Raleigh, N.C. — Although it's hard to fathom given the slew of negative ads aired in the state Senate District 18 race, the two candidates have a lot in common.
Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, and Democratic challenger Sarah Crawford are both young parents whose mothers were teachers. They both have lobbyists in the family – Crawford is married to environmental lobbyist Dan Crawford, while Barefoot's mother-in-law is anti-gay-marriage lobbyist Tami Fitzgerald.
Both candidates have benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars from their respective parties and caucus organizations, as well as big spending from outside groups. And both have been heavily targeted by negative television ads and fliers in mailboxes across the district. Each is being accused of being beholden to special interest groups.
Barefoot, a former staffer for Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, won the district in 2012 after it was redrawn to favor a Republican candidate. He says representing the district, which sprawls from Franklin County through eastern and southern Wake County, is his full-time job.
"I’ve worked really hard," he said, noting that the district covers urban and rural areas with priorities that don't always agree. "I want to help North Carolina turn this corner and start planning the future of this state for the next 20 years so it can be like the state that I grew up in," he said.
Barefoot said his focus is on the economy and education.
"What I’m concerned most about is that the educational pipeline – when kids come into the system to the time that they leave – that it’s creating opportunities for every child, no matter what their background is, where they come from, where they want to go," he said.
He said he's particularly concerned about the security and privacy of student data.
"There are a lot of bad guys out there that are after young children's identities. It's an emerging issue across the nation," he said.
Sarah Crawford used to work for 4th District Congressman David Price and now works for the Tammy Lynn Center, a nonprofit helping people with developmental disabilities.
"I see firsthand the role that Medicaid plays in the lives of families who have children with special needs, and I think it was a crime not to expand Medicaid, not to take fully funded expansion of Medicaid," she said. "Not only would we have helped 500,000 North Carolinians, but we would have also brought jobs to this state, to the tune of about 25,000 jobs."
Crawford has never run for office before.
"I'm very concerned, like a lot of people, about the direction the General Assembly is taking North Carolina, with all of these egregious acts, particularly against public education, but also against Medicaid, against clean air and clean water and – and frankly, people are not happy," she said.
She said she will work to protect clean air and clean water, including requiring more public disclosure of fracking chemicals. But her main priority will be education funding.
"We have to raise teacher pay to the national average, we have to invest in classroom resources, and we have to reduce class size," she said. "We've got to make sure that we have the right kinds of investments in our public education system."