Gaskins and Swartz compete in Democratic primary for Third District seat in Congress

By on May 16, 2022

Barbara Gaskins and Joe Swartz.

Two Democrats who are newcomers in elective politics, and who don’t have a lot else in common, are competing in the primary for the U.S. Third Congressional District seat currently held by Republican Greg Murphy.

The Democratic contest between Greenville native Barbara Gaskins and Swansboro’s Joe Swartz features a former Republican and self-described “centrist” in Swartz against a more traditionally progressive candidate in Gaskins. Both candidates were interviewed by the Voice some time ago and were given an opportunity to provide an update via email this month.

Gaskins, a mother of three, describes herself as “community advocate” and a nationally certified re-entry coach, as well as re-entry consultant working to integrate formerly incarcerated individuals into the community. She is also an advocate for reform of the criminal justice system.

Swartz, a Minnesota native is an Army veteran who currently works as an account executive for an IT firm. He and his husband, who is still on active duty, have an adopted son. He said he was a Republican for 15 years and “got off the train when Trump came around.”

In discussing his moderate views, Swartz said that “I’d be a terrible candidate in San Francisco and New York. I just wouldn’t be progressive enough for them. Barbara [Gaskins] is an actual progressive so we have very differing positions on what the candidacy should look like.”

Swartz sums up the goal of his campaign as, “Can we create something that’s really different…that is really focused on bread butter? We have a district that is a rural district [and] we should focus on the things that are most broadly representative and sort of push away any sort of alienating culture war kind of stuff.”

Asked what separates her from her primary opponent, Gaskins responded, “First and foremost, I am a lifelong Eastern North Carolinian… What’s going on here affects me, it affects my family…I’m not going anywhere.”

She added that “I think that Eastern North Carolina has literally seen how current leadership has failed us…I’m hoping that people are understanding that we’re at a time and a point in history that it may be time to put your party aside and vote for what’s right.”

Both candidates say that the events of Jan. 6 were a significant factor in their decisions to run and both decry the political polarization in the country.

“I think our politics now has turned into gangs. You’re red or you’re blue,” Gaskins said. “And I hate that because it does [take] the civility out of the people.”

“I think really the reason for running for office at all now is mainly motivated by a concern for the level of extremism that seems to be popping up in public discourse and the really stark polarization and dividing lines,” stated Swartz.

In discussing the issues facing the district, Swartz cited creating more access to quality health care as well as better access to broadband in rural community. He added that he is “really focusing on those hyperlocal issues…Can the average person go to work, have a good life, and not be oppressed by the cruelty of fate?”

On another hot button issue for his party, Swartz noted that as a hunter, “I’m a pro-Second Amendment guy.” It is one of the issues, he said, where his campaign does “push back against the prevailing [Democratic] party narratives.”

Addressing issues that concern her, Gaskins said that in Pamlico County, people are “still having boil alerts for water and having to buy bottles of water. On the coast, Dare County…because of our storms, we’re losing our beaches…Our rural hospitals are closing or have closed. Our schools are poor…Suicide is huge in this district. Opiate use is huge…We really have a lot to do in Eastern North Carolina.”

Gaskins describes the decision to make her first bid for elective office as part of a realization that she needed to get involved on a different level.

“What really got me was January 6, and being the mother of three boys, I realized that I had to take my activism from the street and actually seek a seat in Congress. It’s the policies that are in place that are disenfranchising us as a people.”

Swartz who believes that state and national Democratic officials have “abandoned the rural districts,” followed up in a May 9 email, stating that he wants to “try to bridge the political divide, especially in rural areas. Our communities are closer and that means division cuts deeper. We need leaders who can help build coalitions and solutions. I’ve already had voters respond to that.”


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  • millie

    no thanks to democrat politicians, they are destroying our country. we do not need more destruction.

    Monday, May 16 @ 2:03 pm
  • Travis

    Paul Tine was an example of someone who tried to bridge the gap. He was a bright, articulate and reasonable man who you would think could find common ground. A few terms in Raleigh taught him otherwise. I can only imagine at the Federal level it is 10 times worse.

    Politics now has more in common with blood sports than a sense of common good. You don’t try to find common ground with your opponent in MMA. You just want to beat him or her.

    Monday, May 16 @ 3:38 pm
  • Justin

    Another “centrist” that chooses a side? Spoken like a true politician. Look outside people, our country is a dumpster fire right now. Gas prices are intentionally being driven up, inflation is not be addressed so the corporations can fleece us to pay their debt. They’ve destroyed our dollar just printing money. You want me to tell you how stupid the people are in office? Pete buttigieg yesterday, blamed inflation on lack of childcare. Stupid people are allowed to do this bc they have everyone brainwashed into picking a side. Look back at your life. I don’t care how old you are and ask yourself what has changed? Nothing has changed. The poor are still poor, the middle class is still middle class and getting wrecked, and the rich are still getting richer. Rinse wash repeat. Have a great day!

    Tuesday, May 17 @ 5:12 am