Winning the Republican nomination for the 5th Congressional District ends a rowdy primary race and puts Virginia Foxx, a state senator from Watauga County, on the path to Washington, D.C.
Statewide GOP candidates regularly capture the conservative, 12-county district by more than 20 points.
But Foxx, who beat Vernon Robinson, an outspoken Brooklyn native and Winston-Salem city council member, says she doesn’t expect her bout with Democratic nominee Jim Harrell Jr. to be a cakewalk.
“I do anticipate a contest because with John Edwards on the ticket I think we’re going to see a very different dynamic on the ticket than we’ve ever seen before,” Foxx said Tuesday night at her victory party in Winston-Salem.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts tapped Edwards, a U.S. senator from North Carolina, to be his running mate. The addition has increased the importance of North Carolina’s 15 electoral college votes in a state that has chosen a Republican president every election since 1980.
With all precincts reporting unofficial returns, Foxx had 55 percent of the vote while Robinson had 45 percent. The seat is being vacated by Richard Burr, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Edwards.
Foxx said she believed her positive message was the main reason she won. She also stressed the need for the GOP to unify throughout the remaining weeks before the Nov. 2 general election.
That might prove difficult.
During the primary, Robinson was especially harsh in his rhetoric. In radio ads he compared Foxx to U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, fighting words to many conservatives.
Robinson attended Foxx’s victory party after conceding the race Tuesday and said he will support her in the general election because the two share similar views on issues.
“Virginia Foxx is the toughest, hardest-working woman in Raleigh,” Robinson said, rhetoric that was a far cry from the slash-and-burn tactics he employed during the long primary fight.
While Foxx said she harbors no bitterness toward Robinson, some supporters weren’t completely ready to extend any olive branches Tuesday.
“Oh, I thought (the primary) was terrible,” said Cindy Breden of Wilkes County, a Foxx supporter for several years. “I thought his tactics were offensive.
“I find it hard to forgive him for some of the things he said, but it’s important that we do unite as a party.”
Ruth Coffee of Mocksville sees some political healing in progress, however. “I think what he had to say tonight was a good beginning,” she said.
Foxx said she expects the race between her and Surry County’s Harrell to be more positive and focused on issues, rather than the scorching rhetoric of the primary campaign.
Robinson and Foxx were the survivors of last month’s eight-way GOP primary that saw $6 million spent in one of the country’s most expensive House primary races. Candidates bought radio and television ads and sent reams of direct mailings in the free-for-all battle.
When the smoke cleared on July 20, Robinson had taken 24 percent of the vote and Foxx 22 percent; because no candidate received 40 percent, Foxx requested a runoff.
Both candidates held similar views on key issues: they oppose abortion, support stricter immigration laws and favor gun owner rights.
Robinson attracted media attention throughout the campaign with his blunt denunciations of liberal “Hollywood elitists” who dabble in politics and the “militant homosexual lobby.” He considers illegal immigration “an absolute scourge” and supports a ban on sending female soldiers to war zones.
He has called former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms his political hero, and has referred to himself as the black version of the conservative icon.
Foxx, a 10-year veteran of the General Assembly, ran on a record of opposing state tax increases and working to reduce government waste. She took a quieter approach than Robinson, campaigning on the basis of experience and conservative credentials.
The electorate includes mountain families who have voted Republican since reconstruction, and members of the conservative churches that dot country and suburban roads. The district is anchored by Winston-Salem, home of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco.