Republicans seeking the 11th District congressional seat are trying to find ways before May’s primary to stand out and attract voters amid a crowded field of nine candidates.
Candidates began actively campaign toward the end of last year, traveling from county-to-county speaking and glad-handing.
“I think what you’ve got to do is you got to show up in all 17 counties so much that they don’t know that you aren’t from there,” said conservative candidate Mark Meadows from Cashiers. “You can’t ignore any county.”
Competitors also must line up endorsements from former politicians and notable district residents to distinguish themselves from the main field.
Tea party candidate Dan Eichenbaum has gathered two Tea Party endorsements — one from the Asheville Tea Party Political Action Committee and another from Cherokee County’s Tea Party. Eichenbaum is going into the race with name recognition, after running two years ago and coming in second for the Republican nomination.
However, he hasn’t recieved the support of the Republican Party establishment, at least judging by the three top-picks of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The national party support arm for GOP Congressional candidates has tapped Meadows, Jeff Hunt of Hendersonville and Ethan Wingfield of Asheville as “Young Guns,” marking them as candidates with promise within the party.
Meadows has already received several endorsements — among them perhaps the crowned-jewel endorsement of the race, that of Jeff Miller, last year’s Republican nominee who went up against Shuler and gained wide name recognition. Others include retired state Sen. Jimmy Jacimun and former Henderson County Sheriff George Erwin, among others.
While newcomer Ethan Wingfield has not announced any endorsements so far, he has been able to collect an impressive $204,019 from more than 100 contributors despite declaring his candidacy 10 days prior to the deadline for submitting end-of-the-year campaign contribution reports. Wingfield, a young, conservative, Christian businessman and entrepreneur from Buncombe County, could pose a threat, taking precious fundraising dollars away from his competitors.
Meanwhile, candidate Jeff Hunt has argued that he is the “only one who has a record — a consistently conservative record” as a district attorney for 18 years. Similar to Wingfield and Meadows, Hunt has touted himself as the conservative, Christian candidate who will fight for small businesses and cut government regulations that inhibit job growth.
“I think people will need to make a decision on who is the true compassionate conservative candidate,” Meadows said. Meadows is a former restaurant owner in Highlands and is now a real estate developer in Cashiers.
With three likeminded contenders, the primary vote could split two or three ways among mainstream Republicans. That could give Eichenbaum with his Tea Party backers a chance at victory.
During the last primary in 2010, moderate Republican Jeff Miller received 14,059 votes, and Eichenbaum received 11,949 votes — a little more than a 2,000-vote difference. However, Meadows contends that Eichenbaum has lost some of his footing since that race.
“Some of the advantage that Dan Eichenbaum had in the last election he lost because he didn’t support the nominee,” he said.
Meadows said Eichenbaum and Hunt are a concern but that he will campaign to make sure neither receives the majority vote.
“We don’t see Mr. Wingfield as much a competitor as Jeff Hunt or Dr. Dan,” Meadows said. “We have been, and we will continue, to out work them.”
No matter who wins, the Republican Party will need to band together to support and promote their candidate.
The party “will be uniting behind whoever the Republican candidate is after the primary,” said Dave Sawyer, head of the 11th District’s Republican Party, adding that party leaders are already looking toward the fall competition.
“You want to lay as much groundwork as possible,” Sawyer said.
Meet the candidates
A Republican congressional candidate forum will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17 in Bryson City. The following candidates have committed to coming: Spence Campbell, Dan Eichenbaum, Jeff Hunt, Mark Meadows, Vance Patterson and Kenny West.
Prior to the forum, people will have a chance to mingle with the candidates and enjoy refreshments, starting at 6 p.m.