Paul Nowell, Winston Salem Journal, July 21, 2004
After months of vicious personal attacks and all-out politicking, Republican voters in the 5th Congressional District can expect four more weeks of the same, as Vernon Robinson and Virginia Foxx advanced to an Aug. 17 runoff from an eight-person field.
With all precincts reporting unofficial results early Wednesday, Foxx, a state senator, and Robinson, a conservative black activist led the crowded field.
Robinson had 13,466 votes, or 23 percent and Foxx with 13,055, or 22 percent. Ed Broyhill, scion of the Broyhill furniture family, had 12,548 votes, or 22 percent.
Robinson was jubilant.
“It’s a stunning victory, and it really belongs to the people of the 5th District,” he told supporters. “We always knew there was a silent majority out there who would vote for me just like they voted for Jesse Helms.”
He renewed his attacks on Foxx, accusing her of supporting tax increases and racial quotas. “This runoff is going to be a stark contrast between the liberal Virginia Foxx and the conservative Vernon Robinson,” he said.
Foxx said she believed Robinson’s scorched-earth tactics during the primary would come back to haunt him, with the remainder of the field throwing their support to her. She said she had already heard from Jay Helvey, a Wake Forest University trustee who received 15 percent of the vote.
“I feel really confident that people from the other campaigns are going to unite behind me because I have a history of bringing people together, and three-quarters of the voters did not respond to the negative tactics that were used in the campaign,” she said in a phone interview from Boone, where her supporters gathered.
The survivor in the heavily Republican district is expected to succeed U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, who vacated his seat to run for the U.S. Senate.
The 5th District covers all or part of 12 northwest North Carolina counties; the area regularly goes Republican by a wide margin in races that cover the whole district.
Also in the race were Nathan Tabor, a soy supplement executive; Joe Byrd, a state parole officer and former Wilkes County commission chairman; Ed Powell, a state representative, motor vehicles commissioner and transportation board member during the 1970s; and David Vanhoy, an air compressor distributor and volunteer firefighter.
On the Democratic side, Jim Harrell Jr. defeated Andrew Winfrey and Roger Kirkman to set up a November race against either Robinson or Foxx. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Harrell had 73 percent, or 16,564 votes, to 16 percent, or 3,664 votes, for Kirkman and 11 percent, or 2,458 votes, for Winfrey.
Digging into their own pockets and raising from supporters, the eight Republicans spent $6 million in one of the country’s most expensive House primary races. They bought radio and television ads and sent reams of direct mailings in a free-for-all that went on for months.
One recent TV ad for Robinson said homosexuals mocked holy matrimony.
“You can burn the American flag and kill one million babies a year, but you can’t post the Ten Commandments or say `God’ in public,” a voiceover said.
Robinson accused Helvey of allowing two lesbians to hold a commitment ceremony on the Wake Forest campus. Helvey fired back by accusing Robinson of bringing a lesbian playwright to Winston-Salem through a black theater festival.
Broyhill, the son of former Rep. Jim Broyhill and heir to the Broyhill Furniture fortune, loaned his campaign $1.43 million. Helvey, a former Wall Street banker, loaned $338,000 to his.
Tabor, whose family founded a soy company, loaned his campaign $462,000. Foxx, a state senator from Banner Elk, gave and loaned her congressional campaign $175,000.
[Editor’s Note: More on Vernon Robinson: Interview with Vernon Robinson]