- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Stevie Rivenbark knows that her run for Congress is a long shot but she thinks being a 32-year-old pro-life, pro-gun single mom makes her the GOP’s answer to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

A political newbie, Ms. Rivenbark jumped into this year’s special House race in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District hoping an AOC-style groundswell of support from fellow millennials will help her score an upset win in a crowded Republican primary.

“We’ve got to contrast ourselves, stand up as women, as young people and say [Ms. Ocasio-Cortez] is not a reflection of us.” Ms. Rivenbark told The Washington Times.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, burst onto the political scene last year as a millennial working-class champion from the far left. Ms. Rivenbark checked off many of same boxes but on the “Christian right” side of the ledger.

Where Ms. Ocasio-Cortez championed the Green New Deal to fight climate change by entirely remaking U.S. infrastructure and the economy, Ms. Rivenbark questioned whether human activity contributes to global warming.

“As a Christian, I believe we were meant to be stewards of the Earth and take care of it. But [climate change] is not a crisis and I don’t believe that it needs to be a priority,” said Ms. Rivenbark, a sales manager for a medical device company.

She set her sights high in attempting to follow the meteoric trajectory of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. And there are plenty of skeptics in North Carolina political circles.

“It is a little early to be claiming that mantle,” said Larry Shaheen, a Republican consultant in North Carolina. “For someone to be the Republican answer to AOC, they would need to be able to raise the level of funds necessary to generate the same level of online presence and backing. To date, Ms. Rivenbark has not done that. We will have to wait and see.”

Ms. Rivenbark spent several days in Washington last week, lining up support and meeting with members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Her run is built on a personal story of a working-class upbringing and an adherence to pro-life ideals, even when doing so risked her own health.

After a horrific head-on car crash in 2012 shattered Ms. Rivenbark’s right leg, an infection developed in the bone. Doctors recommended that Ms. Rivenbark, who was pregnant, have an abortion or else they could not treat her.

“They told me pretty frankly, ‘You are probably going to lose your leg. Would you consider terminating the pregnancy?’” she recalled. “So pretty immediately the answer was no. I chose to have my son.”

She beat the odds, gave birth to a son, Blaine, and later underwent surgery on her leg. She eventually made a full recovery.

“I’ve always said I was pro-life but when you are facing that decision, it is really tough,” said Ms. Rivenbark, who has a master’s degree in public policy from Liberty University. “My son is happy and healthy and an amazing person and he deserves that, and my life has been made richer.”

Her pro-life stance is one of the reasons she is getting into politics.

“The infanticide issue is terrifying to me, that we actually have states that are allowing that to occur now,” she said, with a sigh of disbelief.

Her story could prove compelling for the district’s Bible Belt voters. She also offers a fresh face and inspiring message for Republicans hoping to move on from an election fraud scandal that forced the special election in the 9th District.

North Carolina politics have been in turmoil since the 2018 midterms. Amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud, the State Board of Elections refused to certify results showing Republican Mark Harris beating Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes.

A months-long investigation uncovered evidence that a political operative working for the Harris campaign illegally collected and possibly manipulated absentee ballots. When the evidence was presented at an Election Board hearing Feb. 21, Mr. Harris dropped objections to a new election and the board voted unanimously to redo of the 9th District race.

The 9th District seat has been empty since Congress convened Jan. 3 and will remain empty pending the special election.

If no one captures at least 30 percent of the vote in the May 14 primary, a runoff election will be held Sept. 10 followed by a general election Nov. 5.

If no runoff is needed, the general election will be held Sept. 10.

For Republicans on the national and state level, the special election presents an opportunity to wipe the slate clean. The district also will be the first test of the 2020 cycle.

At the urging of fellow Republicans, Mr. Harris declined to run again. He cited failing health, including two strokes.

Mr. McCready returned as the only Democrat in the special election.

In the Republican primary, Ms. Rivenbark is up against nine rivals, including several established political figures such as state Sen. Dan Bishop and county commissioners Matthew Ridenhour and Stony Rushing.

Ms. Rivenbark sees herself as the future of the Republican Party.

“We have really loud female voices telling us as women, as minorities, as young people what we should think and that the Democratic Party is the only platform for us,” she said. “That is just not the case and I feel if Republicans do not diversify and give people an alternative, then we are just going to continue to lose the demographic.”

The 9th District seat has been held by Republicans since the 1960s, but the political environment in the district and the states is changing, as was illustrated by the narrow margin in November.

In the bigger picture, North Carolina has become enough of a presidential battleground for Charlotte to be chosen as the site of the 2020 Republican National Convention.

Thomas Mills, a Democratic strategist in North Carolina, said Ms. Rivenbark faces an uphill battle and so far hasn’t garnered much attention in the 9th District.

As of Wednesday, her online campaign video had 613 views, her Twitter account had 257 followers and her campaign’s Facebook page had 746 followers.

“Somebody might be selling the hell out of her up there [in Washington] but they aren’t doing a good job of reaching voters down here,” Mr. Mills said.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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