Based on fundraising alone, the field of Democrats seeking to replace Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn breaks cleanly into two camps: Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and everyone else.
Beach-Ferrara, a Buncombe County commissioner and the only hopeful with previous political experience, has attracted close to $1.4 million in campaign donations, far more than the rest of her competition combined. That war chest has attracted national attention from the New York Times, albeit in an article calling her candidacy a “likely lost cause.”
Unable to match the frontrunner in spending, Beach-Ferrara’s opponents have attempted to build grassroots enthusiasm. Perhaps the most successful has been small-business owner Katie Dean. In recent weeks she received the endorsement of American Muckrakers — a political action committee formed by former Democratic N.C. 11 nominee Moe Davis — and added as campaign manager Andrew Aydin, a former aide to the late Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
Four other Democratic candidates are striving for the nomination, including Army veteran Jay Carey, small-business owner Marco Gutierrez, social worker Bo Hess and retired Army Corps of Engineers member Bynum Lunsford. All share similar concerns over affordable health care, particularly in rural areas, and helping the district handle the ongoing opioid epidemic.
Whoever takes the Democratic nod will face a challenging general election. Davis lost his 2020 race against Cawthorn by 12 percentage points; although redistricting has made N.C. 11 lean slightly less red, The Cook Political Report still calls the seat “solid Republican” and estimates an eight-point GOP advantage.
The name of each candidate is linked to their responses in the post:
Occupation: Buncombe County commissioner, executive director for the Campaign for Southern Equality
Previous candidacy or offices held: Buncombe County Board of Commissioners
Key endorsements: NC AFL-CIO and WNC Central Labor Council, state Rep. Brian Turner, state Rep. John Ager, Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller, former state Sen. Terry Van Duyn
Amount of money raised: $1,343,711. Our average is $36, and we have received more than 35,000 donations.
Top three donors: Mary Meelia, Eugene Kapaloski, Caroline Niemczyk
Why are you running for Congress? I’m running to replace Madison Cawthorn’s extremism and deliver the leadership that WNC needs and deserves. Our community deserves a congressperson who cares about them and will fight for policies that make a real difference in people’s lives — from rural broadband access to voting rights. My campaign is focused on love, hope, empathy and how we move forward together.
What do your experience and background bring to the table that your primary opponents lack? I bring a proven track record. From winning marriage equality across the South while leading the Campaign for Southern Equality to serving as a Buncombe County commissioner and reaching across the aisle to pass major policies to expand pre-K, respond to the opioid crisis and support families and small businesses during the pandemic and our recovery. I know what it takes to win a tough fight — and do it in a way that brings people together.
What are the top three issues facing residents of Western North Carolina? 1) Access to critical services and infrastructure, including broadband; a strong rural health care system; and action on crises including the opioid epidemic and climate change. 2) Education and job opportunities that ensure people in WNC can thrive, including universal pre-K, funding for public K-12 education and free community college, as well as creating jobs across sectors that pay a dignified wage. 3) Protecting our democracy by ensuring we have voting rights, fair districts and fair elections, and defeating extremism.
What one national issue would you prioritize through your work in the House? More than 20% of children in WNC live in poverty. Universal pre-K is one of the most impactful steps we can take to ensure our children can thrive. If elected, the first bill I will introduce would ensure that we can fully implement universal pre-K in WNC. It will create a federal corps of pre-K teachers to serve in regions that face critical teaching shortages by providing tuition support, competitive pay and professional development opportunities.
Where, if at all, do you find common ground with members of other political parties? As a Buncombe County commissioner, I have led bipartisan efforts to expand pre-K, fight the opioid epidemic, address climate change by increasing conservation funding and creating green jobs, and support families and small businesses during these difficult times. My experience as a minister and elected official is rooted in building diverse tables to create solutions, and I will continue to work with people of every political affiliation to move forward together, both here in WNC and in Congress.
Occupation: Retired/disabled U.S. Army
Previous candidacy or offices held: None
Key endorsements: Laura Bannister, LGBTQ activist; Jolly Good Ginger, civil rights activist; Jacob Blake Sr., civil rights activist; Crystal Cauley, Hendersonville civil rights activist
Amount of money raised: Roughly $50,000
Top three donors: Paul Dermid, Cameron Kennedy, Dr. Arush Angirasa
Why are you running for Congress? I retired from the U.S. Army in 2012. Since that time, I have watched our democracy slowly die at the hands of a group of loud, far-right Republicans. I did not serve my country for over 20 years to sit idly by and watch that happen. It was time for me to again serve the country and people I love. Running for Congress, for this district and its people, was how I decided it was best to do that.
What do your experience and background bring to the table that your primary opponents lack? I served in senior leadership roles in the U.S. Army for over 12 years. I bring a skill that cannot be learned in a classroom or by reading a book: I am a proven leader. I have proven my ability to not only lead, but also to help rebuild communities, in war-torn countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq and Afghanistan. This is precisely the experience and leadership we need in Congress.
What are the top three issues facing residents of Western North Carolina? Throughout the district, the one resounding theme I hear is affordable, accessible health care. The next issue is education. We must provide a quality education to our children, regardless of their ZIP code. Last but not least is the opioid epidemic and the destruction it has caused to our rural communities and families across the district.
What one national issue would you prioritize through your work in the House? I believe that we must prioritize raising the minimum wage. Everyone is entitled to the dignity of a living wage. Inflation has grown rapidly without an increase to the wage of $7.25, last increased in 2009. We must also link the minimum wage to inflation so we do not have to revisit this over and over. Just as a reminder, if the minimum wage had been linked to inflation initially, it would now stand at $26 an hour.
Where, if at all, do you find common ground with members of other political parties? I believe that addressing crime rates is truly a bipartisan issue. Crime affects everyone — certain groups more than others, but it is still a universal issue. Reducing poverty is the only way that we can effectively reduce crime rates. Providing accessible, affordable health care, equitable access to education, increasing the minimum wage, unionizing everyone everywhere and investing in truly affordable housing are just a few things we can do to reduce poverty.
Occupation: Small-business owner, automotive repair; previously water and wastewater infrastructure engineer
Previous candidacy or offices held: N/A
Key endorsements: Ischa Vingle, Henderson County first-time voter; Hobbit Hawes, Buncombe County general contractor; Lee Timmons, Transylvania County teacher; Juliet Kastorff, Swain County small-business owner; Will Overfelt, Buncombe County behavior analyst and health care advocate
Amount of money raised: Over $65,000
Top three donors: Chris Harjes, small-business owner and friend; Robert Lotane, community leader and friend; Michelle Tennant, community leader and friend
Why are you running for Congress? The Founding Fathers used the term representative for members of Congress because they were meant to represent the people. We have lost our way, and now they represent monied interests, corporate fat cats and Washington insiders. I want to return Congress back to the people, not the privileged. Western North Carolina residents deserve a representative who will be fighting for them back in our district, not navigating the DC social circuit.
What do your experience and background bring to the table that your primary opponents lack? With just a GED, I scrapped my way through college, where I earned an environmental engineering degree from the University of Georgia. After working in the field, I joined my husband and opened an auto repair business. We’re up to five lifts and growing. A painful decision to save money by refusing anesthesia forced me to take on a second job. I’ve been told I bring a level of authenticity and relatability to the race that is born from experience.
What are the top three issues facing residents of Western North Carolina? 1) Our health care has been sold to corporate interests. Services are cut while costs skyrocket. I stand with the health care heroes at Mission Hospital. 2) Access to rural broadband is the equivalent of rural electrification in the 1930s. I will fight to bring our taxpayer dollars back to WNC to bolster local economies. 3) There’s nothing affordable about housing in our district. The goal posts of our economy have changed, and the squeeze on the working and middle classes is real.
What one national issue would you prioritize through your work in the House? Untangle corporate greed and legalized corruption from the health care and housing industries. Corporatized interests and hedge funds have conspired to take over these industries, which have become unaffordable to average Americans and those on the margins. If we do not fix this, the American Dream will become just that — a dream, and not reality.
Where, if at all, do you find common ground with members of other political parties? There used to be issues Republicans stood for that I thought were worthy. However, I can’t figure out what Republican leadership stands for in recent years. It certainly is not us, the working and middle classes. They used to support keeping Russia in check, but too many have jumped in bed with Vladimir Putin and were slow to come to the defense of Ukraine. I find common ground with those who put country before party.
Occupation: Small-business owner
Previous candidacy or offices held: None
Key endorsements: None
Amount of money raised: $400
Top three donors: Alex Joyce, Carol Garcia
Why are you running for Congress? I am running to put my 20 years of infrastructure experience to work for Western North Carolinians.
What do your experience and background bring to the table that your primary opponents lack? Extensive experience in infrastructure, which my opponents lack. Recruiters have said my experience is among the top 1% in the country.
What are the top three issues facing residents of Western North Carolina? Housing, healthcare and senior issues, such as ensuring the people who built this country have access to opportunities.
What one national issue would you prioritize through your work in the House? Voting for Build Back Better, which will not increase the national deficit.
Where, if at all, do you find common ground with members of other political parties? I find more common ground people than not. All parties and politicians should win on the best policies for innovative solutions. #USAppalachia. Readers can email me at Marco@MarcoForCongress.Democrat.
Occupation: Licensed clinical social worker and licensed addiction specialist
Previous candidacy or offices held: N/A
Key endorsements: We are still actively interviewing organizations with aligned goals.
Amount of money raised: Less than $75,000.
Top three donors: All of our donations have come from small donors here in WNC; we are building a true grassroots coalition with an average donation of $10. All donations have been less than $500.
Why are you running for Congress? I want future generations to have the same opportunities I have had. I am the right candidate to elevate issues that are important to our communities. I think it’s important to give the voiceless a voice, listen to what people care about and deliver impactful, practical solutions. My platform includes four pillars: increasing security, access to affordable quality health care (mental health and addiction treatment), the dignity of work and a living wage, and addressing the climate crisis.
What do your experience and background bring to the table that your primary opponents lack? I’m a licensed social worker. I live the ethics of social work: social justice, self-determination, worth and dignity of humanity and service. I work with veterans dealing with mental health issues. I serve on the board of the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition and have worked in public health for over 10 years to stem rising opioid and methamphetamine use, an issue that families in WNC know personally. I know how to address unmet social needs in our community.
What are the top three issues facing residents of Western North Carolina? I hear a lot of concern over safety in our communities, lack of access to quality health care and mental health care, and voters’ concern over not being able to afford to live and get ahead in WNC due to rising costs and a lack of livable wages. Another looming issue on everyone’s mind is the effects of climate change on our environment and wanting to bring green jobs to our communities for our future.
What one national issue would you prioritize through your work in the House? I would like for my legacy to be ensuring every citizen has access to mental health and addiction treatment. Another national issue I will address is protecting voting rights and preserving our democracy — all of the other goals I have pale in comparison if our democracy is overtaken by authoritarianism.
Where, if at all, do you find common ground with members of other political parties? I support cannabis legalization, something the polls show most Americans support, regardless of affiliation. I do not believe in federal vaccine mandates; this is a local issue. I also believe in individual liberty in regards to Second Amendment rights.
Occupation: Retired (35 years with the Army Corps of Engineers; civilian)
Previous candidacy or offices held: None
Key endorsements: None
Amount of money raised: $0
Top three donors: None
Why are you running for Congress? Because Western North Carolina needs a representative in Congress who puts the people first and tries to eliminate the crises that we face in North Carolina.
What do your experience and background bring to the table that your primary opponents lack? Life experience and being a blue-collar worker who works for the people, not corporate America.
What are the top three issues facing residents of Western North Carolina? Lack of health care, mental health issues and the opioid epidemic that we face daily, lack of education for our children.
What one national issue would you prioritize through your work in the House? USA first, bringing back jobs to America, mental health crisis and the opioid epidemic in America.
Where, if at all, do you find common ground with members of other political parties? Working together to eliminate homelessness in America, mental health crisis in America and poverty in America.