Mark Meadows routed Vance Patterson in the July 17 Republican runoff for the 11th Congressional District. That sets the stage for a fall face-off against Democrat Hayden Rogers.
Meadows collected 76 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the State Board of Elections.
In the May 8 primary, the Cashiers real-estate developer topped a crowded field that included seven other challengers, garnering 38 percent of the vote — just below the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. Patterson finished second with 24 percent — about the same level of support he achieved in the runoff. The day after his defeat, Patterson released a statement congratulating Meadows and supporting him against his Democratic opponent.
Rogers, a WNC native who lives in Brasstown, is incumbent Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler’s former chief of staff. He jumped into the race in February, soon after his boss decided not to seek re-election, easily defeating his primary competition with 56 percent of the vote. (Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell finished second with 30 percent.)
During last year’s redistricting, however, GOP leaders in Raleigh excluded most of Asheville from the 11th District, putting it on the short list for the most conservative political turf in the state. Many observers say the political goal was to siphon off enough Democrats to make the 11th District more easily winnable by Republicans while maintaining incumbent GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry's solid base in the 10th, where most of Asheville now resides.
About 100 Meadows supporters gathered at the Hampton Inn in Fletcher for a barbecue-flavored celebration, and many were hopeful about their candidate’s chances in November.
God on his side
A jubilant mood prevailed as Meadows worked the hotel lobby, thanking campaign staff and volunteers. But he saved his biggest praise for another helper.
"I want to give God the glory. I was OK with whatever the outcome was, because I knew he was in control and I wasn't," Meadows proclaimed to applause. "2012 will be a great year for this country, for the people of WNC, because we're going to fight and reclaim America the way that God intended to and the way our Founding Fathers knew that the Constitution would preserve."
Declining to even mention Patterson, Meadows instead took aim at Rogers, whom he sought to portray as a Washington insider linked to President Barack Obama and the national Democratic Party.
"Hayden's been up there for six years learning the Washington way," asserted Meadows. Alluding to recent media reports that Rogers plans to campaign in the district instead of attending the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in September, Meadows added, "You can't distance yourself from the president's party in Charlotte but go up and vote with him in Washington, D.C."
And despite the redrawn district’s conservative demographics and growing national support, Meadows also sought to cast his campaign as the underdog.
"We are going up against the Rogers/Obama well-oiled, well-organized, well-funded machine. And what we've got to do is be better organized," he maintained. "You know what we've got that he doesn't have? We've got a voice of the people and a grass-roots support that no one can equal."
The Democrat’s campaign released a statement congratulating Meadows on the runoff victory. "However," added Rogers, "there is a profound difference between who we are: our background, leadership ability and vision for Western North Carolina and this great nation. I am eager to illustrate those differences to the people of the 11th District and look forward to a spirited and informative campaign.”
Rogers rakes in dollars
Until July 17, Rogers was free to focus on raising money and organizing for the fall campaign while his potential Republican opponents duked it out. And according to the latest reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, he's amassed a huge financial advantage.
Since entering the race five months ago, Rogers has collected about $491,000 more than the total amount raised by both Republicans, excluding personal loans.
Between April 19 and June 30 alone, Rogers’ campaign raised about $176,000. As of June 30, the candidate had about $192,000 in cash and no debt. Roughly 63 percent of the total haul has come from individual donations, according to the commission. And in a July 16 press release, the Democrat’s campaign boasted that about 70 percent of those individual contributors live in Western North Carolina. The remainder of Rogers’ campaign contributions came from political action committees.
“I am overwhelmed and incredibly thankful for the support that our campaign has continued to receive from so many people across the 11th District,” the candidate said in the statement.
In contrast, Meadows’ campaign has raised about $229,000 since last year. Roughly 40 percent of that came from individuals and 7 percent from PACs. He’s lent his own campaign about $264,000; as of June 27, the campaign had $33,718 in cash, according to the latest Election Commission report.
Patterson's campaign was even more strapped, reporting an overall debt of about $555,000 as of June 30. The Morganton businessman almost entirely self-funded his campaign, lending it $322,000 since launching his bid last year. Individual donors kicked in $10,531; the campaign did not accept PAC contributions.
National groups step in
Still, Meadows will probably see a major jump in fundraising in the coming weeks, as he consolidates his support and unifies the party after months of internal rancor.
The day after Meadows’ runoff win, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced that he’d achieved "Young Gun" status, the organization's top-tier designation. "Mark Meadows [is] leading the pack as Republicans continue to send a loud and clear message that we will hold Democrats accountable for their unpopular partisan agenda,” committee Chair Pete Sessions asserted in a statement.
The previous week, Meadows had gained the support of two powerful national conservative groups: FreedomWorks (whose board is chaired by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey) and Patriot Voices (chaired by former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum).
"Whether it's his commitment to fighting for the unborn, improving education by returning decision-making to the local level, standing up for religious freedom, repealing Obamacare or shrinking the size of government, Mark Meadows has demonstrated that he is the right candidate at the right time," Santorum declared in a recent statement.
The national House Conservatives Fund, led by Rep. McHenry, is a top Meadows donor and has indicated it plans further support.
Meanwhile, Rogers has already been broadcasting his own national support, setting the stage for what looks to be a bare-knuckle power struggle.
On July 9, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced that Rogers had gained a spot in its competitive Red to Blue program, reserved for the highest-priority Democratic races nationwide.
“As a small-business owner, Hayden Rogers is a proven problem-solver who knows how to balance a budget, meet payroll and create jobs,” Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the committee chair, maintained in a statement. “Hayden will build on the successful track record of Rep. Heath Shuler by putting partisanship aside to rebuild our economy. With his strong commitment to the mountain values of family, faith, hard work and independence, Hayden will fight tirelessly for Western North Carolina families and seniors.”
The day after Meadows' win, the committee went on the attack, slamming him as a Florida native and right-wing extremist who "supports dangerous policies that cost seniors and hard-working families while giving tax breaks to millionaires and companies shipping American jobs overseas."
— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.