Race on for Thom Tillis’ seat

03/10/2014 12:00 AM

03/07/2014 7:10 PM

One candidate has the money. One has the profile. And one has an issue that motivates a lot of voters.

The Republican primary in N.C. House District 98 is a high-profile contest to succeed a high-profile lawmaker: House Speaker Thom Tillis, a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate.

Three Republicans are running in the GOP-leaning district that spans north Mecklenburg County, including Davidson, Cornelius and half of Huntersville.

Lynette Rinker, 56, recently left office as mayor of Cornelius.

John Bradford III, 39, is a Cornelius town commissioner and businessman.

And Sharon Hudson, 55, is a longtime activist who co-founded a group called Lake Norman Conservatives.

A strong business background

Early on, Bradford has an edge in money and endorsements.

The owner of a property management company loaned his campaign $160,000. His endorsers include current and former Cornelius commissioners, state Sen. Jeff Tarte and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.

“It sends a message to our support base that we have capital,” Bradford says. “A campaign is very much like a business. You have to be committed to it and make an investment in it.”

Bradford moved to the area with IBM in 2002. He worked in sales with the company when he began a small property management business on the side. He left IBM about seven years ago and now has a company that manages properties from Charleston to Memphis, Tenn.

“John is a stronger pro-business candidate,” Tarte says. “He’s a guy who bootstrapped a company from ground zero. He’s likable, approachable and … charismatic.”

‘A track record of service’

While Bradford is running in part on his business experience, Rinker talks about her record in the community.

“I have a track record of getting things done,” she says. “I have a track record of service.”

Rinker, 56, was Cornelius’ highest vote-getter when first elected in 2009 and chosen by Bradford and her other colleagues last year to fill an unexpired term as mayor.

The South Carolina native worked in her home state governor’s office and in government affairs for the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

She touts efforts toward getting Cornelius a new sign ordinance and master plan. And with passion in her voice she talks about getting money for the area’s first full-time advocate to help victims of domestic violence.

“She has just been a terrific partner,” says Republican county commissioner Karen Bentley, who worked with Rinker on the issue. “She is no-nonsense. She is very smart. And she’s a problem-solver.”

Distinguishing herself from rivals

Hudson, 55, was a late-comer to the race. She was active in local GOP campaigns and the North Mecklenburg Republican Women before starting Lake Norman Conservatives last year.

As a delegate to the state GOP convention in 2013, Hudson lobbied against proposed toll lanes on Interstate 77. Her efforts helped get language in the party platform opposing toll lanes.

“This toll road issue has split Republicans all across the state,” Hudson says. Although she says she’s not a one-issue candidate, she wants to draw distinctions with her rivals.

Bradford and Rinker, like Tillis, have supported the lanes as the only way to relieve congestion on I-77. Contracts haven’t been signed, but with the $550 million project scheduled to start this fall, Tarte calls the issue moot.

“It’s closed,” he says. “There’s nothing to debate.”

Hudson disagrees. “It’s my understanding that until the contract is signed, there’s still a chance to stop it,” she says. “This is an example of giving in to political pressure to agree to things that are not in the best interests of the citizens.”

The winner of the primary faces another hurdle in the fall: Democrat Natasha Marcus, a lawyer and political organizer from Davidson. She’d raised more than $47,000 by the end of the year – more than two of the Republicans.

“The people of this district have not had a choice about who’s going to represent them in the North Carolina House for a very long time,” she says. “People are glad to know there’s a choice.”

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