The race to succeed U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger in North Carolina’s 10th District is down to two Republicans (and an underdog Democrat), and each GOP candidate is claiming the mantle as most conservative as they head toward a runoff election Aug. 17.
For David Huffman, Catawba County’s sheriff, that means invoking his ties to President Bush through his Homeland Security work, his chaplaincy role for the North Carolina Sheriffs Association, and his membership in the National Rifle Association.
For State Rep. Patrick McHenry of Cherryville, it means emphasizing his work on President Bush’s 2000 campaign (including a stint monitoring the Florida recount), his subsequent role in the president’s Department of Labor, and his oversight of an Internet-based campaign for a Washington media company that opposed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2000 campaign for the U.S. Senate.
For both, it means that each discredits his opponent’s conservative credentials, as McHenry and Huffman have stepped up attacks since voters chose them as the top two GOP candidates in the primary July 20.
“After 22 years as sheriff, all desperate David Huffman can do is exaggerate his own record and tell lies about Representative McHenry,” wrote McHenry’s campaign manager, Jason Deans, in a press release. “It’s no wonder Huffman couldn’t carry a majority of his home county in the primary.”
McHenry has challenged Huffman’s claim that he “reports directly to President Bush and Secretary Tom Ridge,” as a member of the Homeland Security Task Force for the National Association of Counties. Huffman, in a radio ad and press release, alleged that McHenry questioned his service on the task force.
In other tit-for-tat accusations, Huffman questioned why McHenry filed to run in the district the day before he bought a home there, and that McHenry misrepresents his business experience “by portraying himself as a successful business owner.” McHenry’s biography says he owns McHenry Real Estate, “a property procurement and management firm.” Huffman alleges in a radio ad that McHenry obtained his real estate license only 38 days before running for Congress.
Meanwhile, McHenry has attached Huffman to one of conservative Christians’ least favorite former presidents, citing a 1997 Charlotte Observer article in which Huffman went to a White House conference on hate crimes “and came back a fan of Democratic President Bill Clinton.” McHenry has also alleged that Huffman has run afoul of election laws, citing a Federal Election Commission letter that said Huffman failed to provide required information about loans to his campaign.
Each has tried to one-up the other on endorsements as well. Huffman has the support of former U.S. Sens. Jim Broyhill and Lauch Faircloth, in addition to two Republican leaders in the North Carolina House and Senate: Rep. Joe Kiser of Lincoln County and Sen. Jim Forrester of Gaston County. Ballenger backs McHenry, as does Sandy Lyons and Carolyn Moretz. Lyons lost to McHenry and Huffman in the July primary, as did Moretz’s husband, George.
But in a district that Congressional Quarterly profiles as “solid GOP country,” Huffman’s and McHenry’s claims and credentials to conservative principles are nearly indistinguishable.
“I’m pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-gay marriage…,” McHenry says in a television advertisement. “…I’m a Christian conservative, I’m a member of the NRA, and I will fight for our values.”
“He’s a good family man, a good church man, and this man will stand firm for those values that we cherish and we champion,” Broyhill says in a Huffman campaign ad.
The winner will face Democrat Anne Fischer in the November general election.
Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal. Contact him at [email protected]