Thursday, November 14, 2013

Setting the stage for who'll replace Thom Tillis in NC-98

The storyline of who will replace NC Speaker, Thom Tillis, as the North Mecklenburg Representative in the General Assembly started to officially take shape this week with outgoing Cornelius mayor, Lynette Rinker (Rep), throwing her hat in the ring.  Her announcement comes in the last month before she steps down to be replaced by Mayor-elect Chuck Travis.

When Ms Rinker decided earlier this year that she would not seek re-election to the mayor's post, one of her stated reasons included plans to seek higher office.  Speculation immediately centered on the NC House 98 seat that would be vacant with fellow Cornelian, Thom Tillis, deciding to run for US Senate.  In what was surely an unintended swipe at another fellow Cornelian, NC Senator Jeff Tarte, Rinker said at the time to “As I consider other offices that are up for up for election in 2014, it just didn’t seem right to file and run for mayor if I’m looking ahead at something else.”  Rinker was elevated to mayor from commissioner when her predecessor, Jeff Tarte, decided to run for State Senate almost immediately after winning re-election as Cornelius's mayor.

How Rinker's candidacy plays with local Republicans remains to be seen.

As mayor her biggest achievement has arguably been carrying water for toll road supporters in Raleigh who want to widen I-77 with HOT lanes.  Those supporters include NC-98 current office holder, Speaker Thom Tillis. 

Back in January of this year, Rinker was fairly defensive in this video at being accused of supporting HOT lanes.  By the time spring rolled around, she had obviously changed her tune - casting the tie-breaker in a surprise vote on Cornelius's Board to officially support tolls on I-77.  Only time will tell, but this tie-breaking vote on tolls potentially puts Mayor Rinker in the same company as former Mayor Bill Thunberg of Mooresville - meaning, a mayor who cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of a highly controversial project that did not really pass the "common sense" test.   Mayor Thunberg cast the tie-breaker that effectively created the Mi-Connection cable company - a decision that has gone disastrously for the towns of Mooresville and Davidson.  We all need to hope that Mayor Rinker's tie-breaker for tolls does not lead to a similar result for the entire region.

In light of all that, another way to look at Ms Rinker's decision to not run for re-election as mayor is that she did not want to face a potentially tough re-election fight similar to what just played out in Huntersville.  In Cornelius's southern neighbor, Mayor Jill Swain, won re-election last week by a mere 27 votes after a bare-knuckle fight against toll road opponents.  With Cornelius also being a hotbed of anti-toll sentiment, running for re-election - and potentially losing - would not be a politically smart move for one angling for higher office.  Losing one office just before seeking another is not a winning strategy.  (See the results for Council/Congressional/Mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock as an example.)

Add to all of the above the fact that the battle over toll roads these past few months has in fact taken a toll on many conservative activists, and the stage is set for a closer and more interesting race than might be expected in this heavily Republican leaning district.

Enter stage left, Democrat Natasha Marcus of Davidson whose campaign sent out a press release Thursday indicating her intentions towards this open seat.

Ms Marcus has been a leading progressive activist in the North Mecklenburg area, and her home base of operation during the campaign will likely center around Davidson's Precinct 206.  The final stop of her campaign kick-off tour around the district will end at Summit Coffee on Davidson's main street with Davidson Mayor, John Woods, MCing the event. (See Davidson Village...Last Bastion for Democrats in the LKN Area. for background on this precinct.)

While any Democrat running in this district faces a steep up-hill climb, Ms Marcus will bring advantages with her.

Her leadership role in local progressive activist groups will provide a base of volunteers.  She knows the issues and will be able to capitalize on certain social issues if they enter the campaign.  For example Precinct 206, centered around Davidson College, cast more votes against Amendment 1 last year than any precinct in Mecklenburg County except for one.  Finally, she will have a solid team of people supporting her.

While I don't know Ms Marcus other than to recognize her from around Davidson - often seeing her registering voters at the farmers market, I do know some of the people who will be helping and advising in her campaign.  She will have a team that is both focused and dedicated.  Expect them to approach this effort with a steely-eyed professionalism.  Do not expect them to make any big mistakes.  They write checks.  More importantly, they know people who write checks.

Will they be able to pull it off?  Who knows?

One thing is for sure, this story is going to have a number of subplots before the curtain falls next November and the first of those subplots may very well be if/when another actor shows up to give either of these ladies a primary challenge.

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