It's one of the most competitive districts in North Carolina: House District 41 in southwest Wake County, which encompasses Morrisville, Apex and parts of Cary, and where the Indian-American vote could swing the election.
This is where incumbent Republican State Rep. Tom Murry faces popular Cary Town Council member Gale Adcock in a race that political observers—and Murry himself—have deemed too close to call.
"This race will be decided by hundreds, not thousands, of votes," Murry told supporters at a fundraiser held at Bond Park in Cary last week.
Adcock says her opponent is "worried to death he's going to lose."
What makes this race so unpredictable is the district's demographics. Nearly 40 percent of voters are unaffiliated; 32 percent are Republican and 27 percent are registered as Democrats. In addition, there has been an influx of new residents, particularly Indian-Americans who tend to register as unaffiliated.
And Murry's previous victory margins have been slim. In 2010, he beat Chris Heagarty by just over 2,600 votes; in 2012, Murry defeated Jim Messina by 1,489 ballots.
"It's a diverse voting base," Heagerty says. "It's one of the top toss-ups and one of the most competitive districts left in the state. With new voters, people don't know the traditions of the different political parties and they react a lot to what is in the news."
Murry calls himself a "pragmatic, pro-business, pro-education, common sense leader." As chair of the House Commerce and Job Development Committee, Murry opposed a bill this summer that would have slashed regulatory boards and commissions and instead passed a more reasoned regulatory reform bill. He voted for renewable energy and increased funding for conservation and water quality, earning him an endorsement from the N.C. Sierra Club—though the group also endorsed Adcock.
But that's as far as his moderate bona fides can take him. Murry has voted with the GOP majority 97 percent of the time. That is, when he has been present to vote: He had excused absences for 10 days during the 2011–2012 session and for 14 days in the 2013–2014.
Murry voted against expanding Medicaid to 500,000 people. He supported what has become known as the motorcycle abortion bill—legislation that began as motorcycle safety and wound up sharply curbing the availability of abortion clinics. He voted to defund Planned Parenthood. He voted for tax reform that lowered the state's revenue while increasing sales taxes, which disproportionately burden the lower and middle classes. Meanwhile, those changes to the tax code gave breaks to the wealthy. He also voted for a controversial bundle of voting restriction laws and a bill that significantly expanded the state's concealed handgun statute.
Americans for Prosperity-NC, backed in part by the ultra conservative Koch Brothers and Art Pope, is running ads supporting Murry and Chad Barefoot, a Republican state senator who is also in a tough fight against Democrat Sarah Crawford.
"Murry has tried to present himself as a moderate, claiming to buck leadership, but he mostly votes with Tillis and the majority," says Harvey Richmond, an environmentalist and Democratic activist who lives in the district. "On occasion he expresses some opposition but that's a rarity, and never on the big issues."
Murry's campaign, backed by the state GOP, has been relentless in attacking Adcock and her record on the Cary Town Council. In a mailer sent out this summer, a doctored image of Adcock shows her with a Pinocchio nose, claiming Adcock and her "liberal supporters" aren't telling voters the truth.
This tactic is similar to the one the North Carolina GOP executive committee used in 2010, when it sent offensive mailers on behalf of Murry depicting then-opponent Chris Heagerty in a sombrero and claiming he supported higher taxes with the line "mucho taxo," driving jobs "south of the border."
The recent mailer claims Adcock voted to use taxpayer's money to build a hotel in downtown Cary, voted to raise taxes more than 500 times on sewer, water and bus fare and that she voted to spend $13 million in tax dollars on an art gallery "that could lose money."
Lori Bush, a fellow Council member and Democrat, says the ad "made (her) blood boil," and that it felt like an attack on the entire Town Council. "It's full of lies, the content is just egregious," Bush said.
Bush says while all of the claims in the mailer are misleading (Cary sold land to a private hotel business on the terms of a 10-year loan, and had to raise water and sewer rates by 25 cents for a state-mandated water facility), the last allegation was the worst.
"I think they are referring to the Cary Arts Center, a community center and our most significant historic structure," Bush says. "We restored it into a public facility that offers art programs for citizens, not an 'art gallery.' It is booked solid and came in $3 million under budget."
Murry defended the Adcock mailer, claiming Democrats and the media have been lying about the Republican majority's record on education.
"I say any Democrats, including my opponent, that try to mislead voters is worthy of two Pinocchio awards," he said. "When voters feel they are being misled, they tend to mistrust the leader."
Adcock says the ad was unsurprising, but added it "was a really poor judgment call" on Murry's part. "Usually desperate people do desperate things," she says. "I don't intend to retaliate in any way but this is going to get him."
Adcock, a nurse practitioner and the chief health officer for SAS' family practice, has sent out her own ads, criticizing Murry's voting record on women's health issues in particular.
"This General Assembly which he was a part of has decided women are not smart enough, moral enough or informed enough to make decisions about their own bodies," Adcocok says. "That's wrong. It's a big issue for a lot of women in my district, and unaffiliated voters."
The other big issue for the district is education. While Republicans are banking on the $282 million budgeted for teacher pay raises, Adcock says it's too little, too late.
"People are concerned about the loss of intellectual capital," Adcock says. "Teachers are moving to other states to work or retire. Rushing in the eleventh hour with a pay raise is like waiting until your patient has a heart attack, giving them CPR and patting yourself on the chest for saving their life. They waited until teachers were gasping for oxygen and suddenly said 'let's give them a raise'."
Education is a major issue for the Indian-American swing voters living in the district. According to 2010 U.S. census data, Morrisville has nearly 4,000 Indian residents, while Cary has nearly 9,000. Most are unaffiliated voters, and Morrisville Town Council member Steve Rao says Indian-Americans are fiscally conservative but socially moderate.
"Education is the most important issue for them," says Rao, the first Indian-American to serve on the Morrisville Town Council. "Education and the ability to work in the fields of science, engineering, medicine, technology and innovation are top."
Adcock says she thinks gun safety and the voter ID law will also be important issues for Indian-American voters. "This is a very defined group of people, they have many shared values and they get more and more organized each election cycle," she says.
Rao says Murry, a former member of the Morrisville Town Council, encouraged Rao, a Democrat, to run for his former seat after Murry won election to the House. But Rao says he doesn't see either party courting the Indian American community for votes, which he calls baffling. He says the advent of the North Carolina Indian Political Action Committee and the growing number of Indian-American residents "will help determine the outcome of elections."
"I'm doing my part to get the community more involved and to convey to other elected officials and candidates that they need to reach out to the Indian and Asian communities," Rao says. "It will come down to where we are as a state, and where we want to go."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Murry is worried"