“There are two Bobs,” says GOP candidate Renee Ellmers, referring to Democrat Bob Etheridge, the six-term congressman representing North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional district.
“One Bob lives here in the 2nd District, and the other lives in Washington, D.C.,” she says to me in an interview last week. The North Carolina Bob is a great guy, helpful, friendly, concerned with people’s issues, she says. The other Bob, says Ellmers, votes the way his party wants him to, and for things that people don’t want, such as the health care bill.
Renee Ellmers’ positions on issues are straightforward: The health care bill passed by Congress is the wrong way to go, the stimulus didn’t work; business faces an uncertain future under Obama, we need tax reductions across the board and a clear and unfettered path for small business to start hiring again.
She is a hawk on border control and terrorism and opposes the cap-and-trade bill that would tax carbon emission-generating businesses. Mr. Etheridge voted for the cap-and-trade bill and also voted to close Gitmo.
In just about every sense she is the polar opposite of Mr. Etheridge, so voters have a pretty clear choice in November.
But like anyone challenging an incumbent, she has had an uphill climb. Until June 14, when Mr. Etheridge distinguished himself as the don’t-ask-me-the-wrong-question-or-I’ll-put-you-in-a-hammer-lock Congressman from North Carolina.
The video of Mr. Etheridge grabbing and wrestling with a student reporter on the sidewalk went viral and it appears has hurt his poll numbers. In the latest poll after the incident Ms. Ellmers held a one-point lead. On You Tube over 2.8 million have viewed the video.
I ask her if there is a larger story behind the incident, to which she responds that perhaps arrogance and the knowledge he may be vulnerable could have prompted the reaction. She says the campaign will use the impact of the video and draw attention to it, but also seems to recognize the possibility of overdoing it and causing a backlash.
As much as I disagree with Mr. Etheridge on issues, he is human like we are and humans get angry and lose their cool. I don’t condemn him for the behavior — he apologized — because there but for the grace of God go I.
On solid issues like health care Ms. Ellmers feels she is on the side of the voters. A nurse, Ms. Ellmers began speaking out against the bill when it first surfaced. She tells me people have approached her and said they went to Mr. Etheridge’s office “and begged him not to vote for the health care bill.”
“He has lost voters who did not want him to vote for health care,” she says. And she says many people are puzzled as to why he has voted for bills generally unfavorable to the population.
In a national Rasmussen poll released today, “Sixty-one percent (61%) believe the new health care law will increase the cost of care and 56% favor repeal of the law.”
As of June 30, Renee Ellmers had $41,954, while Bob Etheridge had $1,208,055, of which almost half came from PACs. Such is the world we live in today, where incumbents, especially those like Mr. Etheridge who have been in office for more than 10 years, enjoy a disproportionate and I believe corrosive advantage in campaign funding.
Ms. Ellmers says Mr. Etheridge has not had a competitive opponent in recent years and therefore has had the opportunity to store up funds.
Mr. Etheridge’s PAC money has come not from organizations in North Carolina, but national interest-group organizations representing beer wholesalers, pilots, bankers, labor unions, hospitals, realtors, and car dealers. I guess this is standard for incumbents, and is probably the subject of another article, but you can’t help noticing how influential national interest groups must be when they fund half of a congressman’s campaign.
Ms. Ellmers says her campaign is taking full advantage of the latest social networking tools to talk about the issues and increase awareness, but says they will have to run TV ads close to the election, if only to remind voters that there is an alternative in the 2nd congressional district.
In the end Ms. Ellmers believes issues will win the day. She says health care is the issue people keep bringing up, along with jobs and the economy and the uncertain business environment. She says Mr. Etheridge has only fueled the fires of uncertainty with his votes on health care (the full impact of which is still not known), cap-and-trade (higher costs for energy and new taxes), and the looming expiration of the 2003 tax cuts — on which Mr. Etheridge has been silent.
One killer in particular, she says, is the estate tax — which without action will increase to an astonishing 55%. Without exemptions this tax would crush the in-family transfer of assets like farms and small businesses.
Probably the 2nd district is ready for a change, I think. Mr. Etheridge has been in office sine 1996. Many have stayed in Congress for much longer, I know. But today is so different than 1996.
It isn’t just another decade, a continuation of the same assumptions and policy paradigms that prevailed in 1996. It is a different country, weathered by an impeachment, 9-11, two very long and faraway wars, an economic crisis with government as a major actor, and a stock market that is no higher than it was 11 years ago.
In this environment, as we are seeing, the ones in the driver’s seat have the most to lose.