Davis wins eastern NC battleground, taking seat of retiring Butterfield

Democratic state Sen. Don Davis defeated Republican businesswoman Sandy Smith in North Carolina's 1st Congressional District, bolstering state Democrats' representation in Congress.

Posted Updated

Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Democratic state Sen. Don Davis on Tuesday won his bid for an eastern North Carolina congressional district, keeping the seat long held by retiring U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield in Democrats’ hands.

By early Wednesday, Davis was leading by 5 percentage points with 94% of precincts reporting. His win bolsters Democratic representation in North Carolina’s congressional delegation, but it may not be enough to maintain the national party’s current majority in the U.S. House.

Davis ran with a more moderate message compared to his Republican opponent, businesswoman Sandy Smith, who embraced far-right rhetoric.

The Democrat claimed victory on Tuesday night, calling it a win for residents who want to see tangible results in Washington, D.C.

"At my core, I'm just so excited about this opportunity to be able to come in and make a real effect on the lives of the families here across eastern North Carolina," Davis told WRAL on Tuesday.

Smith had the support of former President Donald Trump, vowed to make sweeping changes to election laws and faced criticism for long-ago allegations of domestic abuse by two of her ex-husbands and her then-teenage daughter—claims she has refuted.

She conceded the race on Wednesday afternoon, blaming the loss on the lack of support she received from outside conservative groups. She also hinted at a possible 2024 rematch, saying Davis should "not get too comfortable."

"Thank you to my supporters for helping us during this hard-fought campaign," Smith tweeted. "Though we came up short, I'm certain had we had more funding from outside groups, we would have won. We were outspent 20-1. Congrats to Don Davis. My advice to him is not to get too comfortable."

While both candidates sought to speak to voters’ economic frustrations, Davis maintained he could do more for the 1st Congressional District. He said he’d make sure recently approved infrastructure money gets to the area that stretches from Wilson to Elizabeth City.

Smith, meanwhile, argued the economy would improve with GOP majorities in the U.S. House that could rein in President Joe Biden and sizable government spending.

The district became more conservative with redistricting and included rural communities and urban hubs, notably outside the city of Greenville. The historically agricultural area is also grappling with growth spilling over from the Triangle. But the seat was still expected to go to a Democrat.

National Democratic groups made sizable ad buys against Smith in the lead-up to the election. In total, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Majority PAC collectively spent more than $4.7 million to boost Davis.

Smith narrowly came out on top in an eight-person GOP primary field in May. Toward the end of the primary and shortly after her win, she drew scrutiny over past domestic abuse allegations. She has since said she was the survivor of abuse, not the perpetrator.

Davis is an Air Force veteran and former mayor of Snow Hill. He’s served in the state Senate for all but two years since 2009 and has remained in office since 2013. In his debut as a congressional candidate, Davis defeated one main competitor in the Democratic primary, former state Sen. Erica Smith. Smith took aim at Davis’ past votes on abortion—which she called out of step with the party—but she wound up losing the race by 32 percentage points.

During his time in the state Senate, Davis backed measures limiting access to abortion. In 2019, he supported a bill that would have made it a felony with the possibility of prison time for health care practitioners to not treat a baby born in the course of a late-term abortion as a person.

The Presbyterian minister was among two Democrats who supported the so-called “born-alive” legislation and the only Democrat to override a veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Since running for U.S. House, Davis has said he could separate his personal religious views from how he’d govern.

He pledged to vote in Congress to codify Roe v. Wade, the since-overturned U.S. Supreme Court decision that held governments couldn’t regulate abortion decisions during first trimester but could impose restrictions in the second trimester and ban the procedure altogether in the third trimester so long as the mother’s health or life is not in danger.

Davis also spoke to voters' economic frustrations.

"The families here in eastern North Carolina, they're concerned about the issues that impact them, those issues that they talk about the dinner," Davis said. "That's what we talked about and will continue to talk about. We're concerned about making sure our kids get a good education, making sure there's access to good quality health care and just good-paying jobs in the east."

WRAL Reporter Joe Fisher contributed to this article.


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