The three-way race in House District 46 turned into a two-man tussle.
Democrat Tim Benton and Republican Brenden Jones were involved in a minor physical altercation with each other at the recent Bladenboro Beast Fest, which shows how hot the race has become. Or at least how hot under the collar they are with one another.
A mailer targeting Benton, and comparing him to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton apparently led to the confrontation, according to a statement by the North Carolina Republican Party.
The Bladenboro Police Department responded to the incident, but officers on the scene did not charge either man. Both men accused the other of starting the ruckus.
As a result of the scuffle, Jones filed assault charges against Benton, saying that his opponent hit him in the face as they were having a conversation at the festival.
Benton released a statement to BladenOnline.com on Oct. 30 that detailed his version of events, and claimed that Jones was the aggressor. According to court records, they are scheduled to be in court Nov. 14 after the election is settled.
District 46 is a heavily Democratic district but a conservative streak runs deeply through the three counties it covers — Bladen, Columbus, and Robeson. Former state Rep. Ken Waddell, who retired and did not seek re-election, often voted with the Republican majority during his time in the state House.
Based on its conventional voting behavior since 2008, the district is rated strong Democrat by the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation, which tracks state elections.
Jones, of Tabor City, runs a family business selling pre-owned automobiles, and also offers auto body repair services.
He cited the need to bring another voice for small business to Raleigh in a letter that he used to announce his candidacy.
Jones, who is a deacon at Tabor City Baptist Church, is making his second run for the legislature. He lost to Waddell in 2014. His main platforms are keeping taxes low, reining in government spending, supporting teachers, and stimulating job growth.
“We need people who understand what it means to take a risk, open up a business, and meet a payroll,” Jones said in the letter. “We also need common-sense conservative voices from rural areas.”
Jones is a past member of the Columbus County Board of Elections, and served as the board’s chairman. Jones also served on the board of the Rural Economic Development Center. Gov. Pat McCrory recently appointed him to the Southeastern Community College Board of Trustees.
Benton is a retired educator who served 24 years in the military. He is a member of the Bladen County Board of Education, and was a former member of the Bladenboro Town Council for eight years. Like Jones, he lists his religious affiliation as Baptist.
Libertarian Thomas Howell Jr. also is making a pitch for the seat. In an interview with The Robesonian newspaper, Howell blamed both Republicans and Democrats for failing to reduce state government overreach and overregulation.
Howell said the legislature spent too much time dealing with social issues, which he says the government has no business regulating.
Howell opposed the Connect NC bond proposal. He views the process of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas as a property rights issue, and believes that fracking should not occur beneath the property adjacent landowners without permission.
The three counties comprising the district are largely rural and depend heavily on agriculture to drive their economies.