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Democrats hope voter fervor flips 11th District

Democratic candidates for Congress hope the enthusiasm they’re seeing at campaign events translates into a big voter turnout that propels their party’s nominee to an upset win in November.

Although the 11th Congressional District remains an uphill climb for their party, the five Democrats seeking the nomination insist the redrawn lines and the retirement of the nationally known incumbent present an opening to flip the seat to blue. Standing room only crowds turned out for a Democratic Party candidate forum on Feb. 1 at the City Operations Center and at a forum on women’s issues last week at party headquarters.
“I think they’re excited, they’re fired up,” Phillip Price, who is running again after winning the Democratic nomination for the seat in 2018, said in an interview. “They realize this is a crucial moment in our democracy, in our history, and hopefully, if the attendance of these events is any indication, that we’re going to have a record high voter turnout.”
Moe Davis, a retired Air Force colonel who has raised the most money among Democrats, praised the field.
“If you look at our policies we’re all within a nickel of one another,” he said. “You know what you’re going to get on the other side and the worst of the five of us is better than the best of the 11 of them.”
At events throughout the 11th District, Davis added, crowds are turning out. “Everywhere we’ve been, it’s been just like this — packed to the gills with excited Democrats,” he said.
Steve Woodsmall, who ran for the Democratic nomination in 2018, said he has attended 222 campaign events since he announced his candidacy last March and has been impressed by the work volunteers are doing in phone banks and door knocks.
“A lot of the parties are really focused on getting out the vote and I think you’re going to see unbelievable Democratic turnout in this election,” he told Democrats in Hendersonville on Feb. 1.
Also running for the Democratic nomination are Michael O’Shea, a 32-year-old musician from Mills River; and Gina Collias, who ran for the 10th Congressional District seat as a Republican in 2018. U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows’ surprise retirement announcement the day before filing closed set off a scramble in his own party, where 11 candidates are battling for nomination. Based on interviews and coverage of campaign events, here are capsules of the Democratic candidates.

Phillip Price

Price, 53, earns a living making the old usable. “We take down old structures and we reclaim those materials,” he said. “We have diverted thousands of tons of construction materials from our landfills and put them to good use.”
“I’m running because the working class has been left out of the equation,” he said. “I’m the only candidate in the race that still works every day.” His platform is bringing “better jobs to the area with higher wages, universal health care, public education including pre-K all the way through career readiness. Renewable energy…. We can pay for these things by repealing and replacing the tax cut. But we can also look at our defense budget. If we get off of fossil fuels we can eliminate almost half our defense budget.” Price cites a former Navy secretary’s comment that up to half the U.S. defense budget is spent to protect oil assets and shipping lanes in the Middle East. “Taxpayers are acting as private bodyguards for a private industry, the oil industry. If we don’t need that oil anymore because we got off it we don’t need to spend that money protecting oil in the Middle East and that’s $300 billion that we could be investing” in health care, education and jobs. “I support Medicare for all, period. I am a recipient of the Affordable Care Act, that’s one reason I jumped in four years ago.”
Price says the landscape is improved for a Democrat in the district.
“In 2018, with the gerrymandered map I beat Mark Meadows in Buncombe County by 9 points and that was without downtown Asheville,” he said. “Now they give us Asheville and there’s no Republican that can get close. Buncombe — the county is about a third of all the votes in the whole 17-county district.”

Gina Collias

An attorney who owns a real estate business, Collias doesn’t run from her party switch. “My values did not change,” she said. “I can talk to Republicans, I can talk to unaffiliated voters. There are a lot of disaffected Republicans who will vote for me in November. There are unaffiliated voters who will vote for me now. And I want to be the first congresswoman from Western North Carolina.”
Her elevator pitch: “I believe that if you or your child is sick, you should be able to see a doctor. And, you shouldn’t have to choose between paying for your prescriptions and paying the rent. And, I believe that we need to protect our environment and beautiful mountains here in WNC. And, as an attorney I understand we made a promise to those receiving Medicare and Social Security. Integrity matters.”
“I’m the only moderate who can win this district because I am socially progressive and financially responsible and that’s what we need and I am the one that is going to help us” carry the 11th District, she said in the Feb. 1 forum. “I’ve had donations from 32 states across the country. They know I am serious. They are supporting us.”
“We do not need government regulating our bodies,” she said at the women’s issues forum. “Women need to be regulating in the government bodies.”

Moe Davis

Moe Davis, 61, retired from the Air Force as a colonel after a 25-year career that included two years as chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay.
“I think Job 1 is restoring integrity and accountability on Capitol Hill,” he said in an interview. “Mitt Romney is the only that showed any integrity and voted his conscience.”
He touts the endorsements he’s received from the AFL-CIO and Equality North Carolina.
“I think I got that endorsement because I don’t talk hypothetically what I would do,” he said. “I talk about my record and what I have done because I’ve got a record that I’m proud of and a record that I’m running on not away from.”
At the women’s forum, he cited his bona fides.
“In 2003 when a sexual assault problem at the Air Force Academy surfaced and Congress demanded an investigation, who did they get to do the investigation? They called me,” he said. “As a law professor at Howard, I had four assistants over the years. Three of the four were women. At the Department of Labor I had four law clerks, three of the four were women. So I’m not running hypothetically on what I might do. I’m running on my record of what I have done.”
A national security specialist, he was part of a team that “taught new members of Congress how to be congressmen. I’m prepared for this job,” he said. He vowed to visit every one of the 17 counties in the district at least once a year in person for a town hall meeting “because I’m going to represent you. This isn’t a stepping stone for me. When I’m done I’m going to go home, sit on the porch and drink beer.”

Steve Woodsmall

Steve Woodsmall gets in a few quips on his march through the standard issues that unite most of the Democratic field.
“I hate being last,” he said at the Feb. 1 forum. “I feel like Elizabeth Taylor’s eighth husband. I know what I’m supposed to, I’m just not sure how to make it interesting.”
Woodsmall, 63, joined the Air Force at age 19 and earned his undergraduate and master’s degree while serving. “One of the things I learned in the military is if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” he said. With frequent moves and deployments during his military career, he also learned to make the best of every stop. “No matter how long you’re stationed somewhere, leave it better than you found it, and we need to leave this seat better than we found it.” Quoting Obama, he said, “We’re the first generation to understand the effects of climate change and we’re the last generation that can do anything about it.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Woodsmall was the only candidate when introducing himself to bring up gun control, volunteering that he supports a ban on assault weapons.
In the House, Meadows voted against the Violence against Women Act, Woodsmall said. “Who can be against that?” he asked. “But when you dig deeper you find out one of provisions of that bill would make it harder for people convicted of domestic abuse to obtain a gun. It’s all about the guns and all about the money from the gun lobby.”
‘The ERA, that should have passed a long time ago,” he said at the women’s issues forum. “I don’t know what the problem is.” Many times health care issues affect women more than men. “That’s one of the reasons I support universal single payer health care, period,” he said. “We need to codify Roe v. Wade to make sure that women can decide what they want to do with their own body, period.”
“We need to make America think again,” he tells Democrats. “We need to get the money out of politics. We’re going to turn Western North Carolina Air Force Blue in 2020 and I’m going to be the best congressman money can’t buy.”

Michael O’Shea

A native of Mills River, O’Shea is a graduate of West Henderson High School and Western Carolina University and a former fulltime musician. His father was the minister and his mother music director at the Unity Center church in Mills River. His wife is a first grade public school teacher.
“Why now? Since 2016 it’s been harder and harder to not be more directly involved,” he said of his decision to run for the seat. “I was the second person to declare.” He announced his candidacy in October, almost two months before Meadows’ announcement expanded the field to 19 candidates. One of his goals last fall was to make sure Democrats had a primary, “mainly to get people energized, and to get the younger generation enthused.”
Running on health care equality, Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage and the Green New Deal to combat climate change, O’Shea describes himself as “probably the most left” among the five Democrats. “I’m a lifelong Democrat in a family of lifelong Democrats,” he said. He sees plenty of problems a more activist government in his view should work to solve.
“We live in a country in which one in five children live in food-insecure homes,” he said. “In 2020 I believe North Carolina is going to be represented by people who care for the people … and (who) start taking care of working families. When I’m on the campaign trail and see this kind of enthusiasm, I’m hopeful. We are finally heeding the call to look to the future and imagine a better one. … I believe my generation deserves a seat at the table while our futures are being determined.”