EDENTON, N.C. — This has been a big weekend for politicians in the state's 1st Congressional District.
First, Rep. Frank Ballance stepped down. Now, candidates are gearing up for a special election to choose his replacement.
Republican leaders chose Greg Dority as their candidate in next month's special election. Dority, who lost to Ballance in 2002, was chosen over fellow Republican Jerry Williford during a meeting Saturday.
Dority said it is necessary to get someone in Ballance's seat quickly with decisions on the tobacco buyout looming.
"I'm real excited, and I appreciate the confidence of the committee in nominating me," Dority said.
"We feel that it will probably be decided one way or the other before November. So it's critical that the people of Eastern North Carolina have representation at the table when this critical issue is being decided in the fall."
Democrats in the district got to know their candidates better Saturday through a question-and-answer forum in Rocky Mount, where four candidates stumped for Ballance's seat.
Christine Fitch and Darryl Smith are concerned about the decision to hold a special election on the same day as the primaries.
"I think it may possibly be confusing to the voters, particularly with the lack of downtime in order to get the message out," Fitch said.
Said Smith: "It seems calculated to influence the outcome in favor of one candidate."
Candidates G.K. Butterfield and Sam Davis said the special election is just part of the process, adding that the primary is still what matters most.
"I don't think there will be any particular advantage to anyone who wins in the special election." Butterfield said. "We have some very intelligent voters in the 1st Congressional District, and they are willing and able to discern all the issues."
Said Davis: "Endorsements and appointments are not going to affect the creation of jobs and the kind of congressman Eastern North Carolina is looking for."
Dority, meanwhile, said representation cannot wait until January, no matter who gets the final nod.
"The governor (Mike Easley) made the right decision in calling for the special election as soon as possible," Dority said.
For his part, Williford said that because he did not get the special-election nomination, he is disappointed it's being held with the primaries.
The Libertarian party also will select a 1st District candidate for the special election.
The winner of the July 20 special election will serve the remainder of Ballance's term, which ends in January.
The 62-year-old Ballance, a Democrat, resigned Tuesday, saying a neuromuscular disorder has affected his ability to carry out his duties.
Ballance was diagnosed in February with myasthenia gravis, a condition that results in muscle weakness.
At the same time, federal and state investigators are probing the activities of a drug and alcohol counseling program he founded in northeastern North Carolina.
Ballance had already said last month he would not seek a second term in Congress because of his declining health.
Dority and Williford gave five-minute speeches before the Republican executive committee's secret-ballot vote.
The committee thought Dority's experience in the 2002 election would be a definite plus.
Dority said Democrats in the 1st District should do a lot of "soul-searching" before picking his opponent Monday night. He said if the choice has ties to Ballance, he plans to point that out.
Dority, a managing partner in Sterling Security, a Washington, N.C-based security firm, said he is looking forward to July 20.
"I'm excited," Dority said. "In 38 days, we're going to have a special election. We've got a long road in front of us."