U.S. Congress, Second District (Democrat)

John McNeil

Raleigh attorney John McNeil is everything Second District Democrats could want in a candidate against Holding or Ellmers in November: smart, tough as hell, and staunchly progressive.

A Marine Corps veteran who served in the Gulf War, McNeil is a firebrand with a background that deflects all of the usual Republican attacks against Democrats. He’s a strong antiwar voice with the soldier’s résumé to back it up, something that could provide an interesting counter should he face either Holding or Ellmers, who both voted against the Iran nuclear deal last year.

McNeil has strong views on Wall Street reform, income inequality, and health care, echoing Senator Bernie Sanders when he calls the Affordable Care Act “flawed,” though “an improvement over the old system.” He’s a harsh critic of the NRA and has all the right positions on civil rights, criminal justice, and climate change. McNeil is, suffice to say, a progressive through and through.

Along with Ron Sanyal, McNeil filed to run against Holding in the Thirteenth District before the districts were redrawn; both filed to run in the Second this time around, even though they live outside the district. Sanyal has run for Congress before, in 2014, coming in third in the primary. His platform pushes jobs, public education, and a more equitable justice systemsomething he has in common with McNeil. He, too, supports moving toward a single-payer health care system.

Three challengers join McNeil and Sanyal: Jane Watson, Steve Hight, and Elton Brewington.

Watson has an interesting connection to Sanders: the Vermont senator notes in his book that he recruited her to run for the Burlington City Council while he was the city’s mayor. Watson cites both Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren in talking about campaign finance reform, single-payer health care, and the country’s infrastructure failures.

Hight, meanwhile, is a criminal defense attorney who brings a sorely needed perspective to criminal justice issues, talking about the need to “demilitarize our police departments” and advocating for the end of mandatory minimums. Little is known about Brewington, who lives in Clayton and says he works with minority students at a community college. We do know that he talks about ending corporate tax breaks and improving access to affordable health care, which are good goals to have.

All five candidates seem to be on the same page on most issues, but we’re backing John McNeil. In our view, he’s most likely to give the Republicans a run for their money, even as a big underdog.