07/21/04 — Butterfield picked as new congressman

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Butterfield picked as new congressman

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on July 21, 2004 2:07 PM

A hint of scandal didn't seem to bother voters in the 1st Congressional District, who not only returned a Democrat to Congress, but picked one who acknowledged a longtime friendship with U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance, who resigned the seat.

G.K. Butterfield, a former Superior Court judge and state Supreme Court justice, will take office Wednesday afternoon after handily beating Republican Greg Dority in a special election to fill out Ballance's term.

Butterfield, who campaigned in Goldsboro on Friday, easily carried the county. He received 2,177 votes, or 62 percent, in unofficial returns for the county. Dority received 1,301, or 37 percent, and Liber-tarian Tom Eisen-menger 48, or 1 percent.

Butterfield was a double winner Tues-day, taking both the special election to fill the remainder of Ballance's term and the Democratic primary. Dority took the Republican primary, setting up a November rematch in which Butterfield will be heavily favored.

"We feel very happy with this win and feel very confident," Butterfield campaign spokesman Billy Dunn said Tuesday night.

The special election ended a tumultuous 14 months for the district, which is heavily black and mostly Democratic. Questions about financial irregularities at a drug and alcohol counseling program founded by Ballance led to an ongoing state and federal investigation of the foundation.

Despite his troubles, Ballance filed for re-election in May, but withdrew from the race three days later. He resigned his seat June 8, citing a neuromuscular disorder.

Butterfield agreed that the probe of the John A. Hyman Foundation has been disruptive to the district. But during his special election campaign, he acknowledged his friendship with Ballance and his reliance on a network of supporters who helped put Ballance and former U.S. Rep. Eva Clayton in office.

"He's been wired into the people who have held that office," said Thad Beyle, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "I think that loyalty works well."

Some of Butterfield's primary opponents criticized his connections to Ballance, but voters apparently didn't bite.

"G.K. Butterfield is his own candidate and will be his own congressman," Dunn said as he prepared to join Butterfield for the trip to Washington, D.C., Tuesday night. "This has never been a campaign of friendship. The people know that despite what some of our other candidates have said."

With 95 percent of precincts reporting unofficial results in the special election, Butterfield had 71 percent of the votes, to 27 percent for Dority, a Republican. Libertarian Tom Eisenmenger pulled in 2 percent.

In party primaries to see who will compete in the November general election and fill the next two-year term in the seat, Butterfield outdistanced fellow Democrats with 71 percent of the vote. Sam Davis was second with 13 percent, with Christine Fitch, Don Davis and Darryl Smith trailing with 95 percent of precincts reporting.

In the GOP primary, Dority led Jerry Williford, 81 percent to 19 percent, to set up a rematch against Butterfield.

Dority, who lost to Ballance in 2002 by a nearly 2-1 margin, hopes to narrow the gap against Butterfield in November by pushing a job-creation agenda in a region typically among the most depressed in the state.

"We're hurting here in eastern North Carolina," Dority said. "I think when it comes to jobs and poor people, party is not really a consideration."