When local Democratic candidates gathered in downtown Apex last week, there was little doubt that Jason Wunsch delivered the most memorable introduction.
“My name is Jason Wunsch and I’m running against Paul ‘Skip’ Stam,” said Wunsch, who is seeking the N.C. House District 37 seat.
Immediately, a murmur arose among those who gathered to hear him speak. Everyone in the room fully realized that the odds were heavily against the relative political newcomer as he sought to defeat one of the most powerful and well-connected Republicans in the state.
But Wunsch, who is used to receiving all sorts of interesting reactions when he delivers that line, laughed and took a few seconds for the murmuring to subside.
“Usually,” said the smiling Wunsch, “that is all I have to say.”
While Wunsch’s challenge might be the most daunting among local Democrats it’s certainly not the only uphill fight facing the candidates who participated in the meet-and-greet session held at the Halle Cultural Arts Center.
U.S. Congressional District 2 candidate Steve Wilkins received feedback similar to Wunsch when he noted that he was facing incumbent Renee Ellmers and N.C. Senate District 17 candidate Erv Portman claims he is being outspent “three to one” by Republican Tamara Barringer.
State House candidates Lisa Baker (District 36) and Jim Messina (District 41) are squaring off against incumbents Nelson Dollar and Tom Murry, respectively, and Caroline Sullivan is seeking the Wake County Board of Commissioners District 4 seat left vacant by Portman.
Also speaking at the event were Wake County district judge candidates Anna Worley and Erin Graber.
Nearly all the candidates stressed the importance of improving public education in North Carolina and sharply criticized the Republicans’ spending cuts in that area.
Wunsch claimed that Stam was going to “privatize education” if he was re-elected.
“He is pushing for a voucher system,” said Wunsch. “I don’t believe that is in the best interest of our district or North Carolina.”
Sullivan said good public schools are an important draw for businesses seeking to relocate to the area. She said the Republicans’ overzealous budget-cutting in education wasn’t helping the area.
Those sentiments were echoed by Messina who told how his brother overcame cerebral palsy to earn a college degree and then serve as a social worker for 20 years.
Messina said he feared other children would be unable to pursue such goals if the Republicans continue to decrease spending in education.
“His dream came true because of a public education system that allowed him to spread his wings as well as a state university system,” said Messina. “Other kids in North Carolina aren’t going to be able to have such a dream.”
Baker claimed the Republicans were out of touch with area residents.
“I don’t feel that Mr. Dollar listens to people in the district,” said Baker. “I live,work and go to church with them. I want to see them have jobs and prosper.”
Portman questioned the Republicans’ “rhetoric that government is bad and business is good.” He said the two should work together to solve complicated issues.
Portman, a small business owner, also criticized the tax cuts that Republicans were giving to businesses and said that money should be reinvested into education.
“If we don’t invest in schools we won’t be successful,” said Portman.
Wilkins said he didn’t understand why the Republicans insist that government and business are incompatible. He noted that elected officials with keen vision created RTP and brought numerous businesses to the Triangle.
In the end, all the candidates said it was important for voters to make their voices heard.
“Get involved,” said Messina. “Some of our races are still very close. The best thing you can do is just get involved.”