Harry Taylor's 2006 moment in the spotlight showed him quickly how a lone citizen could make a mark. His decision to run for Congress wasn't quite so quick.
Folks urged Taylor to run for office after he dressed down President Bush at a town Hall meeting at Central Piedmont Community College in April 2006. But he says that wasn't what led him to file last week against U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick.
"It just started gnawing at me," says Taylor, a real estate broker. "I [didn't] want to get into politics, but ... I finally decided that if I didn't do anything more than take Sue Myrick's vote away from her, which I feel has been abused for most of the 13 years she's been there, then that would be worth doing."
(Full disclosure: Taylor has represented CL in real estate deals, most recently in 2005.)
Initial reluctance aside, Taylor now says he doesn't even anticipate losing his bid for the 9th District seat, a pronouncement that renders him not simply an idealist, but a bona fide optimist as well. Because if he is successful, he'll be beating some pretty strong odds.
If he wins the May 6 Democratic primary against Russ Overby, an engineer and businessman, Taylor will face off against U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, whose Republican primary opposition is Jack Stratton, a Gastonia resident and former Mecklenburg County commission candidate who battled social services for the return of his 10 children.
Beating Myrick won't be easy. The 9th District, made up of parts of Gaston, Mecklenburg and Union counties, is a comfortably Republican district. In 2007, 43 percent of voters were registered Republican. 32 percent Democrat and 25 percent Independent. If he were to win, he would be the first Democrat to represent the district since 1963. Myrick's served since 1995. Myrick's raised nearly $522,000 as of Dec. 31 -- dwarfing Taylor's $61,000.
Could Taylor, a soft-spoken 63-year-old environmentalist and war critic, dispatch Myrick from Congress? Don't bet on it, says Ted Arrington, a political science professor at UNC-Charlotte.
"Taylor should make [the race] interesting," says Arrington. "It might generate a few additional votes for the statewide candidates and the commissioner candidates and other local Democrats ... but I don't have any illusions that he's going to beat her."
Still, Taylor's getting a lot more donations -- and certainly more Web attention -- than previous Myrick opponents. And it's still early: Contributions likely won't pick up for either candidate until after the primary.
Arrington suggests Taylor would need one of four scenarios to win: Myrick would either need to be caught in a scandal, Republicans would have to suffer losses akin to the 1932 Democratic landslide, a well-financed Libertarian candidate would have to split the conservative vote, or Taylor would have to raise several hundred thousand dollars to buy TV ads. Even in a year likely favorable to Democrats, Arrington says, such scenarios aren't likely.
Taylor was raised in a staunch Republican household. His father ran a real estate company; his stepmother (his mother died when he was young) was a homemaker.
He cast his early votes for Republicans but says he switched his party affiliation to Independent about 30 years ago. Not until last summer did he register as a Democrat.
Taylor opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and wants troops out; Myrick voted for the war and continues to support it. Taylor supports universal health care; last year Myrick voted against the expansion of SCHIP, a children's health care program, calling it a "backdoor to universal health care."
A member of her staff once sent him a copy of Congressional Quarterly, the magazine that chronicles inside-the-beltway politics. Inside was a column titled "The Harry Taylor Moment," in which columnist Craig Crawford opined that Taylor's words -- and Bush's reaction -- may have marked the defining "jump-the-shark" moment for Bush's presidency.
Could it mark the beginning of the end for Myrick as well? Taylor certainly hopes so.