Succeeding Coble could turn into grudge match
To quote a phrase from baseball legend Yogi Berra, the Republican Party primary race to succeed Rep. Howard Coble in the 6th Congressional District could be GOP deja vu all over again.
For the past several years, the Republican Party nationally has endured internal political grudge matches between upstart Tea Party candidates taking on traditional, establishment Republican politicians. The result has been an internal divide that has threatened to fracture the party.
Now that Coble has announced plans to retire after next year, the same dynamics could play out in the coming months during the 6th District GOP primary race to replace the longtime congressman, said Matthew DeSantis, professor of political science at Guilford Technical Community College.
“I think what you are going to see is an establishment versus Tea Party dynamic that we’ve seen all over the country in so many types of districts. So it would be surprising if it didn’t happen with the 6th District,” DeSantis told The High Point Enterprise.
The field of Republican candidates seeking to succeed Coble still is emerging, said Martin Kifer, assistant professor of political science at High Point University.
“It will depend on what territory they try to stake out,” Kifer said. “People may be trying to appeal to the Tea Party wing. You may have people trying to appeal to more establishment brand of Republicanism. How many candidates are going to fit those profiles and niches isn’t clear yet.”
The race to succeed Coble should heat up quickly since candidates seeking the Republican and Democratic Party nominations have seven months to campaign leading into the May 6 primary. The two party nominees will square off in the 2014 general election, which is a year from this month.
So far, about a half a dozen Republican candidates have expressed interest or announced they will run in the 6th District, including High Point GOP activist Don Webb and veteran state Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, of Greensboro. Democrat Laura Fjeld of Orange County is the main Democrat campaigning so far.
Whoever emerges as the Republican nominee for the 6th District has the inside track to win the general election, DeSantis and Kifer said.
DeSantis and Kifer say that the 6th District leans toward a safe, conservative one for Republicans. For example, in the first general election race in the redrawn district last year, Coble defeated former Democratic state legislator Tony Foriest of Alamance County with 61 percent of the vote. Voters in the district also supported Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney by a solid margin over Democratic President Barack Obama in last year’s general election.
When the Democrats nationally survey congressional districts they might pick up in 2014, the 6th District probably won’t be on the priority list, Kifer said.
“The fundamentals of that district favor a Republican winner,” Kifer said.
But if the 6th District GOP primary produces a controversial, fringe nominee, the dynamics of the race could shift, DeSantis said.
“When you’ve had someone like Coble in office for so long, the Democrats haven’t been grooming anyone to take his place,” DeSantis said. “The Democrats need to be in a position to have a quality candidate. Depending on how the Republican primary goes, then they could throw a lot of money behind that quality candidate.”
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Candidates who’ve announced or may run for 6th Congressional District
Don Webb, former chairman of High Point Republican Party
Phil Berger Jr., Rockingham County district attorney
Nathan Tabor, Forsyth County Republican Party chairman
The Rev. Mark Walker, minister from Greensboro
State Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford
Zach Matheny, Greensboro City Council member
Laura Fjeld, former University of North Carolina system vice president and general counsel
Danielle Adams, Durham County Soil & Water District supervisor
Sources: The High Point Enterprise, NBC News