Ford among those eyeing 76th District with Steen out

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 9, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — As Rep. Fred Steen sets his sights on Congress, a few local people have cautiously been eyeing his State House office.
A Democrat named John Williams has opened a campaign for N.C. House District 76, but he’s not talking about it to the press just yet.
Republican Bruce Jones has decided to pass on the seat this year, but County Commissioner Carl Ford said Wednesday that he might try for it.
“I’m considering it, because I want to continue the work that Rep. Steen has started and done such a good job at,” Ford said. “I want to keep the Republican majority in Raleigh and continue cutting the size of state government while funding the programs that we need to.”
The new district has receded a bit from southeastern Rowan County and now includes some of northeastern Cabarrus County.
Ford, a Republican, said he believes his time serving on the Board of Commissioners and growing up on the Rowan-Cabarrus county line qualifies him to represent the area.
If he runs for state House, Ford would give up his chance to run for a second term as commissioner this year. He hasn’t yet announced his decision, but North Carolina’s candidate filing period starts Monday and ends Feb. 29.
Jones said in early December he was considering a run at the 76th district. But in January, after announcing his departure from Community Bank of Rowan, he said he instead wants to focus on a new role at his wife’s real estate company.
Jones, who served as bank president and CEO, has said he hopes to help triple the size of Rebecca Jones Realty Inc.
“Being gone Monday through Thursday in Raleigh would make it difficult to build that business,” he said. “I’ve got to be here for the next two or three years.”
If Jones does run for office this year, he said, his campaign would be for county commissioner or school board. He has previously served on the school board and said he does hope to try for a state office someday.
“I’ve still got people calling me from Raleigh and saying, ‘Please consider it,’ ” he said. “I always wanted to be able to run for a state race and be more involved in our community. I just wish the timing was different.”
Williams filed paperwork in early January for his “Campaign to Bring Fairness to the House: Occupy the House Citizen Committee.”
The committee’s statement of organization says Williams is running for the 76th district in 2012. The mailing address listed is on North Main Street in Salisbury, which runs along the district boundary.
Williams said Wednesday that he plans to send out a press release this weekend and prefers not to comment about his candidacy until then.
A Democrat will have a hard time winning the 76th district, said Michael Bitzer, political science professor at Catawba College.
“On average, over the past two election cycles, it has voted Republican by (a margin of) 15 percent,” he said. “That’s a pretty safe Republican seat.”
In the 2008 presidential election, precincts in the new district voted 64 percent for GOP candidate John McCain and 35 percent for Democrat Barack Obama.
Bitzer said the district’s voter registration shows 34 percent Democrats and 43 percent Republicans, with 22 percent registering unaffiliated.
“Any time a district gets over 33 percent registration, it pretty much flips to being a Republican district,” Bitzer said.
Steen said Wednesday that while name recognition and community involvement could boost a candidate from either party, he thinks a fellow member of the GOP shouldn’t have a hard time winning.
“I don’t know who’s going to file and who’s not,” Steen said. “I’m going to support whoever wins the primary, of course.”
He said he’s moving forward with his campaign for U.S. House District 8 and plans to file in Raleigh next week.
No new candidates have announced campaigns yet for N.C. House District 77, currently represented by Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican.
Warren’s new district, which keeps northwestern Rowan and draws in more of the center of the county, is only slightly less right-leaning than Steen’s.
Voters in the 77th district are 36 percent registered Democrats and 40 percent registered Republicans. Another 23 percent are unaffiliated.
Bitzer said the district voted 60 percent for McCain and 40 percent for Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Facebook: Karissa.SalisburyPost