98th District Race Could Affect NC Legislature's Balance Of Power
As Republicans and Democrats campaign for control of the North Carolina General Assembly this fall, a handful of close races could make the difference. One of those in north Mecklenburg County’s 98th District is a rematch of a race that helped Democrats gain ground in 2018.
Two years ago, Democrat Christy Clark of Huntersville unseated Republican John Bradford of Cornelius by just 415 votes — or only about 1 percentage point. Bradford wants his old job back. But Democrats see holding the seat as critical to chipping away at the Republican majority, or even flipping the House to their side.
“It's very important, and I think it's one of those where Christy Clark is not a 'make or break,' but they sure would like it to be a 'make,'” said Davidson College political scientist Susan Roberts.
Seeking New Leadership In Raleigh
Clark's first term saw legislative gridlock. Republicans remained in charge of both houses, but without their previous veto-proof supermajority. The session dragged on and lawmakers failed to pass a state budget last year. Clark said she wants another term to help Democrats change the picture.
“The partisan games that were played with the budget last year really did not serve the citizens of our state very well, nor the employees of our state," Clark said. "And the only way to change that is to change the leadership in Raleigh.”
Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to hold onto their 10-seat House majority. That's one of the reasons Bradford wants to go back. He noted that Democrats hold all of Mecklenburg County's 12 state House districts right now.
“I think this seat could be one of the only opportunities that we have — conservatives — to have a voice in Raleigh," Bradford said. "And I think that means something, even if you're a Democrat."
On The Issues
Clark works as paralegal. She favors more funding for public education, shifting the costs of coal-ash cleanups to Duke Energy, extending broadband internet statewide, and expanding Medicaid — especially as the number of uninsured residents rises amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“And so that's something that we just have to make a priority,” she said. “North Carolina is one of 11 states in the nation that hasn't done it. And we've been sending our tax dollars off to other states and it's time to bring those dollars back to our state and help our citizens.”
Clark sponsored legislation to study the imbalance of power between Charlotte and its suburbs on transportation planning, and to appropriate money for COVID-19 relief.
Bradford thinks there's been a lack of leadership from Raleigh during the pandemic. He organized virtual COVID-19 information meetings this spring for north Mecklenburg County community leaders. At a time when campaigning was all but halted, it gave him a chance to meet potential supporters.
“I really felt like I demonstrated the leadership we were lacking," Bradford said. "And so we need to continue to focus on our safety. That said though, we also need to get back to reopening our economy in a safe manner.”
Bradford owns two small businesses — a property management company and an online pet screening business for property owners. He's reminding people that he previously served two terms in the House and chaired two committees. He wants to lower taxes and reduce the size of the bureaucracy, especially in areas like transportation and education. But he also says he voted for teacher pay increases when he served.
The 98th District may wind up as one of the General Assembly's most expensive races this year. Clark has outraised Bradford. She brought in about $250,000 to Bradford's $137,000 as of June 30, the most recent data available.
Roberts, the political scientist, said both candidates are getting money not only from individuals, but their parties and other groups.
“Their internal polling, both Clark and Bradford, show it, maybe not a dead heat, but pretty close," she said. "And so that's why they're throwing a lot into this race.”
Most of that money is going into printed fliers and online marketing. But this hasn't been a normal campaign.
Bradford has held a variety of small meetings with voters and advertised online — including a YouTube video. In it, he knocks and then opens a door, and makes his pitch: “Hey, I'm John Bradford, I'm coming to you with a virtual door knock because your safety's important to me. I'm running for the North Carolina House of Representatives …”
Volunteers for Christy Clark have been going door to door. But they're not knocking, just leaving information. Small meetings also have been important — though mostly online, she said.
“Tons of Zoom fundraisers and Zoom meet-and-greets and Zoom events and speaking engagements," Clark said. "We have gotten very accommodated to Zoom. That's the world we've been living in.”
Wanted: Unaffiliated Votes
Their goal is to win over unaffiliated voters.
A court-ordered legislative redistricting last year left the 98th District mostly intact. Republicans outnumber Democrats 34% to 26% in District 98. But it's considered a battleground because unaffiliated voters are the largest group at 39%.
And those voters could well determine the outcome not only of this race, but also which party controls the legislature – and runs the next redistricting.
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