Stam: District 6 is a ‘toss-up’

Published 7:39 am Sunday, August 1, 2010

Staff Writer

The state House minority leader contends state House District 6 is a “toss-up,” and he’s willing to bet at least $2,500 on that claim.
The leader, Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, was in Washington on Friday morning to speak in support of Bill Cook, the GOP’s nominee in District 6.
As a gesture of faith, Stam has given Cook’s election committee $2,500 of his own campaign money — $2,000 of it early in the year, and another $500 to boost Cook’s breakfast fundraiser Friday morning.
“District 6 is a toss-up,” Stam told the Daily News. “It’s a real toss-up.”
The district covers all of Beaufort County and a portion of northeast Pitt County.
Stam indicated the House Republican caucus will consider giving Cook a share of the $1 million it hopes to spend statewide on election efforts this year.
Acknowledging he’s not calling the race for this usually sleepy political territory, Stam said, “But I will say it (District 6) will be one of our top priorities, probably for both sides.”
The GOP needs to pick up nine House seats to tip the balance of power away from the Democrats, who have a 68-52 advantage in that chamber, Stam pointed out, noting that a handful of key, disputed districts are in the east.
“If the election were held today, we’d pick up 12 to 15 (seats),” he projected.
Though Cook is grappling for victory over the well-funded and well-known Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, Stam and some of his fellow Republicans insist the district can be won, and they’re pitching Cook as the truly conservative choice.
Accepting that Williams is often described as a conservative Democrat, Stam said the lawmaker’s conservatism is usually overcome by the liberal House leadership.
“He is more conservative than most Democrats, which is why he’s like a fish out of water,” the minority leader commented, adding that Williams voted to elevate liberal House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange.
“So, he doesn’t get to vote conservative most of the time,” Stam said of Williams.
Williams disagrees.
“I don’t have any agenda in Raleigh except to represent my people,” he told the Daily News in a recent interview.
“Skip’s a friend of mine,” he said. “I like Skip. We’re good friends, and, hey, I’m a conservative Democrat, and I think if Skip told you the truth he’d tell you I vote across the aisle some because I vote the issues for my people here in the district and that’s it. Other people want to get into partisan politics. I’m not into that. I think that at some part you’ve got to shut up and do the job.”
As for his re-election chances, Williams essentially said he’s ready for a challenge.
“It’s like a horse race, you’ve got to run to the end,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of support in Raleigh and a lot of support at home. Hopefully, I’ll be all right. I’ve just got to get out here and campaign and work it. So, I’m pretty excited about it.”
The four-term incumbent said he’d been endorsed by former Gov. Jim Hunt, and an e-mail provided by a local Democratic official made the Senate president pro tempore’s feelings explicit.
“We must make sure that Arthur Williams returns to Raleigh, so he can keep helping us move our state forward,” state Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, said in the e-mail. “Even in these tough times, we have made the tough choices necessary to pass balanced budgets while protecting teacher jobs, improving our University System and funding worker training programs at local community colleges.”
Stam suggested much of Williams’ effectiveness is based on his relationship with Basnight, who also serves Beaufort County.
Democrats contend Williams is effective because he knows how Raleigh works, and by all signs the party in power wants to keep the faithful on hand.
“The 2010 elections are rapidly approaching and their importance cannot be overstated,” Basnight’s e-mail reads.
For his part, Cook, removed from the action in the state capital, said he’s campaigning in District 6 by knocking on doors two to three hours a day.
But the presence of Stam and some local GOP leaders at the breakfast showed his initiative isn’t all grassroots.
Speaking of Stam, Cook remarked, “He’s been a very big help to me, giving me advice, giving me money.”
And money continues to be a weak spot for Cook, who is still unable to compete with Williams’ tremendous fundraising advantage — hence the breakfast, which he estimated would bring in around $1,200.
“Raising money is the most difficult part of this thing,” Cook said.