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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE CLOSURE: UPDATES, RESOURCES, AND CONTEXT

Common ground between NC-11 Republican candidates on border security

Representative Chuck Edwards debated challenger Christian Reagan, a mortgage broker from Texas during the first and only GOP primary debate of the season for the NC-11 Congressional seat in Brasstown hosted by the Clay County Republican Party.
Lilly Knoepp
Representative Chuck Edwards debated challenger Christian Reagan, a mortgage broker from Texas during the first and only GOP primary debate of the season for the NC-11 Congressional seat in Brasstown hosted by the Clay County Republican Party.

Republican representative Chuck Edwards and his primary challenger for North Carolina’s 11th Congressional district, Christian Reagan, agree on many issues but recent debate highlighted their conflicting perspectives on climate change, international policy and military spending.

Edwards, a longtime political player who served for six years in the North Carolina Senate, is seeking a second term in Washington. Reagan, a mortgage broker from Texas and political rookie, hopes to capitalize on his far-right conservative stances in his bid to unseat Edwards.

Though they differ in political experience, the two men share similar views on national issues such as foreign policy, immigration policy and the desire to impeach President Joe Biden.

During the first and only GOP primary debate of the race, both championed stronger border security.

About 150 people packed the
Laura Lee
About 150 people packed the Brasstown Community Center in Clay County.

First debate, first campaign

Donning a white cowboy hat and boots, Reagan took the stage at the Brasstown Community Center in front of about 150 people.

“This was my first debate in my entire life, and it was really cool to be able to use this as a platform to be able to project what my opinions are,” he told BPR. “My concerns are in the country, and it was a good day. I feel really good about it.”

After the debate, Reagan told BPR that he moved to Hayesville in 2020. He made his first foray into politics because he believes the disproven conspiracy theory that Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

“We came here to semi-retire and enjoy life. But in 2020, we saw Donald Trump lose that election. The way he lost it was unfair and going forward. I thought, there will be people that are going to correct this system that we have going on and it never got done and I just felt like somebody needs to stand up and stand up for the American people, and I'm in this fight,” Reagan said.

In 2023, Fox News settled with Dominion Voting Systems for $787 million dollars for knowingly broadcasting lies that the voting machines were used to steal the 2020 presidential election. Former President Trump is currently on trial for criminal charges for interfering with the 2020 presidential election. The next trial is set for March 2, 2024.

On his website, Reagan called Edwards a “RINO,” an acronym short for Republican In Name Only, for his vote on the federal debt ceiling and fiscal responsibility act using a meme to call Edwards on changing his tune to vote on the Fiscal Responsibility Act. This week, Congress passed another stop gap bill to fund the government through March.

In the debate, Edwards underscored Reagan’s outsider status, starting most of his debate responses with references to Reagan as the “gentleman from Smith County, Texas.”

“It was silly,” Reagan told BPR after the debate. “I mean he knows that we have a pretty good investment here in North Carolina. He knows we came here to retire. He knows my life story. He knows why I'm here, but he continues to do that. I just think it's silly.”

Election integrity in 2024 and 2020

Debate moderator Larry J. Ford asked the candidates if the federal government be involved in election oversight. The question probed the candidates’ stances on independent state legislature doctrine which says state legislatures have exclusive and independent authority to draw federal congressional maps.

Brenda Lovett and Mary Catherine Cabe West sold Republican themed merchandise for the Clay County Republican Party on Saturday including a shirt featuring Former President Donald Trump's mug shot reading, "Still Not Guilty."
Lilly Knoepp
Brenda Lovett and Mary Catherine Cabe West sold Republican themed merchandise for the Clay County Republican Party on Saturday including a shirt featuring Former President Donald Trump's mug shot reading, "Still Not Guilty."

North Carolina Republicans used the doctrine to argue for state legislative rights to redraw congressional maps. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the doctrine in Moore v Harper in 2023.

Reagan pointed to the 2020 election as a reason the federal government should not be involved in voting processes.

“When I woke up the next morning, I thought Donald Trump had won that election by a landslide. But within the next four days what did we see?” Reagan asked the crowd. “He lost that election and it was done by a process that we know was unfair. And so states have an important role and how they established elections and I believe that that the federal powers should not be involved in that at all,” Reagan said.

Edwards broke with his party leadership’s perspective and spoke in favor of federal authority in election administration.

He said he has worked at the federal level to ensure election integrity through rules around “Zuck bucks,” “citizenship questions,” and eliminating ballot harvesting.

“I certainly believe that we can on the federal level, as I have worked, to influence how States conduct their elections without trampling on Article 4 of our Constitution,” Edwards said.

TikTok on the clock

During the debate, Ford asked both candidates about banning the social media company TikTok in the interest of national security against the Chinese company.

Reagan credited his campaign to social media. His wife, Hope, works in graphic design and advertising with Reagan at their mortgage broker business. She is also helping Reagan with his campaign.

Reagan's campaign brought a plush bear, tootsie rolls and other campaign merchandise.
Laura Lee
Reagan's campaign brought a plush bear, tootsie rolls and other campaign merchandise.

“I'll tell you what, I would not be standing here if it wasn't for social media. I can guarantee you that,” Reagan said. “It's a freedom that I feel that we have to be able to decide where we want to go and be able to participate in social media. So I would be reluctant to be against any social media platform in the country,” he continued.

Edwards alleged a conspiracy between the FBI and social media companies, citing his experience as a member of the House Oversight Committee, a role from which he resigned in December.

"We brought folks from the FBI and from the social media companies under oath and uncovered the fact that social media is being weaponized against the American people and to slant towards political opinions,” he said.

Edwards called the relationship “totally wrong.”

According to the Congressional Record, Edwards resigned from his other committee appointments in December stating, “Following my appointment to the House Committee on Appropriations for the 118th Congress, I hereby resign from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the House Committee on the Budget for the 118th Congress, effective today.” Edwards website has not been updated to reflect his resignation as of January 17.

U.S. Southern border the most discussed topic

Edwards and Reagan both agreed that “illegal immigration” should be a centerpiece of government efforts.

Edwards praised Texas Governor Greg Abbott for his unorthodox policies which have included sending immigrants to Democratic-majority cities.

“We should all applaud Governor Greg Abbott for taking measures on his own to control the Border in his State the fact is that Biden’s Justice Department is now suing the state underscores, just how out of touch that Joe Biden is,” Edwards said during the debate.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced that it is suing Texas over a new law that would allow police to arrest migrants. Abbott has also been sending migrants on planes and buses to Democrat-led cities nationwide.

“Texas cannot run its own immigration system,” the Justice Department states in the lawsuit, according to the Associated Press. “Its efforts, through SB 4, intrude on the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate the entry and removal of noncitizens, frustrate the United States’ immigration operations and proceedings, and interfere with U.S. foreign relations.”

During the debate, Edwards also referenced a trip that he took to the border and said that he is working across the aisle with Democrats who also want to “increase border security .”

After the debate, BPR asked Edwards which colleagues across the aisle have joined him. He said he could not name them at this time.

“I don't want to out anybody because the conversations that we had were in in confidence. But I know where they're at, and I'll call on them at the right time,” he said.

Nevertheless, he remained convinced a closed border is essential for America’s future.

“They are outgunned right now politically to come out in support of closing the Border, but I believe we're getting there every day that goes by we're able to make a stronger and stronger case that Biden’s policies are clearly not working and that the people of America, the people of this District, insist that closing the Border should be our number one objective,” Edwards told BPR.

Reagan said his status as a native Texan gave him familiarity with immigration issues.

“I've seen illegal immigration my whole life. I've seen the devastation it does to local economies. It's unbelievable. But what we're seeing today is an absolute invasion in our country over 10 million people within the last three years have crossed that border. Illegally. They're coming into our country. We have no idea why they're coming here where they're going,” he said.

Reagan incorrectly estimated that there are 60 million “illegals” in this country.

Edwards said 8 million immigrants have come into the United States in the last three years, while Reagan said the figure was 10 million.

The unauthorized immigrant population in the United States reached 10.5 million in 2021, according to Pew Research Center in November 2023. The research showed a modest increase of unauthorized immigration over 2019, but the 2021 total was nearly identical to 2017 numbers. At the end of December, numerous outlets reported that high numbers of migrants at the border are pushing border workers over capacity.

Reagan alleged that transitional costs to temporary housing for undocumented people tops $49 billion. He did not say whether the figure accounted for local, state, and federal taxes paid by undocumented people.

He also drew a correlation between immigration and terrorism, though he did not cite any specific evidence.

“It's unbelievable what we're paying but this is what's crazy. These people are coming from 117 different countries. And many of those countries that are from the Middle East where we know terrorism is a real problem, and those people are here right now in this country,” Reagan said.

Moderator Larry J. Ford focused on the number of “single military-aged men” who have illegally entered into the United States citing that total as 1.7 from “antagonistic” countries like the Middle East and including over 10,000 from China “who have ties to the People’s Liberation Army.”

The New York Times has reported that more than 24,000 Chinese citizens have been apprehended crossing into the United States citing economic instability and restrictive Zero-COVID policies. The Associated Pressalso confirmed that there has been a sharp increase in Chinese people entering the United States.

Chinese people were the fourth-highest nationality, after Venezuelans, Ecuadorians and Haitians, crossing the Darién Gap during the first nine months of this year, according to Panamanian immigration authorities.

In response to the question, Edwards advocated closing the border.

“I'll continue to fight for security at the border just like I fought to outlaw sanctuary cities in North Carolina,” Edwards said.

Reagan blamed many of the nation’s difficulties on the inflated number of undocumented people.

“Unfortunately, they bring two things. number one, They bring poverty and a lot of times they bring crime,” Reagan said. He did not offer any evidence of either claim.

Both candidates agreed that Biden and others in the administration should be impeached for their conduct at the border and other issues.

I would definitely vote for impeachment. We need to send a message regardless of what the end results going to be,” Reagan said, then linking the need for impeachment back to the Southern border.

Edwards said that the current trial against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is an example of the accountability that needs to happen.

“We need to continue with impeachment hearings over both Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas and Joe Biden. I'm excited to have been a part, again, serving you on the House oversight committee. A part of an oversight committee that got to start to peel back the onion and understand many of the problems going on with the Biden family.

Mayorkas’ impeachment hearing ended on January 18. Charges are expected as soon as the end of the month. Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty to federal tax charges earlier this month.

Who is a Washington “elite”?

The most explosive moment in the debate happened when Reagan pointed to Edwards as he talked about the need for new faces at the Capitol.

Reagan pointed in Edward's direction as he discussed the 'elites' in Washington sparking a
Laura Lee
Challenger Christian Reagan pointed in Rep. Chuck Edward's direction as he discussed the 'elites' in Washington sparking a strong response from Edwards who said, "There is nothing elite about Chuck Edwards."

“This country is in trouble, guys. And it's in trouble because the people like this, who are the elite that represent Washington DC. And they come here, and they have the jargon, they have it down, but the point is we've got to change how we do things as a country. And we will never do it when people like this,” Reagan said.

Edwards swiftly responded that he was not “elite.”

“I need the gentleman from Smith, Texas to recognize there is nothing elite about Chuck Edwards. I was born over here in Haywood County. I got to watch my family's lights [get] turned out many times. I got to watch our car repossessed. I lived in mill housing. I lived in trailers, and I've worked my tail off all my life like my mother and my father did,” Edwards said.

“There is nothing elite about this person who has asked to go to Congress and represent you because I understand how hard people in these mountains work and what it takes to live the American dream. I totally reject anyone that thinks that I am elite.”

Reagan denied calling Edwards’ “elite,” but the audience heckled him for the denial, shouting “Yes you did!

During the next question, Reagan apologized to Edwards.

“And sir, I apologize if I called you elite. I apologize for that,” Reagan said.

After the debate, BPR asked Reagan why he wanted to apologize.

“I think when I used the word ‘elite’ I didn't direct it to him personally. I meant it as a group of people in Washington, DC, and then I thought about that, and I thought you know, what if that's what he thought? I need to apologize to him. And so I did,” Reagan said.

Both candidates value defense but say military spending is too high

One area where the two candidates differed was on the topic of foreign wars. The moderator brought up the current conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

In reference to a question on the Middle East, Reagan said that he thought the United States was spending too much money on international wars.

“I'm tired of the war machine in this country since 1990. We spent $14 trillion dollars,” he said. The kind of money that we spend on the military to police the world as a nation, we can't afford it anymore, guys,” Reagan said.

Throughout the debate, he reiterated his support of Israel, the troops and a strong military. Reagan said he does not think the U.S. should support Ukraine but would support a war if it were part of the NATO agreement.

The Pentagon spent $14 trillion on wars since the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, according to a 2021 report from the Watson Institute at Brown University.

Both candidates agreed that the national debt needs to be reduced.

“What we need to be doing right now is clawing back every red cent that we can given the unbelievable thin majority that Republicans have in in Congress. And that's exactly what I've been fighting for like I did in North Carolina, but we're going to have to have one more branch of government to make that a reality,” Edwards said.

Reagan said debt can be reduced through an increase in gas and oil drilling.

“We're going to drill for oil and we're going to drill for gas. We're going to build refineries across this country and we're going to provide to the world that oil and gas that they need on a daily basis and for every barrel of oil that we use are we sell in foreign Nations? We're going to get a levy on that and that money is going to be dedicated to the debt solely,” Reagan said.

Climate Change denial and electric vehicles

Both candidates opposed congressional policies that support green energy or the mitigation of climate change.

The Brasstown Community Center parking lot was full during the event so attendees parks on the grass surrounding the building.
Lilly Knoepp
The Brasstown Community Center parking lot was full during the event so attendees parks on the grass surrounding the building.

Reagan said that he does not believe in climate change, a well-established scientific concept.

“We don't need to invest another dollar in green energy. We need to invest in oil gas exploration and refineries,” Reagan said.

While Edwards did not dispute the existence of climate change, he did speak out against green energy efforts to mitigate it.

“There's a fallacy there that is trying to be rammed down our throats that we're just not willing to accept. I serve on a Congress that at every turn has been scraping to drag back the green energy funding through the inflation reduction act,” Edwards said.

Edwards said he also opposes rebates for electric vehicles.

Looking forward to the general election

After the debate, BPR asked both candidates about their plans after the primary.

Reagan said if he doesn’t win the primary, he won’t run again.

“I really believe that 2024 is the last best. Hope for America absolutely believe that,” Reagan said. “I will not run for public office again if I lose.”

Edwards did not answer when asked if he planned to debate Democratic candidate Caleb Rudow, should Edwards advance after March.

“My focus is serving the people in North Carolina's 11th District because I still have to go to Washington, DC. I still get to go to Washington, DC every week. I just got back from DC late last night. And then after March 5th, we'll decide our approach towards the general election,” Edwards said.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.