Among the many Member-vs.-Member contests that redistricting will produce this cycle, a race between North Carolina Reps. Brad Miller and David Price stands out as a fascinating contrast in temperaments and personalities.
The two Democrats aren’t definitely facing each other. But during the past several weeks, Miller’s rhetoric has alluded to him taking on Price — the dean of the Democratic delegation — in a primary in the newly drawn 4th district.
Miller and Price said they hope legal proceedings will alter the lines. But if the map remains drawn so that both Members live in the same district, taking on Price might be Miller’s best option, given the district he represents is now virtually unwinnable for a Democrat.
A plugged-in Democratic strategist in the state explained that Price is more of “an old-time statesman and Brad is much more a stir-things-up kind of guy.”
“David really is an icon in Democratic politics in the state,” said Ken Eudy, former state Democratic Party executive director.
Price, who served in the House from 1987 until 1995, was defeated by a former Raleigh police chief by 1,215 votes during the 1994 Republican wave. But he won back his seat in 1996 and has held it ever since.
A former political science professor and onetime chairman of the state Democratic Party, Price has deep ties to the Tar Heel Democratic establishment. He is seen by North Carolina Democrats as a talented retail politician and a team player.
“David is a consensus builder, and that’s obviously from working on Appropriations,” former North Carolina Rep. Bob Etheridge (D) said.
Miller, on the other hand, is seen as more of a loner and as being less comfortable with the glad-handing aspect of politics.
“Brad, at the heart, he’s probably a shy person, and so for him to get engaged with voters, it takes a lot of work,” said North Carolina Democratic consultant Brad Crone, who doesn’t work on federal races. “Just from watching him work a room, he would much rather stand in one area and have people come to him rather than go and work the room.”
Miller, who helped draw the new Congressional district he won in 2002 during his time as a state legislator, is seen as a good Member, if an unusual one. Democrats in North Carolina said they expected that the delegation wouldn’t openly back either candidate if a primary occurs but that Price would receive quiet support from the other Democratic Members.
Asked in an interview who his friends were in Congress, Miller struggled for a moment to come up with an answer. “Congress is a funny place,” he said. “We’re only there for two or three days at a time.”
The first person he cited: David Price.
“David has been a friend and an ally politically for 25 years,” Miller said.
But Democrats in North Carolina say Price has been less than pleased with Miller’s recent comments in the media.
On July 19, when a Congressional redistricting map that drew the Members into the same district was released, Miller, who represents the 13th district, told local television station WRAL, “There is no possibility that David Price and I would run against each other.”
In an interview with Roll Call 10 days later, Miller said a primary with the dean of his delegation was “very unlikely,” but he noted that the newly drawn 4th “would be a district that I would be very pleased to represent.”
Then, in late August, Miller told
IndyWeek.com that the new 4th “is more of a jump ball” between himself and Price, noting that it includes 33 percent of Price’s district and 31 percent of Miller’s.
Price told Roll Call last week that he will definitely run again for his seat.
“I plan to stick with the 4th district through the process and look forward to running in the district and representing the district in whatever form it finally assumes,” he said.
Miller declined to comment further on a potential primary, saying he and Price had “communicated enough through the press already.”
But when asked if he would start spending time in the new portions of the 4th district, Miller said he already had and would continue to do so.
Price declined to engage on Miller’s comments, but his message was crystal clear.
“The 4th district is being changed a good deal, and there are chunks of territory from the 13th district, his district, and from the 2nd district,” Price said. “But the largest single chunk of territory is from the present 4th district, and I’m the incumbent Congressman there.”
Price, 71, noted that three-quarters of the new district are areas he has represented previously.
So what might a primary look like?
“Whenever Brad has run for anything, he has always run spirited grass-roots campaigns,” Eudy said. “I would expect that if there is a primary, it would be a hard-fought primary.”
“But I expect David is better-known and more seasoned than Brad,” he added.
Miller, 58, could campaign on being the more youthful, progressive candidate.
“He’s seen as being genuine and real in a world where everyone else is manufactured,” said one Democratic consultant with knowledge of the state, noting Miller’s often spunky Facebook posts.
“David and I are both seen as fairly progressive,” Miller said. “But because of the issues that I have been most known for, I’m probably seen as more progressive than David.”
Although both Members’ voting records are quite similar, Miller will focus on financial reform and public health issues.
Price, meanwhile, passionately discussed his work as the co-chairman of the House Democracy Partnership and his work on the House Appropriations Committee.
A House Democratic strategist said leadership would be unlikely to get behind Price or Miller.
“As far as a national profile, neither of them really have one,” the source said. But Crone said he believes the party structure in the state is much more likely to support Price in a primary.
Other Tar Heel Democrats — some of whom noted there was annoyance among the party faithful at Miller’s maneuvering — said a primary would be unlikely to get nasty, given the long relationship between the two Members.
Still, the prospect of an intraparty battle has top Democrats in the state less than pleased.
“Do I want to see a Member-Member primary?” asked North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Jay Parmley. “No. No, I don’t. But it’s not my decision.”