Perhaps it was inevitable.
With the announced retirement of reliably progressive but staid 4th District U.S. Rep. David Price, the race to replace him has degenerated into a madcap scramble to the extreme left.
Most of the 4th District is in the western Research Triangle region. The bulk of its population is in Durham and Orange counties, the most progressive counties in North Carolina, and the other counties in the district are not populous enough to moderate it much. Analysis by the John Locke Foundation found the 4th to be the safest Democratic district in the state. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will almost certainly win in November.
By conventional measures, state Sen. Valerie Foushee should be the clear frontrunner. She has spent nearly a decade in the General Assembly and has served as a county commissioner. She is reliably progressive, having earned just a 20 out of 100 Civitas Action Freedom Score in the 2021 session. She claims that she will be “a leader to reform our criminal justice system and tackle systemic racism” in Congress.
Foushee is not having an easy ride to the Democratic nomination, however. Standing in the way of her being North Carolina’s third current serving black member of Congress is Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam.
As she notes repeatedly, Allam is the first Muslim woman elected to public office in North Carolina. Allam bills herself as an “unprecedented progressive” and occupies the far left of the political spectrum in Durham. That puts her high in the ranking of extreme leftists in North Carolina, if not the county. She advocates for government-funded abortions and served as a political director for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2020.
That gap between progressive and extreme progressive is reflected in their endorsements. Foushee is mainly backed by local elected officials and black leaders. Allam’s positions have earned her the favor of radical leftists such as congressional “squad” members Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and groups such as Durham People’s Alliance, Our Revolution, and the Sunrise Movement.
Allam’s strong backing from leftists allowed her to raise $676,000 in campaign contributions compared to Foushee’s $483,000.
The 4th Congressional District is dominated by left-leaning Durham and Orange counties. Graphic Source: the North Carolina General Assembly.
The issue that has changed the simmering conflict between Allam and Foushee supporters into open conflict is Israel. Allam has long been a critic of the Jewish state. She signed an open letter supporting Omar after the congresswoman was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks. Allam also engaged in an old anti-Semitic trope herself about secret Jewish control of the government, tweeting, “This is the United States of Israel.” While Allam has disavowed some of her extreme anti-Jewish rhetoric, there is no sign she has altered her anti-Israeli policies.
Understandably, supporters of Israel are alarmed by the prospect of an Allam primary win. Individuals donated over $165,000 through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a bipartisan pro-Israeli organization, in the first quarter of 2022. That support, in turn, caused the Progressive Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party to withdraw its endorsement of Foushee. The Democratic Majority for Israel PAC has also endorsed Foushee.
Another at least potential difference between the candidates is their relationship with the police. While Foushee advocates for criminal justice reforms, she is a former Chapel Hill Police Department employee. Allam, who once tweeted “F*** the police,” is mealy-mouthed when directly asked about defunding the police but opposes what she calls “consistent increases in police surveillance.”
Both of those issues show that Allam has the inside track in a race to the extreme left.
The former American Idol runner-up, Clay Aiken, is in his second run to be the first openly gay member of Congress from North Carolina. While he does not have much chance of winning, he could draw enough votes in the eight-candidate field to force a runoff between Allam and Foushee.
Controversial 11th District Congressman Madison Cawthorn has become a political lightning rod and fundraising godsend for Democrats. If elected, Allam will similarly become the gift that keeps on giving for Republicans. The difference is that, while Cawthorn’s antics and missteps have made him an inadvertent darling of the left, Allam’s extreme ideology would make her a gift for the right. If she wins the primary, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to invoke her name across North Carolina during this fall’s general election and for years to come.
Both extreme progressives and Republicans hope for an Allam victory on May 17.