MOORESVILLE — A gun store owner who’s never run for office has a good chance at becoming North Carolina’s newest congressman after winning a crowded primary in a topsy-turvy election season.
The improbable political ascent of Republican Ted Budd is owed in large part to spending by the conservative Club for Growth super PAC. His Democratic opponent, meanwhile, says voters should be suspicious of a half-million dollars in outside support that helped Budd win the Republican nomination.
Budd rose to the top in a 17-way race in the Republican primary for the 13th District, defeating several state legislators in the field. He said he decided to run in the conservative district after observing that many voters prize broader experience than simply time spent as a politician.
“I’m not a political hack. I’m not immersed in it, and it’s not coursing through my veins to be political,” he said in a phone interview. “I want to be among the doers and the problem solvers.”
Budd has gotten high marks from conservative voters, and his winsome public speeches draw applause and laughs. He was also boosted by about $500,000 in spending from Club for Growth, which paid for ads during the primary that helped introduce Budd to voters in the rural district stretching between Greensboro and Charlotte.
One voter, registered as an independent, said he will vote for Budd over Democrat Bruce Davis because of the Republican’s stance on education. Budd’s website says that the candidate home-schools his children, and that the candidate believes education choices should be made by parents and teachers, not Washington officials.
“Of course, schooling is important, and without a proper education, there’s nowhere to go,” said Dylan Nielsen, 22, as he drank a soda on a recent day in downtown Mooresville.
Nielsen said he based his decision on what he’s read in newspapers and online.
“It’s all about how they promote themselves as well,” he said. “I think Budd’s doing a little bit better with that. He’s given his platform little bit better than Davis is.”
Budd grew up on a farm in Davie County and graduated from Appalachian State University before earning an MBA at Wake Forest University. He previously worked for his family’s landscaping and janitorial business and created a company with his father that invested in agricultural businesses.
Since 2010 his primary business has been ProShots, an indoor range and gun store north of Winston-Salem.
Longtime Republican strategist Carter Wrenn, who’s not involved in Budd’s campaign, said the Club for Growth’s ads gave the newcomer an edge in the crowded race.
“The first mountain you’ve got to climb is getting known. And you can’t climb that mountain without money to tell people ‘here’s who I am and here’s why I’m running,’” he said. “And I think that’s exactly what Club for Growth did for Ted Budd.”
The large number of candidates was a result of a federal court order for state lawmakers to redraw the state’s congressional districts. The new map took shape in a manner that left the 13th District effectively without an incumbent, and made up of precincts that statistics show generally vote Republican.
Club for Growth interviewed a half-dozen candidates and backed Budd after sitting down with him in April, said Andrew Roth, the group’s vice president for governmental affairs. Roth said the group likes Budd’s chances in the General Election and doesn’t currently plan to spend more.
Davis, Budd’s opponent, said he was concerned about the outside spending.
“There’s a growing number of people who have growing concerns about big money in politics, buying elections,” said Davis, a retired U.S. Marine and former Guilford County commissioner.
Like Budd, Davis said he’s a small business owner in a heavily regulated industry, operating a childcare center with his wife. He said that his years working on Guilford County’s budget give him experience in avoiding wasteful spending while making sure infrastructure and services are maintained. Davis said he’s a gun owner who believes in Second Amendment rights, but there should also be common-sense measures to govern who has guns.
As for Budd, he said focusing on mental health problems and combating “radical Islamic terrorism” — rather than increasing gun control — would significantly reduce the occurrence of the kind of tragedies that have made headlines in the U.S. recently.