Cardinal Issues: Coronavirus Changed the 2020 Campaign. Here’s How Candidates in Four Key NC Senate Races Responded.

A drive-up patient is assisted with testing at a community coronavirus test site operated by Cone Health and the county Health Department in Burlington in July. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

By Billy Ball

October 6, 2020

Coronavirus has killed more than 3,600 North Carolinians and gutted the economy. Here’s how candidates in four of the most crucial NC Senate elections responded. 

[Editor’s Note: As the 2020 election approaches, Cardinal & Pine is diving into key state legislative races to talk about the issues, and where candidates stand. Check out part 1 and part 2 here, on Medicaid expansion and public education, respectively.]

Whatever the candidates of 2020 thought this year was going to be about, it wasn’t. 

Each might have entered the year envisioning a bold progressive or conservative agenda. That all went out the window when the novel coronavirus surfaced on American shores. As of this writing, the virus has killed more than 209,000 Americans and 3,637 North Carolinians. It gutted the economy, and left many struggling to keep a job or their health insurance.

This year was about survival, plain and simple. Stay healthy. Get an education. Put food on the table. 

Candidates will be judged on what they can do for North Carolinians trying to meet the basic necessities. 

For our latest entry in the “Cardinal Issues” series, we’ll take a look at coronavirus recovery in four key races for seats in the NC Senate. After a decade of Republican dominance, these pivotal races could be key in determining control of the chamber in 2020.

NC Senate District 1: Sen. Bob Steinburg (R) v. Tess Judge (D)

Bob Steinburg (left), Tess Judge (right)

Tess Judge, a northeastern NC businesswoman, has emphasized support for small businesses as a touchstone in her plan for coronavirus recovery.  “I have been a small business operator for more than 32 years and know first hand the challenges of meeting payroll, operational expenses and ensuring our neighbors have the jobs needed to support themselves and their families,” she said in August

Judge has also keyed on support for schools as they reopen, either remotely or in-person this year, noting how important education is for economic investment in a part of the state with a disproportionate share of low-income North Carolinians.

Her incumbent opponent, Bob Steinburg, has been much more bullish on the prospect of reopening schools despite the lingering pandemic, aligning behind Republicans such as Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. Public health experts worry reopening would only contribute to the spread of coronavirus in the state.  

NC Senate District 11: Lisa Barnes (R)  v. Allen Wellons (D)

Lisa Barnes (left), Allen Wellons (right)

Johnston County farmer Allen Wellons has made coronavirus recovery a central theme of his campaign, pointing as well to racial and economic inequalities highlighted by the virus’ spread. Wellons has called for the state to expand Medicaid benefits and unemployment insurance, both expansions that are opposed by Republican leadership in the NC General Assembly, including his opponent Lisa Barnes, currently a state House of Representatives lawmaker. 

Barnes has boasted about directing funding for coronavirus relief, although it should be noted that the state lawmaker is simply passing through federal money Congress allocated for COVID aid. Barnes has also joined the GOP majority in the state legislature in blocking Medicaid expansion, a boost in health insurance for low-income people that could be particularly crucial during a pandemic.  

NC Senate District 24: Amy Galey (R) v. J.D. Wooten (D)

Amy Galey (left), J.D. Wooten (right)

J.D. Wooten, a US Air Force veteran and intellectual property attorney, has joined other Democrats in pointing to the economic inequities highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic. Wooten has also encouraged North Carolinians to remain at home to slow the virus, as well as boosted funding for testing and tracing. Like other Democrats this year, Wooten’s campaign has been centered on public education and Medicaid expansion. 

“We all want to see North Carolina return to normal as soon as possible,” Wooten said. “But doing so too early is irresponsible.”

Republican Amy Galey, an Alamance County commissioner, says that she would advocate for the state to use federal coronavirus relief funding to plan for a possible second wave of the potentially deadly virus, although she has largely avoided health care, while opposing a mostly federally-funded Medicaid expansion that could provide health care to hundreds of thousands in North Carolina.

“I’m not sure that buying into Obamacare and latching on to the federal government’s plan is the best way to serve the people of North Carolina,” Galey said in September.

Senate District 31: Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R) v. Terri LeGrand (D)

Joyce Krawiec (left), Terri LeGrand (right)

Health care, and how North Carolina responds to the coronavirus pandemic, was inevitably going to be a major part of this campaign. The Republican incumbent, Sen. Joyce Krawiec, is one of the legislature’s most influential health care lawmakers, co-chairing the Senate Health Care Committee. 

Her opponent, Winston-Salem attorney Terri LeGrand, has naturally made that distinction during the campaign, running on Medicaid expansion in a state with soaring numbers of uninsured people.

“This crisis has highlighted, as never before, the need for access to health care for all of our citizens, paid sick and family leave policies, and job protection and unemployment insurance for workers,” LeGrand wrote in March as the virus began spreading in the state.

Krawiec has resisted efforts by Democrats to make the case again for Medicaid expansion during the pandemic. She’s also been critical of Gov. Roy Cooper’s approach to social distancing orders in the state, blaming him for the virus’ economic slowdown. The senator aligned herself behind President Donald Trump’s calls to reopen, despite the virus. 

[Editor’s Note: This post has been edited to include additional details about the candidates’ positions.]


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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