North Carolina’s 13th District was viewed for months as a certain Republican pickup after state Republicans completely changed its composition of voters in their party’s favor during redistricting. In the critical GOP primary, former federal prosecutor George Holding got help from a super PAC organized by wealthy friends, and his decisive win essentially guaranteed him the seat of retiring Democratic Rep. Brad Miller.
Holding grew up in Raleigh in a wealthy family. He gave his first public speech at age 11 to dedicate a statue of his recently deceased father, a prominent banker. He entered Massachusetts’ prestigious Groton School in 1981, the year Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president, and he graduated from Wake Forest University in 1990, a year after Reagan left office. During those years, Holding developed an interest in conservative ideas and worked as a summer intern for North Carolina’s iconic right-wing Republican Sen. Jesse Helms.
Holding remembers Helms as someone who stuck to his core principles and yet took the time to learn about an issue before casting his vote. Holding went on to attend law school at Wake Forest, where he met his British wife Lucy Herriott. After graduating and working at a law firm, he returned to work for Helms as a legislative counsel, concentrating on business, tax, and tobacco issues.
In 2006, President Bush nominated Holding as U.S. attorney for eastern North Carolina. His territory included Raleigh, the state capital, so Holding was responsible for prosecuting a number of politicians, including former Gov. Mike Easley for campaign finance irregularities and former state House Speaker Jim Black for accepting illegal funds.
But his most prominent case was that of former Democratic Sen. John Edwards, who came under investigation for the nearly $1 million that his supporters paid to Edwards’s mistress, Rielle Hunter, during his 2008 presidential campaign. Holding initiated the prosecution against Edwards, but didn’t argue the case in court because he resigned the case to run for Congress. In June 2012, a jury deadlocked on five of the six felony counts against Edwards, prompting the Justice Department to drop the charges. Holding defended the prosecution, saying Edwards’s conduct called out for action.
Holding said he learned during his time as a prosecutor that good people enter public service but sometimes lose their sense of responsibility. His campaign featured feel-good ads, including one about a World War II-era nurse who tended to soldiers despite shrapnel tearing through a tent, and another praising Thomas Edison’s entrepreneurial spirit that led to the invention of the light bulb.
But the primary turned acrimonious. Holding’s main opponent was Wake County Commission Chairman Paul Coble, a nephew of Helms. Coble accused Holding of politicizing Edwards’s indictment, and set up a website accusing Holding of taking “dirty money” from trial lawyers who supported President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. But Holding’s massive financial advantage helped him notch a victory, 44 percent to 34 percent.
In the general election, Democrat Charles Malone accused Holding of being “surrounded by wealth” and therefore out of touch, but the message had little resonance in the conservative district.
Julia Edwards contributed to this article.