The Beat: Fighting for votes

Campaign season came to a close this week with local candidates and political parties engaged in an epic battle for votes.

In one of the clashes, U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler fought off Republican challenger Jeff Miller in a final debate on WWNC radio's “Take a Stand!” During the sometimes contentious discussion, the two candidates for WNC's 11th Congressional district sparred over the negative tone of each other’s campaign ads, health-care reform, cap-and-trade legislation and the use of notes (Shuler lambasted Miller for bringing notes and talking points into the studio; Miller maintained that he was simply abiding by the rules that both of them had agreed to).

In an online post, "Shuler & Miller Debate on Matt Mittan's 'Take a Stand!'"Mountain Xpress offered live play-by-play Twitter coverage, while the Asheville Citizen-Times summed up the action the next day with "11th District Contenders Heath Shuler, Jeff Miller Get Testy in Radio Debate." For those who missed it, WWNC sister station 880 AM The Revolution also offered a full video-and-photo recap.

In the days since, Shuler's assertion during the debate that "If there is no viable alternative [to Nancy Pelosi], I will be running for Speaker of the House" has raised national-media eyebrows, with Politico reporting that Shuler is the first Democrat to openly declare he would seek the post.

“I can do as good a job as anybody in the U.S. Congress, because I can actually bring people together,” Shuler said. “I can bring people together to the table to talk about the issues and not about the political structure, and that’s what’s destroying the whole process in Washington — the politics.”

The New York Times took a slightly more cautious angle, however, reporting that "It is not clear whether Mr. Shuler, who until now has kept a relatively low profile, actually intends to launch a campaign for speaker, or if his comments were just meant as a dramatic rebuttal to his opponent, Jeff Miller, who has tried to link Mr. Shuler to Ms. Pelosi throughout the campaign. His office did not respond to a request for comment."

Xpress
broke the story of Shuler's interest in the position in August, reporting in "Blue Dogs Rule?" that, although he acknowledged his party may lose seats in the midterm elections, he saw advantages for his Blue Dog caucus.

"The margins [between parties] will narrow after this next election. And I truly feel that … the Blue Dogs will have the opportunity to run this country," he predicted. "Because how can legislation pass without us? We are the deciding vote. … Blue Dogs represent how 80 percent of Americans feel."

In a related online post – "Speaker of the House Heath Shuler?"Xpress has video of the congressman's first mention of the run, in which he said, "Who have I been talking to about running our country? The middle. So I haven’t ruled out the idea that I might not run [for Speaker].”

Fighting off or fighting for our votes?

In the battle to entice early voters to the polls, the Buncombe County Democratic and Republican parties both cried foul. As reported by WLOS, Democrats alleged that Republicans were resorting to voter intimidation at a number of early-voting locations, citing one of the local GOP's own videos that shows Chairman Chad Nesbitt insisting that Democrats move their campaign literature outside a GOP tent.

In response, the GOP logged its own complaints with the Board of Elections, claiming that Democrats were also intimidating voters and violating election-buffer laws. To help make their case, the Republicans released a video and an accompanying statement alleging that "Leadership of the Buncombe County Democrat Party was filmed electioneering with indifference to the poll distance marker at the downtown Asheville early-voting site."

In terms of fundraising this election season, Xpress reported that "Buncombe Dems Have Raised More than Double What the GOP Did in 2010."

Local Democrats hauled in almost $47,000 in funds from 700 individual donors from Jan. 1 to Oct. 16 (the end of the last reporting period), according to reports filed with the State Board of Elections. The Republican Party raised just over $19,000 in the same time frame — and in the two months before the Nov. 2 election, only $990 came in to the GOP — all of it in September. Despite staging an Oct. 4 telethon that Nesbitt had previously predicted would raise between $250,000 and $300,000, the report shows no contributions to the Buncombe County Republican Party in the month of October.

To see how all this played out on Election Day, tune in to mountainx.com and pick up a copy of the Nov. 10 print edition of Mountain Xpress.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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