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Erica Smith ends US Senate bid; moves to replace Rep. Butterfield

FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, file photo, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Erica Smith is seen during an interview in Raleigh, N.C.
Gerry Broome
FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, file photo, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Erica Smith is seen during an interview in Raleigh, N.C.

Democratic former state Sen. Erica Smith announced Tuesday that she has ended her candidacy for U.S. Senate and will now launch a congressional bid to replace Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield.

She will compete against state Rep. James Gailliard, who entered the race Monday night, and likely face state Sen. Don Davis, who has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run for the redrawn congressional district in northeastern North Carolina.

Smith, a Northampton County resident who has twice failed to secure the Democratic Party's nomination for U.S. Senate, said in an interview with The Associated Press that she is confident she can win in a community she grew up in.

“I am more centered in the community, having represented more counties, grown up solely in this eastern district, and Don Davis does not currently live in the congressional district,” Smith said, adding she has represented half of the 18 counties that are at least partially included in the redrawn 2nd Congressional District, while Davis represents just two.

Davis currently serves voters in Pitt and Greene counties. Kevin Holst, an adviser to Davis, said the lawmaker now lives within the congressional district.

“I’ve filed the necessary paperwork and will have more to share on my future plans after I take time to reflect and have further discussions with my family over the Thanksgiving holiday," Davis wrote in an emailed statement.

Smith filed for the congressional seat last week but planned to formally kick off her campaign Tuesday.

Gailliard, a Nash County Democrat who lives in the new congressional district, declared his candidacy Monday. He told the AP he plans to carve out a moderate lane and present himself as the likeliest Democrat to win a general election in what will likely be the closest U.S. House race in the state.

“I'm not a far-left liberal Dem, and this is not a far-left, liberal-drawn district, so we're going to need a moderate candidate to get us across the finish line and I feel like I'm that candidate," Gailliard said.

It's possible the Republican-drawn congressional and legislative maps could get struck down amid legal challenges accusing the GOP of drawing boundaries that were partisan and racial gerrymanders. Butterfield cited the shifting makeup of his district as the driving force behind his decision not to seek reelection. His district went from Democratic-leaning to a toss-up, as the share of Black voters dropped.

Smith said she would pursue a congressional run even if the congressional map gets struck down in court, as did Gailliard. She hopes her modest upbringing, awareness of higher prices people are paying at grocery stores and gas pumps and personal struggles affording medical care for her late son will resonate with potential voters.

She noted her child weighed 1.5 pounds (.68 kilograms) at birth and spent six months in neonatal intensive care. When he came home, he weighed 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) and needed equipment to help him breathe. Smith said she had to get a second job to help pay for her son's medical equipment.

“We have a health insurance program," Smith said. "We don't have a health care program. That's why we really fight so hard.”

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

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