HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. (WNCN) — What could have been a relatively routine race has turned into one of the most contentious in the country with politicos in Washington closely watching.
Two members of Congress from central North Carolina are facing off in the Republican primary next month, and two famous billionaires are targeting one of them.
Reps. Renee Ellmers and George Holding are seeking their party’s nomination in the second Congressional district.
Americans for Prosperity, which was founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, is taking the unusual step of trying to unseat Ellmers. It’s the first time the group has directly targeted a Republican.
“I’m an effective member of Congress that isn’t beholden to any DC special interest groups. That is apparently what AFP has turned into,” said Ellmers.
She hosted a town hall Thursday night in Holly Springs.
She and Holding share similar views on a variety of issues, such as supporting Donald Trump for president and supporting the controversial House Bill 2.
But, she also tried to draw distinctions during an interview with CBS North Carolina.
“I think the biggest issue we’re dealing with here is are you a doer or are you a do-nothing?” she asked.
Americans for Prosperity is attacking her record on spending, pointing to a vote to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which provides loans to businesses.
AFP has attacked it as “corporate welfare.” Rep. Holding voted against it.
“There are a lot of people in Washington that have spending problems, but what really did Congresswoman Ellmers in with us was her support of the Export-Import Bank,” said Donald Bryson, state director of Americans for Prosperity.
Bryson said the group is spending in the low six-figures to try to defeat Ellmers. In addition to going door-to-door to campaign against her, the group is also sending out mailers that read “vote against Renee Ellmers.”
“What we have with Renee Ellmers is a big spender who has sort of been in the tank for corporate welfare. And, we’re going to hold her accountable in this race,” Bryson said.
Ellmers defended the vote, saying it impacted nine businesses in the district and as many 6,600 jobs.
“I’m not sure at what point as a conservative, we stopped being pro-business,” she said.
Rep. Holding spoke with CBS North Carolina by phone from Washington.
“Congresswoman Ellmers does not have a voting record that reflects the district,” he said.
The primary is being held later than normal on June 7 because earlier this year federal judges determined two of the state’s congressional districts had been gerrymandered along racial lines. During a special session, state lawmakers redrew the maps, resulting in changes to several districts and moved the congressional primary date.
The changes resulted in Rep. Holding’s district being moved west and him being placed in Democratic Rep. David Price’s district.
Even though Holding doesn’t live in the second district, he chose to run there, pointing out the new 2nd district includes about 63 percent of his old district.
“You can’t really say that I’m not part of the community. And, you couldn’t really say that I shouldn’t run in that area where I was born and raised,” he said.
Though rare, it is legal for someone to represent a Congressional district even though they don’t live there, as long as they live in the state.
Holding lives six miles outside the second district.
Cary physician Dr. Greg Brannon is also running for the Republican nomination. He didn’t respond to CBS North Carolina’s requests for comment.