Politics

Vodka Distillery Owner Takes On George Holding in North Carolina

Sam Searcy says GOP health care vote was impetus for his campaign

Democrat Sam Searcy is challenging North Carolina Rep. George Holding, above, he announced on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats are hoping that the owner of a new vodka distillery in Durham can help them pick up a suburban Raleigh district currently represented by GOP North Carolina Rep. George Holding.

Democrat Sam Searcy announced his campaign for North Carolina’s 2nd District on Monday. The 40-year-old Holly Springs resident says the House’s vote for the GOP health care bill was the final push he needed to run. He’d been thinking about a bid for Congress even before Donald Trump was elected president last fall.

“I was focused on Holding,” he said.

Searcy’s trying to paint a contrast campaign between Holding, who comes from a wealthy banking family in the Triangle region, and himself. 

“Holding can’t help the fact he inherited a fortune from his banking family,” Searcy said, underscoring their different upbringings. “The more people understand about our biographies, they’ll see they relate more to me.”

Searcy grew up in Hendersonville, where his father worked factory jobs and his mother was a special eduction teacher’s assistant. He was the first person in his family to attend a four-year university, graduating from Appalachian State, and then went on to earn a law degree at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. He worked in compliance in clinical research in the Triangle region before recently joining with several business partners to open Graybeard Distillery.

Searcy criticized Holding for being absent. In particular, he pointed to a congressional trip the incumbent took to India and Sri Lanka over a recess in late February, saying the congressman should have held a town hall on the health care legislation instead. 

Democrats are optimistic that this might be the cycle to make gains in North Carolina, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee putting four districts, including the 2nd, on its target list. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the seat Solid Republican. Trump won the district by 10 points last fall. Holding won the newly redrawn 2nd district by 13 points.

Searcy knows he’s an underdog, but he called the district “ripe for flipping.” He expects he’ll need to raise between $2.5 million and $3 million for the race. 

Holding does not live in the district. He previously represented the 13th District, but redistricting moved the 13th District across the state. So Holding ran in the 2nd District, defeating former Rep. Renee Ellmers in the June 2016 primary.

“George is not in one of those seats that’s always going to be safe Republican,” said Carter Wrenn, a North Carolina consultant who works for Holding. “If you have a bad year, with the tide against Republicans, that puts it in play.”

Searcy voted for Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election, but he switched his registration from Democrat to unaffiliated during the primaries so that he could vote for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the GOP contest.

“I saw some leadership there — the fact that he was willing to buck his party and expand Medicaid,” Searcy said. 

The first-time candidate is expecting Republicans to tie him to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He refused to say whether he’d vote for Pelosi for leader if he made it to Congress, but did leave the door open to voting for someone else. “My guiding principles is always going to do what’s best for this district,” he said.

Veteran Wendy Ella May, a delegate for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at last year’s Democratic National Convention, announced her candidacy in May

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