As we approach the midway point of early voting in North Carolina, in the western part of the state voters are electing two members of to U.S. House of Representatives in the 10th and 11th Congressional districts. Republicans Patrick McHenry and Mark Meadows respectively hold those seats and are both running for re-election. But in only one of those Congressional districts – the 10th – are the candidates debating.
Patrick McHenry has slowly risen through Republican Party leadership in the House since he was first elected to represent the Charlotte suburbs in 2004. He’s currently the GOP’s deputy whip. During the last round of redistricting earlier this decade, McHenry’s 10th district was heavily redrawn. It now looks like a person lying down with a foot up in the air. That ‘foot’ portion includes Black Mountain and parts of Asheville, a Democratic stronghold. It’s in that Democratic stronghold where McHenry’s lone debate this general election cycle took place – on Tuesday afternoon at Highland Brewing sponsored by the Council of Independent Business Owners (CIBO).
“Elections and our system of power is about making sure people are better off," McHenry said in his opening statement. "So let me ask you this question – Are you better off than you were two years ago? I think the fundamental question for the economy writ large is that people are better off.”
David Wilson Brown is the Democratic nominee. He’s worked in the private sector most recently as an IT consultant, and like many Democratic candidates across the country, he’s made healthcare a major part of his campaign - and did so in his opening statement Tuesday. “We need to guarantee healthcare for American citizens," Brown said. "We can do this through expanded and a true Medicare for all. We must cut the middle man industry whose sole profit motive is to keep us from our healthcare. And we must protect pre-existing conditions.”
While healthcare was a big topic during the debate, immigration was even bigger. McHenry took aim at those seeking to abolish the Federal Immigration & Customs Enforcement, or ICE. “This is a bigger movement by the progressive left that is anti-law enforcement," says McHenry. "I think it’s most about political gain than substantive policy. That’s why when we brought up a vote this year two months ago in the House of Representatives to abolish ICE, we had a bunch of Democrats vote ‘present’. It’s about politics, and we should be enforcing the law and defending law enforcement.”
Brown does not call for the abolishment of ICE, but does question its recent high profile actions and raids on undocumented immigrants. “We don’t need a roving band of folks with their sole focus on finding illegal immigrants," Brown says. "If illegal immigration was really the threat that it’s been made out to be – whether through crime statistics which are not there or whether to the damage to jobs and our workforce which is not there – if we really had a problem, we would go after with bigger fines and more prosecutions the companies that are knowingly hiring undocumented workers.”
Impeachment also came up, and both McHenry and Brown said they look forward to reading the Mueller Report when it is finished. That’s where the agreements on the matter ended. McHenry says he has not seen any ‘impeachable offenses’ committed by President Trump yet. “Absent something completely different from anything else we’ve heard about Russia, I don’t see there being any reason to move forward with impeachment," says McHenry. "Moreover, I think impeachment is really about a political tool to slow down the process of legislative success and the success the president has had in appointing judges.”
Brown took issue with McHenry’s further statement that an impeachment could wreck the U.S. economy, harkening back to the last time it happened 20 years ago with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. “This is what we hear a lot. The zero sum game," Brown says. "We had an impeachment in the mid 90’s, (during) our most successful economy that we’ve had. I agree with the Congressman that we do need to wait for the Mueller Report. I do think that’s important. I would not push for impeachment unless we have solid evidence coming from that report.”
While Brown’s support within the debate hall was evident, he’ll need a lot more than that at the polls. Since the 10th was redrawn earlier this decade, no Democratic candidate has cracked 43% of the vote.