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Republican incumbent Clampitt faces new Democratic challenger Platt in 119 district election

Republican Mike Clampitt currently represents District 119. He faces Democrat Al Platt in the election for the first time.
Courtesy of N.C. General Assembly/ Al Platt
Republican Mike Clampitt currently represents District 119. He faces Democrat Al Platt in the election for the first time.

New district maps enacted this year have ended one of Western North Carolina’s longest-running electoral feuds.

Republican Mike Clampitt currently represents District 119. For the past five elections, he’s traded that seat with Democrat Joe Sam Queen of Haywood County – making this one of the most competitive districts in the region.

During the 2021 redistricting process, Haywood County was swapped for Transylvania. That means Queen can’t run in this district, which also includes Swain and Jackson counties. But Clampitt is still the Republican on the ballot.

This campaign season, he’s had to introduce himself in Transylvania County. “Across the board, the amount of time to get there is about two hours. It's exciting to go there. I have been going down inand participating in different events at least three times a week right now,” said Clampitt.

Clampitt says the number one issue with voters is the economy.

“The cost of food, the cost of gasoline, is having a very heavy impact on everyone,” said Clampitt. He’s also focused on crime and immigration but didn’t get into specific policies during the interview.

Clampitt’s challenger is Democrat Al Platt. He’s an architect and business owner in Transylvania County. He says he’s been focusing on finding common ground on the campaign trail.

“I'm careful to make sure they know who they're talking to, but often I wonder if this person even realizes that I'm a Democrat. And it doesn't matter to me in the moment. And I don't think it matters to them in the moment,” said Platt.

The seat is especially important this year as Republicans hope to gain a veto-proof supermajority in the General Assembly by winning just a few seats. That means Republican lawmakers would be able to pass new legislation limiting abortion access.

Clampitt was wearing a pin reading “Pro-Life” when he spoke with BPR but would not state how he would vote.

“That would be unfair for me to make any kind of commitment or any decision at this time. I would like to see what that bill [would say]. So we just have to wait and see what comes out,” said Clampitt.

Clampitt has been a sponsor on at least two bills restricting abortion. In 2017, Clampitt was co-sponsor of a bill that would have declared that the right to life begins from the moment of fertilization. In 2021, Clampitt was one of the sponsors of a bill that would ban abortion after there is a “detectable heartbeat,” unless there is a medical emergency.

Challenger Al Platt spoke at a Jackson County rally for reproductive rights in June, shortly after the US Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade.

“There’s never been a more important time to vote for candidates who will stand up for the rights of women to choose,” Platt told the crowd at Bridge Park in Sylva.

Platt called the march powerful but when BPR interviewed him in October he would not commit to his position on abortion access policy, though he said it wasn’t a decision for government to make.

“I'm absolutely not gonna get into a conversation about how many weeks this, how many weeks that I'm not a doctor and I'm not God, but, I believe that women should have the right to determine their reproductive health, and it's no one else's business,” said Platt.

He continued, “Unless they make it in somebody's business, like their doctor, their partner, their spiritual advisor, their family. But there's no room in that for the government. And I will, and I will fight that.”

When pressed, he added: “Viability is the law now. That's what I think it should remain what it has been for 50 years.”

In other areas of healthcare, Platt and Clampitt are more in agreement. Clampitt says there is a need to address healthcare access.

“We need to address that here in western North Carolina. We're very slack and lacking on having availability of good health, mental health services and other services too, but especially mental health,” said Clampitt.

North Carolina is one of a dozen states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid. General Assembly Republicans are expected to work on Medicaid expansion in December. In May, a version of the bill was introduced that included work requirements and other caveats. Medicaid expansion would extend coverage to over 500,000 people in the state.

Clampitt supports the move but says there are details to negotiate. Platt says Medicaid expansion is overdue.

“Medicaid expansion should absolutely, positively happen as soon as possible with the fewest number of caveats and exceptions that are needed,” said Platt.

Beyond the everyday matters important to voters, democracy itself is a campaign issue.

Both Platt and Clampitt condemn the violence of the January 6 attacks on the US Capitol. But in an October 2021 interview with BPR, Clampitt defended his membership in the Oathkeepers. The founder Stewart Rhodes and other members are currently facing sedition charges for their role in January 6th. Clampitt says he isn’t a member anymore.

“Well, that is very, very, very much old news. That was 2014, eight years ago,” said Clampitt. “And I have not been a dues paying member since that time and have not participated, and I don’t condone any kind of actions that were occurring back in January of 2021. So, no, I'm not looking to insurrect our government.”

Both Clampitt and Platt will need to win over unaffiliated voters, the largest voting group in the state and the 119th district. In the district there are 27,690 Unaffiliated voters, 19,908 Republicans, and 17,899 Democrats, according to the state October 8thvoter registration numbers. There are also 462 libertarian voters and two Green Party members.

Absentee voting has already started and early voting begins October 20th. Find out more information about voting here.

BPR and Smoky Mountain News will host a NC State House 119 Forum with Republican incumbent Mike Clampitt of Swain County facing new Democratic challenger Al Platt of Transylvania County, at 6:30pm on Tuesday, October 25, at the A.K. Hinds University Center Theatre Room at Western Carolina University.

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.