The Race for District 9
Harry Taylor's first stump speech came a full year before he actually decided to run for office when he spoke these now-famous words: "In my lifetime I have never felt more ashamed of nor frightened by my leadership in Washington, including the Presidency," said Taylor to President George Bush himself at a town hall meeting in Charlotte more than two years ago. The media went nuts, replaying the clip in a constant loop and making Taylor the darling of every liberal in America. At the time, the Charlotte realtor had never held a public office or even considered running. "This is not something that was ever on a wish list of mine," says Taylor. "I feel compelled to stand up and speak out because of the condition of this country and the failure of the leadership of this country." "I feel like he took a very courageous stand to explain to him the feelings of a lot of Americans," says Susan Nunamaker. Taylor says it was people like Nunamaker who convinced him he could turn his conversation with the President into a seat in Congress. "I was living in Wisconsin and have since moved to North Carolina and was so thrilled to find out that I lived in the district of the man that had done that that I volunteered for his campaign, too," adds Nunamaker. She is an example of how District 9 is evolving as more liberal-leaning newcomers move to Charlotte. Today less than half of registered voters in District Nine are Republican, but that doesn't take into account the many conservatives in Union and Gaston Counties who are registered as Democrats, but generally vote Republican in the Congressional race. North Carolina pollster Tom Jensen says Taylor's notoriety as the man who stood up to the President makes him one of the most viable Democratic candidates to challenge in District 9. But notoriety only goes so far. "He's still not raising the kind of money he needs to be competitive," says Jensen. At the end of June, Taylor had raised $110,000, including a $30,000 personal loan. He's received no money from the Democratic Party, which he only just joined a year ago when he filed for office. Before then, he was a registered independent. Republican Sue Myrick, on the other hand, reported raising more than $800,000 - half of it from special interests and political groups. Jensen says, "The race hasn't really caught the attention of any outside Democratic groups that would come in and spend money on Taylor's behalf. So I think it's safe to say Sue Myrick's gonna be safe in that seat for as long as she wants it." North Carolina Democratic Party Officials ducked several interview requests to speak about Taylor's chance in the race. Past outcomes in District 9 speak loudly, though. Sue Myrick has won more than 65 percent of the vote in every election since she took the seat in 1995. Tom Jensen says that - and the big fundraising gap between Taylor and Myrick - means no one is even bothering to poll the race. But Taylor says he's done his own poll and he has a mere 3 points to pull even with Myrick. "People in this district want something different," says Taylor. "They want someone who will really lead. I don't think she has the courage to stand up and speak out. She's voted 94 percent of the time with George Bush since she's been there." "I don't consider myself a rubber stamp for anybody," says Myrick. "I vote and have always voted for what I think is right to do for the people. You know, you can say a lot of the issues I vote on he supports. Well you know so do a lot of other people. I vote based on what my district wants me to do." Myrick says the consistent support of her district in previous elections is proof of how well she represents them in Washington. She makes a point of returning to Charlotte on weekends and she keeps her chief of staff here, rather than in D.C. "My campaign strategy is doing what I believe in and talking to the people and there are a lot of people who've moved in who know nothing about what I've done in the past," says Myrick. "They don't know that I was the mayor. They know nothing about my record, so it's up to us to reach out to them." Those same people may not know who Harry Taylor is either, despite his 15 minutes of televised fame. His low-budget campaign strategy is to shake as many hands at as many community events as possible. Occasionally he makes his own event, playing the banjo on a street corner while wearing his Taylor for Congress button. With one month until Election Day, Republican Sue Myrick's well-funded and well-oiled campaign vehicle is just starting to kick in. Taylor will have to play that banjo hard and fast, just to keep up.