations listed on the FEC itemized receipts filing. 

In Ross’s FEC filings, the Swing NC contributions are listed under lump payments. If you want to look into individual donors, you have to go to the joint committee’s filing, which is where I found more details on who was contributing to this four-way team. 

But that  means if you’re a citizen of the 2nd Congressional District and you want to find out who gave to Ross through Swing NC, you need to do the detective work I did. 

I am still unsure if candidates solicit these donations, or if these committees are well known or if individuals know their funds will be split four ways when donating to Swing NC. 

When I called Capitol Compliance to ask, they were not particularly eager to help me untangle this. Neither was the Ross campaign. 

I called Capitol Compliance and was told I would receive a follow up from “compliance” (a department there?) with more information. 

At Ross’s campaign, my question about the formation and existence of Swing NC was met with silence. 

Eight days later, I have yet to receive a call back from either of them.

Staff writer Michaela Towfighi can be reached at michaela.towfighi@duke.edu

Trump, GOP slow to support Republican for Greensboro House seat

The Trump rally in Winston-Salem on Sept. 8 was as much a campaign stop for the president as it was a reward for political allies.

“Representatives Greg Murphy, Virginia Foxx, Mark Walker, Dan Bishop, and Ted Budd, what a group. What a group. What a group, thank you fellas. They’re warriors. Boy, I’ll tell you, those House guys, they were in there, they were fighting for us,” Trump said halfway through his hour-long remarks, peering over an elevated podium at the recipients of his praise.

On cue, rallygoers cheered, waving red, white, and blue signs from the tarmac at Smith Reynolds Airport.

A few minutes later, the president directed his supporters to Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Republican candidate for governor, and Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, Republican candidate for attorney general.  Applause erupted once more for both candidates, familiar faces from speeches preceding Trump’s.

Lee Haywood, Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point, sat three rows in front of the president. He went unmentioned. 

“Loved it, loved it, loved it,” Haywood said of the rally. “I like to hear Donald Trump get up there and tell the truth the way he sees it.”

The rally was a continuation of the candidate’s unreciprocated adulation of president and party, even as the GOP seems to be giving up and cutting its losses in the former Republican stronghold. Kathy Manning, the Democratic candidate, is heavily favored to win. Haywood has troubles with visibility and money, and the Republican establishment has balked at backing his campaign. The president not mentioning Haywood during a visit to the candidate’s district is only the latest example.

Last year, the General Assembly redrew the 6th’s lines from eight predominantly rural counties to Guilford County and part of Forsyth County. In the new district, Hillary Clinton won by over 20 points in 2016. No House Republican elected in 2018 represents a district that voted for Clinton by more than four points.

“It’s not just a major long shot. It’s an impossibility,” said David Wasserman, House editor at The Cook Political Report. “Republicans have abandoned [the district] for good reason, because it’s unwinnable.”

The new borders signal underlying social and political change in North Carolina’s Triad. If the district were on the ballot in the late twentieth century, it would have been very competitive, Wasserman said. But the urbanization of the Triad has driven a major blue shift.

“That’s probably not an area that [Republicans] would be too wise to invest their resources,” said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

One of those resources is the president’s political capital, which has not yet been spent on Haywood. 

“There’s no reason for Trump to mention Haywood. It would not have any kind of beneficial effect for the president or Haywood,” Wasserman said.

Haywood remains loyal to the president. One of his campaign Facebook’s first posts since the rally announces plans to attend a “Trump convoy and ride” in nearby Alamance County on Saturday, an event unlikely to provide much-needed local name recognition.

The campaign has also struggled with fundraising. Up to the most recent campaign finance filing on June 30, the Haywood campaign raised $15,365, while the Manning campaign raised $1.4 million. As of Sept. 13, Haywood estimated that his campaign has now raised a total of about $60,000.

“I’m going up against a very wealthy person over here. She can self-fund her campaign, and I’m just a regular guy,” Haywood said. Campaign finance filings show that Kathy Manning has made one $67.06 contribution to her own campaign.

Closing the gap has been impeded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has already shuttered six months of opportunities to woo voters face-to-face. What Haywood calls “a narrow path to victory” is now even narrower. He said he is focused on social media and grassroots outreach, so in an effort to materialize his campaign, in-person doorknocking is slated through the next month.

“The heavy hitters that usually give money, they’re reluctant to do so,” Haywood said. “Everybody knows this is a tough race. They’re starting to come through. They’re starting to realize that this is a winnable race.”

While the Forsyth County and Guilford County GOPs have supported the campaign since its start, Haywood declined to comment on state and national support. However, he said that the Trump campaign was aware of his own and that he hoped for a shoutout if the president returns to North Carolina — Haywood’s best bet against a difficult pandemic and a difficult map.

“About the only thing my campaign is missing is a swarm of locusts,” Haywood said.

Update: This story has been corrected to indicate that Kathy Manning has made one $67.06 contribution to her own campaign. An earlier version incorrectly said she had not made any.