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An ECU student could soon be NC's youngest legislator

East Carolina University student and N.C. House candidate Wyatt Gable, right, with his opponent, Rep. George Cleveland, at a candidate forum in Swansboro.
Wyatt Gable Campaign
East Carolina University student and N.C. House candidate Wyatt Gable, right, with his opponent, Rep. George Cleveland, at a candidate forum in Swansboro.

North Carolina's legislature could have two lawmakers in their 20s next year, thanks in part to a surprise outcome in a Jacksonville House primary.

In Charlotte, Democrat Jordan Lopez is running unopposed after filing to run for an open House seat at age 25. But he likely won't be the youngest in next year's freshman class.

Wyatt Gable, 21, unseated 10-term Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow. He said he juggled classes at East Carolina University with a successful primary campaign.

Gable told the WUNC Politics Podcast that he drove home from college every weekend to knock on doors and meet voters in the district. There was also "a lot of driving back and forth on weekdays to to go to events," he said, "and it took a lot of time. But it was all worth it."

He said people were excited to see a younger candidate because of their concerns that the two major presidential candidates this year are too old.

"A lot of that came down to well, 'I don't really like either one of them because of their age,'" Gable said. "So then that kind of translated to my race a little bit. They were excited to vote for someone who was new and had a lot of energy and fresh ideas."

Like most Republicans, Gable’s interested in promoting gun rights and lower taxes, but he also wants North Carolina’s education system to better prepare young people for a tough economy. And he wants to see stronger oversight of major road projects.

He sees a need for more career training in the state's public schools.

"We've got an education system now, that in the K-12 system predominantly focuses on college, and if you don't go to college, you won't amount to anything, which isn't true," he said. "There's so many career paths you can take."

Gable faces Democrat Carmen Spicer in the general election, but he's expected to win in November because the Onslow County district favors Republicans.

Cleveland is one of four incumbent state lawmakers who lost their primaries this year. The others include Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, Rep. Kevin Crutchfield, R-Cabarrus, and Rep. Michael Wray, D-Northampton.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.