There will be a new representative of North Carolina’s 6th congressional district this winter. Republican Howard Coble is retiring after 30 years in the U.S. House. Vying to replace the 83-year-old mainstay are political newcomers Mark Walker and Laura Fjeld. Those candidates met for a second debate Wednesday night in High Point.
Mark Walker was a high school quarterback without a driver’s license. Laura Fjeld was a young attorney in Durham, raising a son. And Howard Coble had just been voted into Congress, his first of 15 consecutive terms. That was 1984.
Today Coble’s career is in its final weeks. Walker is a licensed driver; a picture of the pastor’s face covers one side of his campaign bus. Fjeld now has three decades of law experience, and five grown children. Each wants to succeed the retiring Republican.
One campaign ad reads: "A clear choice: Laura Fjeld isn’t a politician; she’s a working mom, a common sense reformer who knows education is key to the jobs of the future. Who is Tea Party candidate Mark Walker? Too extreme for the serious times we’re in."
The 6th District stretches from Durham to Mount Airy and includes parts of 10 counties. Fjeld’s campaign has raised close to $850,000, while Walker has received more than $700,000 in support. Much of that money has gone to TV ads, where Walker has enlisted the help of his wife, Kelly.
"This isn’t another negative ad. Mark can’t stand that kind of politics. He’s spent his life serving others – not tearing people down; that’s why he’s running for Congress."
Of North Carolina’s 13 Congressional races, this is the only one where neither major party candidate has any experience as an elected official. So there is no record to go on.
Walker is a Republican with tea party backing who wants an overhaul the tax code. Fjeld left her post as general counsel for the UNC system to run in this race. The Democrat has repeatedly called her opponent extreme and out of touch with his own party. Last night the two met for a second debate in High Point.
The candidates largely disagreed during an hour-long debate that covered same-sex marriage, the federal minimum wage, Ebola, and the state’s new voter ID law. The longest and one of the most contentious exchanges of the night, came on the topic of abortion.
"His view is that he would work diligently to pass a law in 2015, that would ban common forms of contraception like the pill and the IUD . The idea that congress would be legislating contraception in 2014, 2015 is ridiculous. We need to be working on jobs and recovering the economy and not on contraception."
"I want to make sure that we review each particular case; whatever the situation is, I want to make sure there is counseling. Listen, as a pastor I've had to walk through with people some of the darkest, most tragic points of their life. I want to make sure that we're protecting not just the woman's healthcare, but also the healthcare of the child."
The tone of the forum was mostly negative. Walker and Fjeld agree on tightening the borders and have taken turns criticizing the Affordable Care Act. This 6th Congressional District has fewer Republicans now than in recent years – though it’s still strongly conservative.
Charles Prysby is a Political Science Professor at UNC-Greensboro.
"To win a district that is already leaning Republican in a year that is a pro republican year – that’s a very difficult challenge for a Democratic candidate."
Coble’s replacement should be confirmed on Tuesday.