With Bill Owens expected to retire in 2012, House District 1 will most likely fall into Republican hands next year.  Newly drawn House maps turn this district from a Democrat leaning (D+1) district into one that leans Republican.  The district encompasses Currituck, Camden, Perquimans, Chowan and parts of Pasquotank counties.  Given the strong Republican showing in the District in 2010, this should be an easy pickup for the GOP with the right candidate.  Among these seeking the seat are the popular columnist and former NC-2 House candidate Bob Steinburg and the polarizing former Chairman and current member of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners, J. Owen Etheridge.  At least two others are rumored to have some interest in the seat including perennial candidate Bill Lehmann of Pasquotank County and former NC-5 House candidate Matt Peeler of Perquimans County.

There can be little doubt that the strongest and most viable candidate is Bob Steinburg.  He has high name recognition in the District, the region and in Raleigh, giving him a strong advantage among the Republicans and in the general election.  Not only is Steinburg’s name known, the impression associated with his name is highly favorable.  This can be attributed to his avocation, his recent campaign experience and his leadership.  He is a past Chairman of the Chowan County Republican Party and the present Chairman of the Albemarle-Pamlico Republican Club.  His popular ‘A Conservative’s Viewpoint’ column appeared in both the Chowan Herald and the Daily Advance and was widely read.  In addition, Steinburg is a proven fundraiser having raised over $35,000 last year in his bid for the NC-2 House seat.  During his campaign, he created a strong donor base and powerful conservative activist network.  His donor base spans the entire coastal region and includes support from House Majority Leader Skip Stam.  This puts him way out in front before the race even starts.  Add to that the donors and activists in Dare County who became personally attached to and invested in their House candidate last year and you have a ready made base of support from which to launch a successful campaign.

The rest of the field faces an uphill battle.

Currituck County Commissioner J. Owen Etheridge, a former Democrat, is a fixture in Currituck County politics.  He is well known not only in Currituck but also in Camden and Pasquotank.  In Etheridge’s case, though, being well known might not be an asset.  He’s well known but not popular.  In fact, if District 1 were an airline, they’d charge him an extra fee for all his baggage.  His public support for Democrat Bill Owens in 2010 has made him extremely unpopular among the conservative activists and many of the party faithful, not only in his home county, but in the region.  Etheridge came under scrutiny in 2008 when his residency was challenged in the race for Currituck County Commissioner.  In addition, he was removed from three local and regional Commissions that year when it was learned that he never attended any meetings.  Add to that his vote to give the Navy what he called, ‘a fair hearing’ on the OLF in 2007 and his support for the controversial mid-Currituck bridge and you have a candidate who may not be able to win his home county in a primary.

Bill Lehmann of Pasquotank County was another public supporter of Democrat Bill Owens in the 2010 election.  Lehmann, a retired Coast Guard aviator, has served as a member of the Elizabeth City City Council and the Pasquotank Planning Council.  Unfortunately, he is better known, recently, for his three failed bids for public office including a run for Mayor of Elizabeth City in 2005 and two runs for Pasquotank County Commissioner in 2008 and 2010.  In my political playbook, its three strikes and you’re out. You’re no longer a credible candidate.

Last, but certainly not least, is Perquimans County’s Matt Peeler.  Peeler is a steadfast conservative and a vocal opponent of the OLF.  A retired Navy veteran, he mounted a brave campaign in a hostile (D+16) State House district last year, losing with a respectable 41% of the vote.  Peeler ran his campaign proudly on a shoestring budget of $2600, insisting that you don’t need money to win a state house race.  This blogger begs to differ on that last point.  How many more votes would he have garnered with, say, $10,000?  Could he have eked out a victory?  We’ll never know.  Without the fundraising prowess, he’d be hard pressed to beat any of the others in a primary.

You may be wondering, why is Truth or Dare writing about District 1?  Why should we care what happens up there?

While Dare County is not in District 1, make no mistake, this race is of particular interest to Dare County residents, and I might add, it is vitally important to Dare County’s future.  The Albemarle and Currituck Sounds are a common boundary between Dare and every county in District 1.

District 1 (in yellow) shares a border with Dare County on the sounds

Maritime, transportation and environmental issues are no respecter of district lines.  Those issues affect the entire coastal region.  What happens in Dare, Currituck and Chowan does not stay in Dare, Currituck and Chowan.  Think the mid-Currituck Bridge.  Think OLF.  With Dare now in the very safe, very Republican-leaning House District 3, presently represented by the strong, principled, conservative Republican Norm Sanderson, conservative donors and activists here will have time and money on their hands.  Some of those resources will be invested in District 1, to ensure the victory of a principled conservative who will work hand in hand with Rep. Sanderson to protect the interests of all of northeastern North Carolina.  To whom will those resources be directed?  The choice is obvious…