For Democrats, the road to breaking the Republican grip on the North Carolina House could run through Sunnybrook Drive in southeast Charlotte’s District 104.
And that’s fine with Republican Rep. Andy Dulin.
Walking along the street canvassing voters, he points to curbs and storm drains he helped get while a member of the Charlotte City Council for eight years. “All this is what I did on council,” he says, nodding to the improvements.
Dulin, 59, is running for his second House term. He faces Democrat Brandon Lofton who, despite being a political newcomer, has outraised Dulin.
Democrats need a gain of four seats to break the House supermajority that lets Republicans over-ride vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. And they see a handful of Charlotte districts — including Dulin’s — as ripe opportunities.
That’s because while Dulin won 55 percent of the vote against an underfunded opponent in 2016, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper carried the district in their respective races for president and governor.
Lofton, 39, is a lawyer with Robinson Bradshaw. He’s been active in groups such as the Council for Children’s Rights the city’s Disparity Study Advisory Committee. Campaigning this month in the Madison Park neighborhood, he talked about what he sees as the “gamesmanship” and partisanship in the General Assembly.
“People are tired of the level of politics in the nation and also in Raleigh,” he said as he prepared to knock on doors. “They’re aware that it’s getting in the way of our state’s progress.”
Dulin has a different story. He cites a string of legislative actions including lowering taxes, raising teacher pay, enacting stiffer penalties for human trafficking and providing millions for school safety.
“We’re making positive progress on all those things,” he said.
Lofton, the son of a teacher, calls pay raises “a good first step” but said the problem goes beyond salaries when classrooms lack money for supplies and support. He promises that he’d do more for education, rein in health care costs by expanding Medicaid and work across the aisle.
Just as the candidates differ on the performance of the General Assembly, they disagree on the six proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. Dulin supports them while Lofton opposes them all.
One thing they agree on: turning over redistricting to an independent commission.
Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, Dulin recently notched the 1,000th home he’s visited this campaign. “I don’t think Mr. Lofton can match the time and work I’ve put into this endeavor,” he said. “I’m fighting for every single house.”
Pulling up his phone, he showed a reporter a picture of a supporter with a Dulin sign in his yard. He said he once helped the man dredge a backyard creek to stop a flooding problem.
That’s why GOP strategist Larry Shaheen, who lives in the district, doesn’t worry about the fact that Clinton and Cooper carried it two years ago.
“For crying out loud, this is the same guy who on his off day would go out and help clear storm drains so folks’ houses wouldn’t flood,” Shaheen said. “You’re never going to get the kind of hard work and dedication that Andy Dulin has brought to that district both on city council and in the legislature.”
Democratic consultant Dan McCorkle said Lofton can win. With a bigger war chest, and with Democratic congressional candidate Dan McCready spending money to boost turnout in the same area, he said Lofton can do what other Democrats have tried and failed to.
“Like all the southern (Mecklenburg) districts it is very competitive,” he said. “That is a very winnable race this year.”
Education: Bachelors, Appalachian State, 1984.
Professional experience: Commercial real estate, construction sales.
Political resume: Charlotte City Council District 6, 2005-2013.
Family: Wife, Cathy; three sons.
Education: Bachelor’s, UNC-Chapel Hill; Law degree, New York University.
Professional experience: Attorney, Robinson Bradshaw.
Political resume: First-time candidate.
Family: Wife, Kellie; two sons.