4th Congressional District: Democratic primary

This district includes all of Durham and Orange counties, plus northwest Chatham and parts of western Wake. David Price, the incumbent Democrat, is a 16-year House veteran with a solid moderate-to-liberal record. That he is not, however, a hard-hitting progressive is precisely the charge made by his chief opponent, Kent Kanoy. A counselor in Duke University’s employee assistance program, Kanoy is no politician and doesn’t expect to beat Price. He put his name on the ballot, pure and simple, so that voters who think Price has not fought President Bush aggressively enough on the war in Iraq, and who think Price should be demanding Bush’s impeachment over the war and domestic spying, would have a way to register that opinion. Oscar Lewis, the other candidate, offers no such rationale for his campaign. A Durham City Council member from 1987-91 and recent Xerox retiree, Lewis was perhaps hoping that Kanoy and Price would split the progressive vote, allowing him to sneak in without doing much. Which he hasn’t.

We agree with Kanoy that Bush’s presidency is a disaster, and his recklessness and disregard for the law richly deserve impeachment hearings. That said, blaming Price and removing him from office would be equally reckless. Price voted against the war and is (to use his term) “a persistent critic” of it. It’s true, he hasn’t stepped to the front of the small anti-war caucus in Congress, seeming rather to be pulled along in its wake toward his current posture, which is that the president should spell out an exit strategy. Well, yeah, except that he obviously isn’t going to, which is why the time is long since passed for Democratic leaders to spell it out for him–and for the country.

Price argues that what’s needed now is Democratic control of at least one house of Congress; without it, Republicans simply stonewall every effort to question Bush’s blundering. But Price’s takeaway is that Democrats must be careful how they talk about Bush, or else be seen as too extreme. To the contrary, most voters–and most of the non-voters who comprise half the adult population–are unaware that the Democrats would do anything all that different, on the war or any other issue. And many Democrats, sadly, wouldn’t.

That’s why it’s so important for Price, who is different, and does understand the damage Bush is doing, to speak out more forcefully. Why, for instance, doesn’t Price attend anti-war rallies? Why isn’t he supporting House Resolution 55, co-sponsored by N.C. Republican Walter Jones, or H.Res. 73, offered by Pennsylvania Democratic John Murtha, both of which attack the Iraq occupation head-on? On the plus side, Price did help with an amendment to an appropriations bill that would block the creation of permanent bases in Iraq. And he has called for a special counsel to investigate Bush’s domestic spying. He’s as clear as he can be that Bush’s tax cuts for the rich are wrong. As measured as he customarily is, Price no longer bothers to conceal his contempt for Bush. You just have to hear him. The trouble is, most people don’t.

Like Kanoy, we waited for a well-organized progressive candidate to challenge Price. Then maybe we’d have had a tough choice. But Kanoy’s 250 yard signs and self-imposed $5,000 spending limit isn’t a serious challenge, and David Price is a serious, good congressman. As tempting as it is to pull that protest lever, we think it would be self-defeating for the cause.

13th Congressional District: Republican primary

This district includes most of Raleigh and eastern Wake County, then wanders north to Granville, Person, Caswell and most of Rockingham counties while reaching down along the way to grab part of Greensboro in Alamance County. The Democratic incumbent, Brad Miller, is just in his second term, which doesn’t exactly explain why the Republican field includes Vernon Robinson–but then nothing quite explains Vernon Robinson, does it?

Robinson, the self-styled “black Jesse Helms,” is an ex-Winston-Salem alderman best known for such antics as installing a two-ton replica of the Ten Commandments on his City Hall lawn. (It was promptly removed.) Robinson has made a career, if that’s what you call it, out of bashing gays, immigrants and government in every form (he’s an equal-opportunity attacker of Democrats and Republicans), touting charter schools and tax-supported vouchers for private schools. He’s run for many things, most recently Congress two years ago in the 5th congressional district, which is where Winston-Salem is.

Little-known fact: You don’t have to live in the district you represent under the U.S. Constitution, only in the same state. It’s easy to dismiss him as a kook, except that kookiness is a key part of the conservative playbook these days. Robinson, though he didn’t win the 5th district primary in 2004, raised more than $2.9 million, less than 10 percent of it in-state. He’s a national phenomenon–and embarrassment. If Robinson wins the GOP nomination here, he’ll doubtless launch another idiot’s crusade–in fact, he’s already started, with his call to send unmanned airships and 5,000 Marines to defend the Mexican border.

Robinson jumped into the 13th district race after saying he was going to run in the 12th district (Charlotte Democrat Mel Watt’s district), because he faced serious Republican opposition in the 12th but not the 13th. Here, his two opponents are Charlie Sutherland, a perennial candidate in Rockingham County who wants the federal income tax repealed, and John Ross Hendrix, a Cary graphic designer who was an also-ran in the 2004 U.S. Senate primary. We recommend a vote for Hendrix, based solely on the fact that he urges the GOP to reject “extremism” and embrace “vision, moderation and a common sense approach” to such serious problems as hunger, homelessness and education. Good idea. And, of course, he isn’t Vernon Robinson. Republicans, do you really want Robinson on your ticket?