Bad blood boils over in 2nd District debate

Posted May 19, 2016

— The two sitting U.S. House members who are vying for the 2nd Congressional District seat went at each other furiously Thursday night in their only debate before the June 7 primary.

Incumbent 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, Congressman George Holding, whose 13th District was shifted west of Greensboro after federal judges ordered state lawmakers to redraw North Carolina's congressional voting map, and Dr. Greg Brannon, a Cary obstetrician and failed U.S. Senate candidate, are vying for the Republican nomination for the November general election.

In the hour-long debate hosted by WRAL News, the three candidates addressed issues from North Carolina's controversial House Bill 2 and Donald Trump as the GOP presidential nominee to immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act. But they spent much of the time debating who is the most conservative and who is most tied to the Washington, D.C., establishment.

"I am a consistent conservative voice and vote in Washington," Holding said. "Washington is a messed-up place right now. There's a lot of double-talk coming out of Washington, and pushing back on it is what I've tried to do tonight and what I'll try to do in the future."

"If you want someone to go to Washington and be part of the doers rather than the do-nothings," Ellmers said, "I need (your) vote so that I can continue to fight for you and fight against the hypocrisy that is Washington."

"If you like the way things have been going the last four to six years, you have two options," Brannon said, referencing Ellmers' and Holding's experience in Congress. "Their lack of action or their not following through is actually helped destroy the American dream for this generation and future generations."

Holding and Ellmers attacked each other's records, with Ellmers saying Holding voted against money for U.S. troops to fight terrorism and Holding saying Ellmers refused to support an efforts aimed to stop the Obama administration's executive orders on immigration.

Ellmers referred to Holding, a former federal prosecutor, as "an immigration lawyer" and called one immigration amendment he mentioned as "completely meaningless." Meanwhile, Holding accused Ellmers of twisting his record, saying the military funding was linked to billions of dollars in domestic spending that he couldn't support.

"When a bill comes along that you think is a bad bill, you have to vote against it," he said.

Brannon pointed to the bickering as proof that the people now in Congress can't get anything done and that someone new is needed to represent the 2nd District. He likened his candidacy to Trump's.

"Americans and North Carolinians are tired of the establishment. They're tired of the status quo," he said. They're looking for an outsider, period."

Although he tried to stay above the fray and focus on his belief that government should adhere to the Constitution, Brannon at time became a target of the two Congress members.

"We are not going to fight ISIS by spouting the Federalist Papers," Ellmers said.

Holding ridiculed Brannon's belief that 50 state militias could protect U.S. borders and fend off terrorism and nuclear threats.

For her part, Ellmers ridiculed Holding for his overseas travel as a congressman. Her campaign has suggested that, while he portrays himself as a fiscal conservative, he frequently spends more than needed on these trips.

"So George Holding spending taxpayer dollars is about Barack Obama," she scoffed after he said the trips to India, Jordan and other countries are needed to get an accurate picture of U.S. foreign policy because he doesn't trust the Obama administration's view.

"George has been on 12 expensive, lavish junkets in just three-and-a-half years. I think that's more than most monarchs," she said.

"Ms. Ellmers came out of the box attacking my record as soon as she knew she and I were running against each other," Holding said. "It's a lot of double-talk. It's a lot of spin."

Here's how the three candidates stand on the issues discussed during the debate:

House Bill 2: All three said it was an appropriate state response to Charlotte's transgender nondiscrimination ordinance. Likewise, all three said the U.S. Department of Justice should "back off" from its legal action against the state and the federal guidance provided to schools about transgender bathroom access. "This is a state issue," Ellmers said.

Terrorism: Ellmers said the military needs adequate funding to fight ISIS. Holding said more input is needed from U.S. allies. Brannon said he would declare war on some nations in the Middle East, noting ISIS gets financial support from putative U.S. allies.

Immigration: Holding said no one in the U.S. illegally should be eligible for citizenship. Brannon said millions of people should be deported, noting the cost to taxpayers would be less than the cost of allowing people to remain here illegally. Ellmers said border security needs to be improved first before other problems with the immigration system can be addressed.

Trump: All three said they are behind Trump as the Republican presidential nominee, despite his brusque demeanor. Ellmers said his insulting tone toward women have softened over time, but more voters no longer care about being politically correct. "He has a different style than I have, but what he has tapped into is the Americans' just sickness with the double-talk that comes out of Washington," Holding said.

ACA: All three want to repeal it. Ellmers and Holding said replacement plans that feature more individual control would address problems the health care law has created. Brannon said government needs to get out of health care and let the free market deal with the cost and quality and care. "I would repeal it, defund it, kill it, never replace it with anything. That is not the role of the federal government, period," he said.

Live Blog Republican 2nd Congressional District primary debate


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  • Charlie Watkins May 22, 2016
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    Brannon is playing the part of a Saturday Night Live skit.

    He is way out there. But he does bring some entertainment value.

  • Simon Percival May 20, 2016
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    Roy, is every non-establishment candidate a nutter to you? If not, how do you come to that conclusion with respect to Dr Brannon? As for carpetbagger, I think someone who has lived and worked here for 23 years hardly qualifies for that label.

    If you spend enough time observing his speeches and town halls, and you revere the Constitution, you cannot help but to be very impressed with Greg. There are precious few with such a well-rounded and deep understanding of founding principles that throw their hat into the ring. For the sake of the nation and its future, we should embrace every single one.

  • Roy Pine May 20, 2016
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    Should have titled the debate "Mixed Nuts".

    Ellmers is a Tea Party opportunist who didn't have the common sense to realize how bad the PR would be to keep drawing a paycheck during the government shutdown.

    Holding is a traditional Bible-thumping hypocrite who touts fiscal conservatism but doesn't practice it.

    And Brannon is a true nutter, carpetbagger and serial loser. How many races has this guy lost now, I've lost track? He couldn't win a race for Cary dogcatcher.

  • Lance Boyle May 20, 2016
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    Anyone that watched this debate and did not leave with respect for Ellmers is fooling themselves I think.

  • Lance Boyle May 20, 2016
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    Wow, Ellmers made some excellent points. I did not think I liked her ideas, but she has shown me that she is a thinker, not just a talking head.

  • Lance Boyle May 20, 2016
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    Are the people of North Carolina part of the United States? If so what authority does the United States have over us. For 100,00 million dollars or less can we figure out who has what authority?

  • Lance Boyle May 20, 2016
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    Simon you said something important there I think, but I just dont understand what it was exactly.

  • Simon Percival May 20, 2016
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    Well, I don't know what happened to my earlier comment but let me sum it up this way: There is no fine line between moderator and debater. Congratulations to Crabtree for not just blurring that line, but fully crossing it.

    That being said, between Crabtree alluding to the Constitution "living and breathing" and two of three post-debate panelists at a loss to explain things they clearly do not understand, it was some of the best comedy I have seen.

    Here's a hint, y'all. Conservatism (and other ideologies) can only be fully understood if your knowledge of history extends back before Walter Cronkite.

    Brannon ate all your lunches, and you didn't even know it was missing. Sadly, too many voters don't get it either.

  • Ronald Woodard May 19, 2016
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    Renee Ellmers is not truthful and wants nothing really done about illegal immigration. She only supported some US House bills this year because she knew they were going nowhere. She pretends to be a real conservative but her record, not her mouth, tell the real story that she is not a real conservative.

  • Paul Maxwell May 19, 2016
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    View quoted thread

    Amen. I'm glad someone could shovel through the manure that these three equine hybrids were spewing.