Last week, NC Senator Valerie Foushee announced that she would run for the state’s 6th District – currently 4th District – at US House.
She joins a growing group of Democratic hopefuls vying for the seat of retired Representative David Price, including NC Senator Wiley Nickel, Nathan Click, Ashley Ward and County Durham Commissioner Nida Allam.
If Foushee wins, she will safely sit in Congress for decades to come.
Despite holding one of the most secure Democratic seats in North Carolina – a post he has held on and off for more than 30 years – Price doesn’t have much to show.
Price is one of the oldest members of the House of Representatives and was first elected around the same time as current President Nancy Pelosi. Despite its length, his tenure was uneventful, with few notable leadership positions and mediocre accomplishments.
If Democratic voters play their cards right, the 6th Arrondissement could elect a new titan of US politics, well-positioned to take on powerful leadership roles and write a new chapter for the Triangle. To do so, Democrats would need to elect one of the candidates of color who announced their candidacy.
Foushee and Allam are said to be historic candidates – no woman or person of color has ever represented the district, let alone a woman of color.
Allam, who announced his candidacy earlier this month, is no stranger to history. When she was elected to the Durham County Council of Commissioners last year, she became the first Muslim woman ever to be elected to public office in North Carolina. Political newcomer Click, a black man, is also said to be a historic candidate.
In an institution like Congress, creating space for new, diverse leadership is incredibly difficult. Because there are a limited number of seats, you invariably have to ask someone who has the power to give it up and step down for someone else. While many notable representatives have found their way into Congress by ousting an incumbent – as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley did in 2018 in particular – many diverse candidates have come out on top when an incumbent retires.
Primaries held in the vacuum left by a vacancy, like the one we’ll see in 2022, create new opportunities. The other members of the “Squad”, Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, were elected to Congress after the retirement of their Democratic representatives.
Now Home Secretary Deb Haaland and Rep. Ritchie Torres from New York are other historic candidates who have seized the opportunity to present themselves in the same fashion.
Foushee herself made the jump to the State Senate after her predecessor, Senator Ellie Kinnaird, retired after nine terms.
An inspiring congressional candidate creates an impact beyond himself. When voters have a reason to run for one candidate, they always vote for everyone else. A candidate that could be historic, like Foushee or Allam, would increase turnout in less funded polls that impact local politics and for presidential candidates voters are not overly enthusiastic.
But the 6th arrondissement cannot make the mistakes of the failed campaigns that preceded it. When the “safe” candidates win the primaries, they flounder in the overall standings. We cannot look any further than defeated US Senate candidate Cal Cunningham, and more recently Virginia candidate for governor Terry McAuliffe.
The two candidates presented themselves as sure values: moderate, educated white men. Cunningham got his biggest late-game push by being exposed as adultery, giving voters a long-awaited reason to talk about him. But he still hasn’t managed to win.
McAuliffe beat two progressive black women in his primary – women who, if successful, would have been historic, not just for Virginia, but nationally – and lost the general in a state that President Biden has easily won a year earlier.
Foushee and Allam’s campaigns can be historic if invested and given the chance. In addition to enjoying a rare opportunity to add new perspectives to our federal government, the 6th District has the opportunity to elect someone who will bring about monumental change three decades from now.
If voters want to lay the groundwork for real change in North Carolina, now is the time to do it.
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