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Holding wins 2nd District contest, ousts Ellmers

Posted June 7, 2016 7:30 p.m. EDT
Updated June 8, 2016 7:37 a.m. EDT

— Congressman George Holding has won his showdown against fellow Congresswoman Renee Ellmers in North Carolina's 2nd Congressional District Republican primary.

Holding will face Democrat John McNeil, a Raleigh attorney, in the fall general election.

Ellmers is the first congressional Republican to lose her seat in a primary this year.

"Everything is meant for a reason, so I believe this is the way things were supposed to go today," Ellmers said outside her home in Dunn. "I've got to tell you, I am a little disappointed. You know, the special interest groups with their deep pockets in Washington, they have won today."

Dr. Greg Brannon, a Cary obstetrician and two-time Senate candidate, finished third in the race.

Holding's 13th Congressional District was moved west to Greensboro during a court-ordered overhaul of North Carolina's congressional map this spring. So, he opted to run against Ellmers rather than face an uphill battle in the 4th Congressional District where he now lives, which leans heavily Democratic.

With all but a handful of the district's 158 precincts reporting, Holding held 53 percent of the vote, easily outpacing his competitors with the aid of a big voting block in Wake County, according to unofficial results.

"You go to Washington, and you think you vote in the right way," Holding said. "I try to vote in a conservative manner, and you wonder if sometimes the people even notice. This primary gave me the opportunity to learn that people do notice. I'm just really pleased at the result, really thankful for all the support."

A paltry 7 percent of voters statewide cast ballots for 11 U.S. House seats, one state Supreme Court seat and a handful of local races.

Tuesday's primary was set up by a federal court decision that declared the state's previous congressional districts unconstitutional. That ruling came too late to reset the ballot for the state's regularly scheduled March 15 primary.

After the June 7 date was set for congressional elections, a state court ruling required a new primary for state Supreme Court as well. Unlike congressional elections, the Supreme Court race is not a partisan contest, and the primary was held only to narrow the field to two candidates.

Incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds, who is backed by the Republican Party, will face Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan in the fall election. Sabra Jean Faires, whose lawsuit brought about the June primary finished a distant third in the four-person primary.

The three 2nd District candidates spent much of the past three months trying to tear down their competitors' conservative credentials. Outside groups such as the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity threw their weight behind Holding, while Ellmers landed an endorsement from Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

"The defeat of Renee Ellmers should be a warning to any Republican who campaigns as an economic conservative but votes for massive spending bills and for corrupt cronyism like the Export-Import Bank," Club for Growth Action President David McIntosh said in a statement. "Today in North Carolina, voters confirmed that Ellmers had rejected their values and become part of the big-government establishment in Washington."

Ellmers said she felt Trump's endorsement over the weekend helped her pick up some votes, but not enough to carry the day.

"With all of the negative ads and everything that were running against me from the special interest groups, just his voice alone coming over their telephone was enough for them to go out and vote for us," she said.

Ellmers was elected six years ago with the support of tea party groups, but she decried the involvement of outside spenders in the primary.

"These special interest groups have been out for me since 2013," she said. "They basically don’t like my message, which is compassion and looking to empower women to make better choices.

"With the special interest groups, they control Washington, and they control members of Congress," she continued. "I respect George Holding for being elected to Congress, but he is not a doer, and I fear for the people of District 2."

She said she plans to continue questioning Holding's spending on official travel, a subject she brought up during the campaign.

Holding said Ellmers started the negative campaigning, and he was merely trying to defend his record.

"If you go to the very beginning when this race started, my record as a member of Congress was attacked, my votes were attacked and I had to respond to them. It’s pretty simple. If explaining your votes is negative, I guess people just took it the wrong way," he said.