U.S. Senate Candidate Chris Rey Has a Stellar Résumé. Why Isn’t Anyone Taking Him Seriously? | North Carolina | Indy Week
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U.S. Senate Candidate Chris Rey Has a Stellar Résumé. Why Isn’t Anyone Taking Him Seriously? 

Chris Rey speaks to the attendees of the Beta Kappa Sigma chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. during their Founder's Day Celebration Sunday January 24, 2016 at Grainger Chapel Church in Kinston, NC.

Photo by Alex Boerner

Chris Rey speaks to the attendees of the Beta Kappa Sigma chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. during their Founder's Day Celebration Sunday January 24, 2016 at Grainger Chapel Church in Kinston, NC.

On paper, there aren't many stronger political résumés than Chris Rey's.

He's young, smart, energetic, good-looking, a Signal Corps officer who was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, a major in the National Guard, the executive director of a health care nonprofit that assists thousands of uninsured people each year, a cybersecurity expert who spent four years writing policy for the Department of Defense, and a graduate of William & Mary Law School. For the last four years, he's been the mayor of Spring Lake, a town of just over 13,000 situated right outside the gates of Fort Bragg. He's also African-American, a constituency Democrats need to prevail in this state.

In person, the 38-year-old has a knack for charming voters; when he filed to run for U.S. Senate in December, Rey was accompanied by his wife and baby daughter, inciting awws from employees at the Board of Elections. Rey also impressed likely voters at a December meet-and-greet at N.C. Central. "I think he has a lot of great ideas and a lot of energy," one of them told the INDY. "He's suggesting changes that can be made, and I think a majority of folks in North Carolina agree with."

And yet almost no one expects him to win the March 15 Democratic primary, or even to have much of an impact. The big players (and the big money) are instead lining up behind former state legislator Deborah Ross, just as the Democratic elites have aligned themselves with Attorney General Roy Cooper's gubernatorial bid rather than that of Durham attorney Ken Spaulding, another African-American. While Ross is backed by the powerful Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, the AFL-CIO, and EMILY's List, Rey's endorsement list contains over a hundred local officials but just four state legislators. Though the state party remains officially neutral, Ross seems to have secured the Democratic establishment's blessing.

So why has Rey been written off? On the surface, it's simple: Democrats have decided Republican senator Richard Burr is vulnerable, and Ross, a proven fund-raiser and experienced politician, is most likely to beat him.

But Rey thinks there might be more to the story.

"You want our vote, but you're not investing in the black leader," Rey says. "It's not about being divisive; it's that we want the shot, and the shot isn't coming, and you keep telling us to wait, wait, wait. When do we stop waiting?"

• • •

  • Related: North Carolina has only elected one African-American to statewide office.

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