Sen. John Snow, a Democrat from Cherokee County, first won N.C. Senate District 50 by beating longtime incumbent Sen. Bob Carpenter, a Republican from Macon County, by fewer than 300 votes in 2004.
Snow took over a district made up of Cherokee, Clay, Graham, part of Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Transylvania and Swain counties — the southwestern tip of North Carolina, as far from Raleigh in the Tar Heel State as it gets. Snow defeated Republican challenger Susan C. Pons in 2008 to keep the seat.
Jim Davis, however, believes voters in the 50th District are ready to elect a GOP candidate again, a conservative from Macon County, no less.
He might be right.
This part of the state — particularly Macon County — is increasingly right leaning. And Davis is campaigning ferociously and running a hard-hitting advertising campaign accusing Snow of fiscal waste. He surged to a 16-percentage point lead earlier this month in a poll conducted by SurveyUSA for the Civitas Institute (a conservative public policy organization in Raleigh).
“Davis has greatly increased his lead over Snow since May when the two were virtually tied, and continues to garner more support from Republican and unaffiliated voters who are abandoning the Democratic party this election season,” said Chris Hayes, Civitas Institute senior legislative analyst, in a recent news release.
Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, said he believes the tight race, as evidenced by polls, is more a function of national and state trends than individual actions by the candidates.
Davis, an orthodontist, has become familiar to voters in Macon County for a decade or so of service on the county’s board of commissioners. The Franklin resident is an unabashed supporter of local — and not state — control, and acknowledged a certain irony in his seeking a state Senate seat.
But, Davis said, being a state senator would give him the ability to help return some of that control to local hands, exactly where he believes decision-making truly belongs.
The economic problems North Carolinians face are directly attributable to the Democratic party, Davis said, which has controlled the state Senate for more than a century and the state House for all but four of those years.
“And what do they have to show for their century of rule over North Carolina?” he asked, answering the question himself: out-of-control cycles of taxing and spending, job scarcity, and an unfriendly business environment. Because of these problems, he said he’d be a better choice for senator than his competitor.
But Snow isn’t rolling over and playing dead, regardless of his challenger’s strong hand and surging lead in the polls.
Snow, a former prosecutor and district court judge, is intimately familiar with his eight-county district, where he heard thousands of legal cases in three decades of legal work. He believes voters know him, too, and what he stands for.
“In this last Senate term, we have had to make tough decisions faced with the worst recession since the Great Depression,” he said. “We have made the deepest budget cuts in the history of North Carolina, and per-capita spending under the budget stands at a 14-year low.”
Still, Snow said, the Democratic-controlled legislature worked to protect teaching jobs, and K-12 education. He said the key to recession recovery will be education, and that the most important issue is to create new jobs.
Snow cited university and community college funding, small-business refundable tax credits, restored funding for small business centers in the community colleges, job training programs and more as reasons voters should return him to Raleigh.