Asheville's mayor to run for Congress in the 10th District


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With any luck (as far as we're concerned), folks in Gaston, Lincoln and Catawba counties could soon find themselves represented by a Congresswoman from Asheville. On Tuesday, Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy formally announced that she will run for U.S. Congress, representing North Carolina’s 10th District. We figure that's about as close as an Asheville mayor has ever gotten, politically, to Gastonia.

“Washington is broken, and people are tired of watching the bickering and political posturing while businesses and families are struggling,” Bellamy said in a statement released Tuesday. “As mayor, I’m expected to get results and we should expect no less from our representatives.”

Bellamy is in her second-term as mayor of Asheville, and she was the first African-American and youngest person ever elected to represent the city. She first has to win a May Democratic primary before facing four-term incumbent, Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry, in the 2012 general election.

Before he was elected to Congress in 2005, McHenry, a Gaston County native, was a loyal lackey to Karl Rove, serving as national coalition director for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign. McHenry has slowly climbed the Republican leadership ladder on Capitol Hill, thanks to what was once a relatively safe seat.

All of that has changed with the recent redistricting of North Carolina’s congressional map. The Republican majority in Raleigh, anxious after having been out of power for more than a century, redrew the maps to make it easier to defeat Democratic Congressman like Heath Shuler and Larry Kissell. “The 10th was redrawn to move Asheville out of Heath Shuler’s 11th district and make it harder for Shuler to hold,” said Eric Heberlig, an associate professor of political science at UNC-Charlotte.

“But for an ambitious Democrat in Asheville, it does open up an opportunity, because you weren’t previously likely to challenge an incumbent from your own party,” added Heberlig.

“The 10th has historically been one of the most conservative districts, not only in North Carolina, but in the South,” said John Hood, the president and chairman of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative North Carolina think tank. “But if the map stands, there is some new territory that is not as reliably Republican.”

Mayor Bellamy, meet the Bible Belt

This switch has opened the door for a liberal like Bellamy to take her chances on a race right in the heart of the Bible Belt. “Now the district has been redrawn substantially, and if it stays as it is currently drawn, it probably won’t be as safe for McHenry as it used to be,” said Hood. “I think this may be the best chance Democrats have had in many years to pick up the 10th District.”

Bellamy will have a shot at winning in November, but she faces a tough road ahead that will take her into areas with fast-food chains and Baptist churches on nearly every other street corner. Asheville is separated from the other end of the district by well over 100 miles and more than 1,000 feet of elevation change. But the cultural differences are even more dramatic. The rest of Bellamy’s new district is a far cry away from the drum-circles and street festivals of downtown Asheville.

“The best shot is to have a candidate well matched with the dominant types of voters in the district,” said Heberlig. “Voters in rural areas are almost automatically going to distrust people from urban areas, and it will be hard to cast votes for them.”

With double-digit unemployment in most of the counties that make up the 10th District, Bellamy will certainly be trying to play up her role as a job creator in Asheville, and will likely run on an almost purely economic platform.

“The burden will be on Bellamy to find a message to communicate to voters in the rural areas,” said Heberlig. “She needs to show that despite being from Asheville, she understands their issues and their values.”

Traditionally, Rep. Sue Myrick and Rep. Mel Watt have been the Congressional faces for Charlottre, with two-term incumbent Democrat Kissell representing the rural counties to the east, and McHenry the conservative rural counties to the west. With her promise on yesterday's press release to "get the job done and put North Carolina and the country back to work," Bellamy could conceivably change that dynamic, and bring a fresh face — and from far away — to the Charlotte-area political scene. It will be uphill battle for the Asheville mayor, but one thing’s for sure: the race in the 10th will be one to keep an eye on.


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