Wake County Democrats held a virtual forum recently for candidates vying for the right to represent Democrats in North Carolina’s most competitive congressional district. The newly court drawn 13th, includes southern Wake County, all of Johnston County and parts of Harnett and Wayne Counties.  Approximately 34% of Wake County is in the new 13th, which makes up 51% of the district, while29% of the district is made up of Johnston County with Harnett and Wayne making up roughly 10% each.

Had the district existed in 2020, President Biden would have won it by 1.5%, while Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson also would have won the district.

The vast majority of the Democratic primary voters in the 13th will be from Wake County, where two of the leading candidates; current NC State Senator Wiley Nickel and former State Senator Sam Searcy both reside.

In NCDP’s virtual forum Nickel is directing his critiques against his former colleague Searcy, who Nickel chastises for crossing the aisle and working with GOP legislators too often.

“I sponsored a $15 minimum wage in the state Senate, Sam Searcy did not even support it, “said Nickel. “He voted for more tax cuts for corporations, for more tax cuts for the wealthy. On teacher compensation, he was one of only five Democrats to support a bill opposed by teachers.”

Senator Nickel is running a television commercial that highlights his work with President Obama including photos of Nickel and the 44th President.

Searcy, meantime, is highlighting his success in the GOP-led General Assembly.

“In the state Senate out of all the opponents here… I am the one that has the most sponsored bills that were signed into law by Governor Cooper, so I think it is important your representation be effective,” said Searcy.

Searcy has also launched a television spot highlighting his opposition to Republican-authored election bills in the General Assembly, and his working relationship with Gov. Cooper.

Federal election reports for the first quarter of 2022 show Nickel with a little more than a million dollars cash on hand to finish the primary campaign. The total includes $900,000 Nickel loaned his own campaign. Searcy loaned his campaign $200,000 with about $227,000 to finish the campaign.

U.S. Air Force veteran Nathan Click also from Wake County and Denton Lee, a special education teacher from Johnston County, also participated in the forum. The 5th Democrat in the race, Jamie Bowles from Sampson County, did not participate.

Nickel, a criminal defense attorney was elected to the state senate representing Wake County in 2018 and 2020. Nickel during the forum and with his television ad is pointing to his work with two Democratic administrations is Washington. Nickel worked for Vice President Al Gore from 1996 to 2001 and  later worked for Barack Obama 2008 presidential campaign and served on the White House national advance staff from 2008 until 2012.

“Protecting voting rights is going to be one of my top priorities and that is what our first ad is all about,” Nickel told CJ in an interview.

Searcy grew up on farm in Hendersonville. But he left growing tobacco and helping run the dairy operations to find success as a business entrepreneur. Searcy started  several companies including Clintrax Global, a pharmaceutical research firm, and CliniStart a separate pharmaceutical research firm.

He became a state senator in 2018 and won reelection in 2020, but soon after he left public office.

“State Sen. Sam Searcy announced two days before his second term begins that he will resign his Senate seat representing Wake County, saying he’s pursuing another unspecified opportunity to serve North Carolinians,” the News and Observer reported on December 30, 2020.

Searcy endorsed recently defeated state Rep. Sydney Batch for the appointment to take his place. She remains in that seat.

“I have another opportunity to serve the people of North Carolina in a different capacity,” Searcy said. “I felt that going into the session and then resigning would’ve been far more disruptive than doing it from the beginning.”

Searcy was later appointed by Gov. Cooper to to work on the State Board of Community Colleges.

“I have really loved that,” Searcy told the News and Observer “It’s such a powerful economic development engine for the state of North Carolina and we really help a lot of first-generation, and a lot of first-generation American children, get access to either a junior degree or move on to a four-year degree in the UNC system, so it’s been very rewarding.”

Searcy told forum attendees that obtaining more federal resources for NC-13 is key to helping the fast-growing district thrive.

“My mother was a teacher’s assistant in the public school system and my dad was a factory worker, so it was the public school system that helped me become the first person in my family to graduate college,” said Searcy. “We have to have the fundamental focus on public education and the federal funding that goes with it.”

Searcy is also focusing his campaign on lowering the cost of prescription drugs and creating a government funded universal Pre-K program. But it is his exit from the state Senate after just being re-elected that is drawing fire from Nickel.

“We are going to focus on my record of service when other people cut and ran, I stayed and fought,” said Nickel. “We have seen allot of people with questions on my Sam Searcy quit the senate and I think he is going to have to answer those questions.”

Denton Lee was raised in the Cleveland Community of Johnston County and attended the University of Mount Olive on a golf scholarship receiving a Business Management degree. Lee is running a campaign based on surviving setbacks. He is open about his struggles with addiction which were exacerbated when his first wife died of brain cancer. Lee has been clean and sober for over five years and is in his ninth-year teaching exceptional children and math at Smithfield-Selma High School.

“Most of us are completely exhausted by the polarization and the refusal to seek common ground. I am a little bit of a political outcast; a political rebel having run as an unaffiliated before” said Lee. “Seventy percent of new registrations in North Carolina since January 1st are unaffiliated. People are tiring of this toxic partisanship because it just does not reflect the everyday reality of the world we live in.”

Nathan Click is the founding member of a commercial financing company, working with small and medium-sized businesses and real estate investors. He is a former U.S. Air Force officer with nine years of service and a veteran of Operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom.

Click is focusing part of his campaign on criminal justice reform including supporting legislation that would end chokeholds, ban no-knock warrants, make it easier to prosecute and sue police offers, and “limit the militarization of local police forces.”

Click says President Biden needs more reliable Democrats in Congress.

“I think the administration has done a lot of things well. I think he was handed a hot mess and I think he has handled it well. I do think all of our party has failed to rally around some of the critical initiatives that President Biden has so smartly wanted to press forward.” Justice in Policing Act must become law: This legislation would end choke holds, ban no-knock warrants, police departments.