RALEIGH (AP) — The mayor of a small North Carolina town near Fort Bragg announced Monday that he’s running next year for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Richard Burr, saying his nonprofit and military work exemplify his dedication to public service.
Chris Rey, the mayor of Spring Lake, unveiled his candidacy with website and Facebook postings. Rey is the first Democrat to announce among a handful of current or former elected officials who are looking at challenging Burr.
Democrats have been searching for potential standard-bearers since former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan decided in June not to mount a challenge to Burr. Hagan lost to Republican Thom Tillis in the general election last year.
Rey, 38, is a National Guard officer previously on active duty in the Army and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is executive director of a Cumberland County nonprofit that helps coordinate health care for poor, uninsured residents. If elected, Rey said, he would work to fully implement health care reform, lower the small business tax rate and promote public education and veterans’ assistance.
“Faith, family and service are what animates my life and gives it meaning,” Rey said in a statement. “I am called to service in the United States Senate, just as I was called to service as mayor of Spring Lake and in the Army.”
Rey’s military service may prove to be an asset in a race against Burr, who is seeking his third sixth-year term and is now chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
But Rey would have to play catch-up with fundraising: Burr had raised almost $3.8 million by the beginning of the summer.
Other Democrats also may still enter the race in a primary. State Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte, Rep. Duane Hall of Raleigh and former Rep. Deborah Ross have said they’re considering it.
Rey first said last month he was looking at the race. That was before the Republican leaders at the General Assembly announced they wanted to move all primaries — not just the presidential contests — to March 15. Otherwise, any Senate primary would be held next May.
The legislature still must pass a bill to make the change. The compressed primary process would require candidates to accelerate their decision-making.
In a text, Rey said Monday’s announcement was within the time frame he envisioned to get in the race.
“With a primary potentially around the corner, we will have to work harder to get our message out around the state, and we are ready for that,” said Rey, who is already running unopposed for a third term as Spring Lake mayor this fall.
On the Republican side, former Superior Court Judge Paul Wright of Dudley said he’s entering the GOP primary with Burr. Wright previously ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2012 and for Congress in 2014