A trio of small groups stood around the New Hanover County Board of Elections storefront shortly before noon Tuesday, waiting for the doors to open and campaign season to officially begin.
Jonathan Barfield and his wife were the first to walk through the door, beginning Barfield’s re-election campaign for his seat on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. Patricia Kusek followed, also launching her campaign for a county commissioner seat — albeit as a Republican to Barfield’s Democrat.
Tammy Covil had to wait a few minutes before her attempt to claim the N.C. House District 20 seat, which is being vacated by Rep. Rick Catlin, could formally begin.
North Carolina has moved its primary from May to March 15, beginning campaigns earlier than they have historically.
Candidates Tuesday had mixed opinions about how that would affect their campaigns.
“My heart’s running 90 beats a minute,” Barfield, the county board’s current chairman, said after filing.
The early primary, he added, won’t affect how he campaigns.
“It’s moved up a couple of months,” Barfield said, “but it’s the same amount of time.”
Patricia Kusek is also running for one of the three at-large commissioner seats. The election will be Kusek’s first, but she has served on the board of directors of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority since 2011 and is presently the chairwoman.
“I treat other people’s money like it’s my own,” Kusek said, “and that’s so important in government.”
Within three days of moving to Wilmington 15 years ago Kusek had scrapped her plans to retire, instead starting her own financial planning firm. To find customers at first, she knocked on doors — meeting 600 people in 60 days.
“Campaigning,” she said, “will be a lot like teaching and the work I do every day because it’s listening, it’s getting people to tell you about their plans and it’s execution.”
Kusek added that her campaign strategy will to be ask people what they’re worried about — the kind of problems people think about when they wake up in the middle of the night — and try to find a way to resolve those.
The timing of primary season, she said, likely means her campaign will begin in earnest in January.
“The holidays are a really good time to be out and about because there’s a lot of people,” Kusek said. “People are in good moods for the most part.”
Covil, who has spent three years on the New Hanover County Board of Education, was surrounded by more than a dozen supporters carrying signs with her last name printed in blue over a red-shaded outline of North Carolina.
In June, Covil was criticized by some for a Facebook post in which she wrote, in part, “Gay marriage isn’t about marriage rights at all, it’s about forcing others to accept a perverted lifestyle choice as normal.” Soon after, Covil released a statement in which she said her remarks were primarily concerned with how same-sex relationships are addressed in a school setting.
Covil ended her initial post with #TheSocialIssuesMatter, a mentality that seems likely to filter into her campaign.
When asked Monday what issues are important to her, Covil said gay marriage and immigration.
“I’m a social conservative,” said the Republican candidate, “so I believe the social issues are important.”
Covil also co-chairs the state’s Academic Standards Review Commission and said she hopes to continue working on education at the state level. Covil’s work on the commission has focused on simplifying the language of Common Core Standards and allowing teachers the opportunity to differentiate instruction based on their class’ needs.
“I believe in this country,” she said. “I believe in the opportunities this country offers to everyone regardless of background.”