Carolina Journal News Reports
[See editor's note at the end of this story.]
RALEIGH — An erroneous campaign mailer and telephone push polls are two of many issues that have emerged in one of North Carolina’s most closely watched state House races.
Political analysts see the 41st House District, comprising northwest Wake County, as a textbook swing district. Voter registration is divided evenly between the major parties, with unaffiliated voters taking up one-third. Democrats narrowly won the district the last two elections, but the GOP hopes this year will be different.
The match pits Democratic Rep. Chris Heagarty against Republican pharmacist Tom Murry. Heagarty was appointed in October 2009 to replace Ty Harrell, a two-time incumbent who resigned amid a campaign finance probe.
Republicans hope the seat becomes one of nine victories they need to secure control of the House in November. The GOP controlled that chamber for a brief turn in the mid-1990s, but Democrats have dominated it during the rest of the 20th century.
Murry uses his outside-the-beltline status as a selling point in the race. “The main difference between my opponent and me is that I haven’t been a lobbyist or an insider for the past 15 years,” said Murry, who also serves on the Morrisville City Council.
Heagarty did not respond to five e-mails and a voice mail left on his home phone requesting an interview. A legislative assistant at Heagarty’s General Assembly office said that she had received Carolina Journal’s e-mailed questions and would pass them along to his campaign staff, but no response had been received two weeks later.
At the close of the second quarter June 30, Heagarty had four times as much campaign cash on hand as Murry. But records show that both candidates raised comparable amounts during the first and second quarters.
Heagarty’s website touts his experience as former director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, a left-leaning elections reform organization. The group “fought government corruption by successfully advocating for important campaign reforms, stronger ethics laws, and nonpartisan voter guides,” according to Heagarty’s website.
In a candidate questionnaire (PDF) submitted to the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation, Heagarty said the amount of taxes paid by Tar Heel businesses was “too high.” He also marked his opposition to making permanent a one-cent sales tax increase set to expire next year.
Murry puts the economy and health care as two of his top issues. He hammered the budget passed earlier this year by the Democratic-controlled legislature as fiscally irresponsible. If Republicans gain control of either chamber next year, he said, everything is on the table budget-wise.
“You have to look at it just like a business would look at it,” Murry said. “It’s difficult to justify a Blackberry plan for every upper level management position if you can’t have gas in your fire trucks.”
Mailer malaise, push polls
Beginning in August, an independent group that has received some funding from Republicans called Real Jobs NC began mailing fliers in competitive legislative districts, including the 41st, accusing Democratic incumbents of voting for pork barrel spending in 2009. But Heagarty wasn’t even in the legislature when the votes were taken, and his campaign is weighing legal action against the group.
“This reckless disregard of the truth is what is wrong with politics today … these flyers shouldn’t be trusted any further than I can throw them, which is directly into the trash,” wrote Heagarty’s campaign manager, Mike Radionchenko, in a blog post.
Roger Knight, an attorney for Real Jobs NC, acknowledged the citation was wrong and said the group would “clarify the issue in future mailings,” according to the News & Observer of Raleigh. Knight told CJ that a subsequent mailer sent to the same households provided the correct information.
For his part, Murry said he’s aware of several telephone “push polls” that ask questions portraying him negatively and Heagarty positively, but no results have been released so far.
One poll, taken by the Republican-affiliated firm Carolina Strategy Group, gave Murry a 45-35 percent edge over Heagarty.
Heagarty has made a point of stressing his ethics credentials. “I have spoken out against corruption and helped champion the campaign reform law that ultimately forced the previous Representative from this district to resign for ethics violations,” he wrote in a candidate profile for UNC-TV.
Murry said he supports requiring more frequent reporting to help shore up the ethics problem, but he doesn’t see legislation, like an ethics reform package approved unanimously by the General Assembly this year, as a silver bullet.
He also sees politics getting in the mix. “The Democrats are nervous about having [former Gov.] Mike Easley hung around their neck, so now they come up with an ethics package,” Murry said. “I think that’s a symptom of what’s wrong in Raleigh.”
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.
[Editor's note: This story was revised after publication to correctly identify Roger Knight and Real Jobs NC and to report on the follow-up mailer Real Jobs NC said it sent to homes in District 41.]