BEAUFORT — The current crop of Democratic candidates for North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District seat spent Saturday morning making their case to members of the Carteret County Democratic Party at their annual convention, held at the courthouse.
The candidates, running in the special election for the now-vacant seat once held by late Rep. Walter Jones Jr., were invited to the meeting by County Democratic Party Chairperson Tina Rodriguez.
“Under the normal course of business, we are having our county convention,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “This year is a little different because we have a congressional race thrust upon us to fill the seat of Walter Jones. We have this special election and, surprisingly, six Democrats have filed.”
The race for the U.S. House seat garnered 27 challengers, of which the Democrats include Gregory Humphrey, Richard Bew, Ike Johnson, Dana Outlaw, Ernest Reeves and Allen Thomas.
The event kicked off with four of the six Democratic candidates – Mr. Thomas, Mr. Humphrey, Mr. Bew and Mr. Johnson – speaking to party members. Each of the candidates touched on key issues they felt were important to Carteret County.
“For this district in particular, (there are) concerns about offshore drilling,” Mr. Thomas, a former Greenville mayor, said. “I intend to carry on the legacy of Congressman Jones in opposing offshore drilling and look for more efficient ways to handle our energy needs going forward.”
Each of the candidates triggered applause from the audience after describing their opposition to offshore drilling.
“I was born and raised in this state and learned to appreciate the beaches that we have,” Mr. Humphrey said. “I don’t want them destroyed by offshore drilling. It’s not worth the sacrifice to (pursue) offshore drilling.”
Mr. Johnson said future candidates must work toward preserving the coast.
“I’m a candidate who cares about the beautiful shorelines we have in this great state, and they must be preserved,” Mr. Johnson said.
Each of the candidates who spoke Saturday also expressed similar stances on medical coverage.
“I have spent an intense amount of time here in preparation for running for this office,” Mr. Bew said. “What I’ve heard from you is that health care is a big concern.”
Mr. Bew told the story of one of his grandchildren, who benefitted from comprehensive health coverage. He said he wants that level of care for all people.
“Because we have good access to health care in the military, he got the (care) that he needed,” Mr. Bew said of his grandchild. “And today he is a rambunctious, loudmouth, annoying, 4-year-old kid. I thought to myself, I’m blessed by socialized medicine, essentially, by being in the military. Why is that we don’t want that for everybody? That just makes so much sense to me.”
Mr. Johnson echoed Mr. Bew’s sentiments.
“I believe every American deserves equal access to health care,” Mr. Johnson said. “I care about your families, their dreams, their challenges, their successes. From our senior citizens, who are concerned about their elder care, to their grandchildren (and) their children’s future.”
While the candidates had similar beliefs on some issues, they also tried to differentiate themselves from their primary opponents. Mr. Thomas did so by touching on the ongoing recovery effort in the area.
“(Carteret County) is still recovering from the devastation of the impact from the hurricane,” Mr. Thomas said of Hurricane Florence.
He later added that it’s important public officials be proactive so rare storms like Florence don’t become an annual economic hindrance to the county.
“We’ve got to have some urgency and get in front of this, strategically,” Mr. Thomas said.
Unlike his competitors, Mr. Humphrey described himself as a “pro-life candidate.”
“I believe that life begins at (conception), but there are some exceptions to abortion or for having abortion,” Mr. Humphrey said. “That would be if a woman is raped or (in cases of) incest. If it is determined that she is carrying a stillborn child, I don’t feel she should have to carry it full term.”
Ms. Rodriguez said Mr. Humphrey’s stance on abortion, while not popular among Democratic voters, represents the diversity of opinions within the party.
“The party is a huge tent,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “So don’t let it surprise you that we have pro-life Democrats, because we do across this state. Just like we have Democrats who support the right to have their hunting guns. That’s what makes us a big tent, we try to let everybody in and try to hear every side of their story and come together and do what’s best for all people.”
Mr. Johnson, a retired Marine Corps. major, emphasized his support for soldiers and their families.
“I know the military,” Mr. Johnson said. “When a veteran situation pops up, I will be that congressman that will help you because I care about you.”
Mr. Johnson also touted himself as an underdog in the race.
“Unlike others, I’m not wealthy,” Mr. Johnson said. “I’m not relying on corporate PACs (political action commitees) to fund this campaign. This campaign is going to be funded by you and the people of the 3rd District.”
While each of the candidates said they considered their Democratic challengers to be good people and worthy of support, at least one candidate poked fun at their possible Republican competitors.
“Nothing made me more ecstatic than when I saw 17 Republicans filing for this office,” Mr. Thomas said. “I saw one with a shotgun saying ‘bless your heart.’ Bless their hearts.”
Each of the four candidates who spoke Saturday said they were confident they would be able to continue Rep. Jones’ work.
“I thought we had a congressman who represented the people effectively,” Mr. Bew said. “He was a great constituent advocate and his loss would be a great loss to the district. While I didn’t agree with him on every issue, ideologically, I am convinced I can be the same level of public service he was.”
Absentee voting for the 3rd District seat began March 15. A special primary election will be held Tuesday, April 30, with the general election set for July unless a runoff election is needed.
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.