Van Braxton probably isn’t a candidate you’ve heard much about, but he’s one of our strongest State House pick-up opportunities. This seat was targeted in 2004, with incumbent Stephen Laroque (R) beating a Democratic political newcomer. This year, the Democrats have nominated Braxton, a 3 term Kinston City Councilman with deep family and business ties throughout the district. With a strong candidate like Braxton (Kinston is by far largest city in the district), the race was competitive from the beginning. But get this – Laroque, the incumbent Republican, was moderate enough to have a primary challenger funded by our good friend Art Pope. And Laroque lost. By 9 votes.
Court challenges have of course been filed, and the case won’t be decided for a few more weeks, but this is an incredible opportunity. The likely Republican nominee, Willie Ray Starling, has never held political office and ran a classic “also ran” throw away campaign in 2004 from the back of his car. On his website (www.willieray.com) he quotes Jerry Falwell and says he wants to be the Jesse Helms of the State Legislature.
Van, on the other hand, is an experienced, moderate Democrat with deep roots in the area. He grew up in Kinston, where he ran a small business for 25 years. He works on the board of Kinston’s Downtown Revitalization Organization and Lenoir County’s Gang Violence Prevention board, and is married to a retired guidance counselor at Kinston High. This is in addition, of course, to serving 11 years on the City Council.
Geography and local politics are also in Van’s favor. Laroque, a Kinstonian, has in the past drawn over some Lenoir County Democrats who like to be represented by one of their own. However, Starling comes from the very Republican swath of Wayne County included in the district – where he’d probably already have what votes he'd get. Meanwhile, Braxton should be able to bring back those Kinston Democrats and some moderate Republicans who’d rather have a respectable local representing them than an obvious extremist from the next county over.
Even if incumbent Laroque manages to pull off a court victory, he’s now ostracized both state and local Republicans and made the race much more competitive than in 2004.
Braxton’s definitely more conservative than some Democrats in the house, but he’ll be an excellent, reasoned voice for his district and NC Democrats. And with our control of the house so slim, every pickup is critical. Check out his website, www.braxtonnchouse.com, and sign up for his listserv if you want to keep up with developments. I’ve done some volunteer work for him, and am setting him up a paypal account at the moment, so you’ll be able to make donations more easily in a couple days.