A political newcomer upset with how President Donald Trump and his administration have been treated challenges a long-serving Democrat who voted for impeachment.
By Anne Blythe
David Price, Incumbent, Democrat from Chapel Hill
Political experience: Price has held the seat consistently since 1997. He also served from 1987 to 1994, when he lost re-election during a Republican sweep in Congress spurred by the party’s nationwide emphasis on the Newt Gingrich “Contract With America.” Price is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and is chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee.
Educational/personal: Price was born in Erwin, Tennessee. He holds a bachelor’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill and both a bachelor of divinity and a doctorate in political science from Yale University. He was a legislative aide for an Alaska senator in the 1960s and has been a professor at Duke University.
Campaign contributions: As of June 30, Price’s campaign had raised $752,852 and spent $680,779, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Robert Thomas, Republican from Durham
Political experience: First time running for elected office. He says he was compelled to run after the impeachment of President Donald Trump. “I thought he was being treated unfairly, being attacked by Washingtonians.”
Education/personal: Thomas was born in Van Wert, Ohio. He has a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University and a law degree from the Moritz College of Law there. He is a residential real estate appraiser, but once worked as an attorney and found himself drawn to Constitutional law. He says he hasn’t worked as an attorney for 25 years.
Campaign contributions: There’s no data on Robert Thomas on OpenSecrets or the N.C. State Board of Elections campaign finance website. The conservative ivoterguide website lists Thomas as having “insufficient information.”
The recently redrawn 4th Congressional District includes Orange County, Durham County, Granville County, a small portion of Vance County, Franklin County, a swath of eastern Wake County, as well as a large segment of eastern Chatham County, making the district slightly more competitive than the district’s prior incarnation which comprised Chapel Hill and parts of Durham and Raleigh.
Affordable Care Act
Price voted for the Affordable Act and has voted against efforts to dismantle it such as a bill put forward by South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy in 2017.
“The Graham-Cassidy bill is nothing more than a last-ditch effort to resuscitate Trumpcare and deny insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans. It should be rejected just as previous versions were,” Price said in a statement issued Sept. 18, 2017. “Rather than joining Democrats to take bipartisan action to enable Obamacare markets to operate as intended and drive down health costs, Republicans in Congress seem intent on raising premiums, slashing Medicaid funding, jeopardizing health coverage for millions, and eradicating protections for pre-existing conditions.”
Thomas said in a recent telephone interview that he would not support an overturning of the Affordable Care Act unless measures were in place to support people with pre-existing conditions and offering young adults who still need assistance from their parents an option of being on their insurance.
“In name, I’m against anything mandated by the government, but I’m with the president,” Thomas said, referring to Trump’s claims that people with pre-existing conditions will be protected under a plan he has yet to share with the public. “To me, it’s not all or nothing.”
In 2017, he criticized the Trump administration’s rollback of provisions in the Affordable Care Act that would have prohibited insurance companies from charging women substantial out-of-pocket expenses for birth control.
“Birth control is health care, it’s plain and simple,” Price said in a Facebook post on Oct. 6, 2017. “Today, President Trump rolled back a provision protecting birth control coverage, taking aim at the 62 million women that benefit from guaranteed no copay contraception. Birth control is not controversial — nearly 9 out of 10 women will use birth control at some point in their lives. This decision proves that President Trump does not understand women’s health.”
Thomas has a more complicated view of reproductive rights, he said, than coming down on one side with pro-choice or pro-life advocates. While he thinks there should be some limits on how far into a pregnancy a woman should have access to abortion, he supports use of the “morning-after pill,” which he said would go against some pro-life supporters who oppose any pharmaceutical attempt to block conception. He also wrestles in his own mind at what point the line against access should be drawn, but describes it as “fairly early.”
The Affordable Care Act in 2013 made it possible for states to expand access to Medicaid to low-income residents who do not qualify for Medicaid but have difficulty paying for private market insurance.
North Carolina has an estimated 500,000 people, mostly low-income workers, who could have better access to health care if Medicaid were expanded, but state Republican legislators have blocked that from happening.
Thomas declined to take a stance on the issue, saying it was not something a congressional delegation would decide.
In January 2017, Price joined with G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams, the other Democratic members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation, in sending a letter to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, supporting Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposal to expand Medicaid.
Price posted a plea on his Facebook page on Oct. 5 with his support for widespread face mask use. “Despite what our President tweets, COVID-19 remains dangerous and is continuing to spread across our nation. Please remember to take precautions, practice the 3 W’s (wait 6 ft apart, wear a mask, and wash your hands), and listen to our public health officials. #stopthespread,” the post states.
Thomas says he wears a face mask most of the time when he’s in public and supports the use of them. “I think they’re perfectly appropriate,” Thomas said. There are times, he said, when masks aren’t needed, such as when outdoors and physically distant.
Mask mandates, Thomas argues, likely are unconstitutional so he would not support such a measure. He touts it as a common-sense measure. Although Thomas has worn face masks to two Trump rallies, one in Winston-Salem and another in the western part of the state, he said he took his off after most of the people around him were not wearing them.
During a Facebook session with Chatham County residents recently, Thomas said he supported Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. “I think that his progression toward a cure with the COVID pandemic is a wonder to behold. He’s working at warp speed and I hope his efforts will soon yield a vaccine. I think we’re on the right path and I think we should stay there.”
Yet if he could change one thing, he would have liked to see the president embrace the face mask.
The opioid crisis
Price voted for the federal budget in 2018 that included federal funding to fight the opioid crisis.
Thomas says the way to fight the opioid crisis is to focus on the economy and put federal money into job retraining programs. He supports holding drug companies accountable, but said he thinks the crisis grew, in part, because “people have too much time on their hands.”