A handful of races will be pivotal in the midterms. One is in the Triangle’s backyard.

Scott Sharpe/ssharpe@newsobserver.com

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In a chamber of 435 lawmakers, control of all legislation and oversight for the next two years could be decided by just a handful of races in battleground districts across the country. One of those races is in the Triangle’s backyard.

North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District emerged from a lengthy redistricting battle that was finally settled by the N.C. Supreme Court earlier this year as the state’s most competitive. National elections analysts at the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball estimate that the GOP enjoys a slight advantage due to the district’s composition and other factors, but that isn’t stopping both parties from treating the race as a top target.

Attack ads against the two candidates, Democrat Wiley Nickel and Republican Bo Hines, have hit the local TV market hard. Political ads, both on TV and online, and mailers, will only become more frequent as Election Day gets closer.

The question for both campaigns is how high turnout will be, and what messages will resonate with voters the most.

Drive around the 13th and you’ll notice that the district is as diverse as it is competitive.

In one corner, there are the fast-growing suburbs of Raleigh in southwest Wake County, which include Apex, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina, and Garner, as well as a slice of Cary. Parts of downtown and Southeast Raleigh also fall under the district, which offsets other more conservative parts of the district with a base of registered Democratic voters that Democrats are hoping will turn out in droves.

To the east is Johnston County, a solidly red hub of economic development that is known for acres and acres of farmland. The county voted for Donald Trump by more than 60% both times he was on the ballot, and in April, welcomed him for a rally featuring a number of his endorsed candidates, including Hines.

There’s also Harnett and Wayne counties, parts of which are included in the district. These areas include several quickly growing towns and cities as well, and have their own pockets of registered Democratic and Republican voters.

Ahead of the election, we wanted to know what voters in the 13th thought about the race between Nickel and Hines, and what sorts of issues are most important to them. Every voter, no matter their affiliation, has something they care about.

Over the last few weeks, we spoke with voters across the district. They brought up issues like inflation and the high cost of groceries; abortion and concerns about restrictive laws popping up in North Carolina; illegal immigration and what is being done to address the situation at the country’s southern border, and others.

They also told us about their politics, and how their political leanings have changed or solidified in recent years.

Read our report to see what issues could have the most impact on this close race, and read my colleague Danielle Battaglia’s profiles of Nickel and Hines to understand how the candidates reached these points in their careers, and why they’re running to represent the 13th in Congress. All of these stories can be found at newsobserver.com.

Other stories from the team this week

GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene spoke at a Wake GOP gala last week, where she repeated false claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, insisted that COVID-19 was created in a Chinese lab, and said she was “furious” with Republican colleagues who had wavered in their support for Trump’s agenda. Lars Dolder obtained video recordings of the speech and fact-checked several of Greene’s false claims.

Lars also explained North Carolina’s Certificate of Need law, a little-known law authorizing state health authorities to oversee spending on hospitals, health care facilities and medical equipment, which is one of the main sticking points in the impasse between Republicans on Medicaid expansion.

Mistakes made by the Division of Employment Security, which administers the state’s unemployment benefits, resulted in more than $380 million in improper payments during a five-year period, according to a state audit, Luciana Perez Uribe Guinassi reports.

The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations of obstruction of justice by Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene and some of his deputies, Carli Brosseau reports. The probe’s launch coincides with the publication Wednesday by WECT of a recording made in February 2019, in which Greene refers to Black deputies he suspects of being loyal to the previous sheriff as “Black bastards.”

Tell us what we should fact check

As campaigning steps into full gear over the next six weeks, expect to be inundated with political ads. We published two fact-checks of ads being run in two important races this week, and have more planned in other races across the state.

We can always use your help, though. If you see a claim, whether it involves a campaign or not, that you believe needs to be investigated, let us know by emailing dome@newsobserver.com. And visit newsobserver.com/topics/fact-check-nc to find our latest fact checks.

Thanks for reading. See you next week. In the meantime, tune into our stories, our tweets and our Under the Dome podcast for more developments.

— By Avi Bajpai, reporter for The News & Observer. Email me at abajpai@newsobserver.com.