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Democrats hope grassroots support can overcome Republican PAC money

Sam Edney has outraised Republican incumbent Rep. Cody Henson. Sam Edney has outraised Republican incumbent Rep. Cody Henson.

Democrats hoping to ride a blue wave to victory on Nov. 6 say they’re using grassroots support and lots of volunteers to boost their underdog campaigns against incumbent Republicans.

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They’ll need to, because most lag far behind their opponents, with one big exception.

Democratic challenger Sam Edney, running for the House seat made up of Transylvania, Polk and southern Henderson counties, has raised $55,000 so far and had $20,000 more cash on land than incumbent Rep. Cody Henson.
In a year of greater interparty competition for local and state office than usual, Democrats have raised money almost entirely from individual donors, in contrast to the PAC-fueled war chests of their Republican opponents.
Here’s a roundup of the campaign finance picture for the state House and Senate and Congress.

Senate District 48

State Sen. Chuck Edwards, seeking a second term, raised $8,300 in the second quarter, all but $300 from political action committees. He opened the second quarter with $27,839 and spent $10,538, leaving $25,591 cash on hand. Edwards had far more individual donors in the first quarter, reporting $8,065 from people and $12,750 from PACs.
Among the individual donors were Park Ridge CEO Jimm Bunch ($2,000), Asheville attorney and former UNC Board of Governors chair Louis Bissette Jr. ($500), Hendersonville City Council member Jeff Miller ($500) and Asheville developer Rusty Pulliam ($2,500). Edwards also has loaned his campaign $85,000. Edwards could not be reached for comment before the Lightning’s print deadline.
In contrast, Democrat Norm Bossert received $5,433 from individual donors in the second quarter and none from PACs. A retired school principal from Pisgah Forest, Bossert is challenging Edwards in a rematch of their campaign two years ago, when Edwards won with 62 percent of the vote. Bossert reported total receipts in the second quarter of $5,446 and cash on hand of $12,409, putting him roughly halfway to Edwards’ total. Bossert also reported a loan of $4,215.
“We just had some nice polling done that was very encouraging,” he said. “I don’t take any PAC or corporate donations. I want to have a clean record when I show up and want people to know that I’m listening to them.”
Campaigns that lack money for a big television buy have to round up votes the old-fashioned way.
“We’re out canvassing,” Bossert said. “We’re increasing that to two and three days a week. Our goal is to knock on 3,000 doors.”
If Edwards is taking PAC money, “he’s going to listen to those people and I think a perfect example is what happened up in Asheville where he forced his will on the people” and pushed through electoral districts for City Council races. “I’m running to be the voice of people who are actually going to the polls and voting. I want be a representative of Republicans and Democrats and independents. I’ve got a fair number of Republicans I’ve been speaking to that have been real receptive to my message.”

House District 117

State Rep. Chuck McGrady, a powerful member of the House leadership, had an overwhelming lead over this Democratic challenger, Gayle Kemp. McGrady, seeking a fifth term in the state House, has raised $80,470 this election cycle and reported cash in hand last month of $54,000. Kemp has raised $2,743 and reported $1,397 cash in her second quarter report.
Like Bossert, Kemp has forsworn PAC donations.
“No, I’m not going to accept any PAC money even from PACs I agree with philosophically or politically because I think that’s one of the problems we have right now,” she said.
That means small donations from individuals — her largest one was $250 — and work on the ground.
“Any campaign can always use more money but we’re doing what we can in grassroots here in Henderson County and it’s going well,” she said. “Lots of people are chipping in in a lot of different areas. Either me as the candidate or my supporters are doing things every day in some way to reach out to people. I am a retired attorney so I have a lot of time to work on this. It’s become my fulltime job. It would be a sad day when the campaign is only about money. We don’t buy campaigns. We don’t buy voters. I’m hoping that the grassroots we have here carries us through.”
PAC money tends to flow to incumbents, McGrady said, often whether they solicit it or not.
“Some of the PACs that are supporting me are ones that I’m happy to have their support,” he said. “The craft brewers are going to be very supportive, travel and tourism. It’s reflective of the work I’ve done. PACs are risk are averse and they tend to be supportive of incumbents. Two years ago the pork industry put $500 in my campaign and that didn’t change my vote on the nuisance law” against the industry’s position. “I’m very careful. I’m certainly willing to accept PAC money if it’s based on my records and the work I’ve done.”
McGrady mentions the craft beer industry because he’s led the fight for small brewers against big distributors.
“I may be talking as I was last night to the craft brewers about changes to the ABC law,” he said. “They see me as a rock star. Am I surprised that if they had a PAC they’d be supportive? No.”


House District 113

One exception to the big advantage for Republican incumbents over Democratic challengers is in state House District 113, where Edney had $29,732 cash on hand at the end of the second quarter, more than $20,000 ahead of incumbent Henson, who is seeking a second term.
Edney reported raising $27,045 in the second quarter and $54,895 overall, all in individual donations except for a $2,612 loan. Henson has raised $10,330 this election cycle — $4,620 from individuals and $5,050 from PACs. Henson received $2,000 from the campaign account of State Rep. Mitchell Setzer, R-Catawba, on May 4. Henson reported cash on hand of $9,315.



In the 11th Congressional District, incumbent Mark Meadows reported raising $785,000 and having cash on hand of $463,297 on June 30. Democratic nominee Phillip Price raised $56,523 and had $27,700 in cash, according to Federal Election Commission reports.