Former N.C. 11th Congressman Heath Shuler is making the rounds these days as a surrogate for Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden.
But during a recent interview, the well-known Blue Dog Democrat took time to weigh in on the candidates seeking to occupy the Congressional seat he held between 2007 and 2013.
The two candidates are Republican Madison Cawthorn, a 25-year-old who’s never held elected office and upset Meadows-endorsed Lynda Bennet in the primary, and Moe Davis, a 62-year-old retired Army Colonel and former Chief Prosecutor of Guantanamo Bay.
While Shuler said he knows both men, he’s known Cawthorn longer. During a Mountaineer forum prior to the second primary against Bennett, Cawthorn even said Shuler had been advising him.
“Madison and I had conversations long before he even decided to run,” Shuler said.
Shuler was also clear in saying he wouldn’t endorse either candidate and mentioned that he’d said that to both men early on.
“It’s more about the seat itself, regardless of who’s in it,” he said. “It’s all about what’s in the best interest of the 11th district and whether anybody can be heard and get constituent services met.”
Shuler noted that with the redrawn district, Davis has a chance of coming away with a win if things come together right, and he pointed out that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has just recently declared the district could be winnable for the Democrat. No matter what, Shuler expects it’ll be close.
The two candidates are very different, he notes. While he considers Davis to be a moderate liberal, he said he believes Cawthorn staked out a spot to the far right and has stayed there.
Shuler said he thinks Davis has to work hard to bring the center-right voters over to his camp through touting his experience.
“Moe has to separate himself and show he has the experience and maturity and that he’s the right person to make difficult decisions,” Shuler said.
Shuler said for Cawthorn, the approach has to be a bit different. Simply put, he must be able to position himself in a way that appeals to more than the just fringe elements of the party.
“While Moe will need to work hard, Madison can’t slip up,” he said.
In times where the traditional methods of getting a message out and fundraising are stifled by the coronavirus pandemic, Shuler said debates are paramount to allow voters a chance to compare and contrast the candidates.
He said that with the exception of his race against Charles Taylor, he debated opponents in every county in his district. In this case, Shuler said he not only wants to see as many smaller, community debates as possible, but he also wants to see one take place in the most public forum possible to reach the most voters.
“It’s important that WLOS holds a debate,” he said.
Shuler said that a debate would serve as a chance for both men to prove to skeptical voters that he has the leadership and policy insights to be a good representative for Western North Carolina.
“[Davis] has to be able to get his message out, and on the debate side, I think he has to show himself as being mature and experienced and that he can make decisions that are based upon the constituents,” he said. “If Madison shows in these debates that he’s not beholden to that fringe 10 percent, he can win. It’s who’s going to be in the center.”