Despite nearly 22 years in Congress, including the past 12 as a U.S. senator, North Carolina’s Richard Burr is not so well-known in his home state. Because of that, many pundits thought the Republican from Winston-Salem might be vulnerable in his reelection bid this year.
Democrats, though, had a hard time recruiting top-tier candidates. Former Sen. Kay Hagan, former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and state treasurer Janet Cowell were among those who took a pass.
Seven other candidates – four Democrats and three Republicans – did get in to challenge Burr. The three little-known Republicans are running to Burr’s right, a good trick. None would make a better senator than Burr. And though the Democrats had to go fairly deep on their bench, two of the four – Deborah Ross and Chris Rey – have developed into viable candidates who could pose a surprisingly credible challenge to Burr.
Ross, Rey, Kevin Griffin and Ernest Reeves seek the Democratic nomination. We recommend Ross, though we also find Rey to be an energetic, passionate and intelligent advocate for Democratic causes.
Ross spent a decade as a representative in the N.C. House and was highly regarded in that role. A chair of judiciary, ethics and elections law committees, she was consistently ranked among the 10 most influential House members (out of 120) until Republicans took control of the chamber in 2010. She left the legislature to be general counsel of GoTriangle, a regional transit agency. Earlier in her career she led the ACLU of North Carolina.
She has won a number of key endorsements, including from EMILY’s List, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Planned Parenthood and the National Education Association, which represents teachers.
Ross is labeled as a liberal; she is and will fight for traditional Democratic platform items such as a higher minimum wage. But she also has a record of working across the aisle to get things done. Most importantly for Democrats in a primary, Ross has the money, the organization and the personal attributes that would make her the biggest threat to Burr in November.
Rey, the mayor of the Fayetteville suburb of Spring Lake, is also impressive. A veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and earned a Bronze Star, he came back to his struggling hometown and as mayor has done much to turn it around. He worked in cybersecurity for the Department of Defense and now leads a nonprofit that coordinates health care for the poor.
Rey argues convincingly he would effectively represent the poor and middle class. And as he gets better known, his passion and style could energize Democratic voters.
The other two Democrats – Durham staffing agency owner Griffin and retired Army captain Reeves – have significantly less experience and would be weaker candidates in November.
Richard Burr has risen to chair the Senate Intelligence Committee, the most prominent role by a senator from North Carolina since Jesse Helms. Challenged by three inexperienced candidates to his right, he deserves renomination.
Burr has amassed a reliably conservative voting record in his 22 years in Washington, and he has more clout than his Republican opponents could hope for.
The most serious challenger, Greg Brannon, is an OB-GYN who lost to Sen. Thom Tillis in a 2014 primary. An early Tea Partier, Brannon portrays Burr as a member of the Washington establishment who needs to go, but offers little more.
Paul Wright is a retired judge and perennial candidate for high office who says he wants to fight the “deChristianization” of America and ban same-sex marriage despite the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Larry Holmquist is a retiree in Greensboro who wants to abolish the IRS, deport the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and fight Burr over failing to shut down the government over Obamacare.