BRUNSWICK COUNTY –– A longtime Brunswick County commissioner is hitting the campaign trails in his race for a rare open seat in the U.S. Senate.
Marty Cooke announced his candidacy for the 2022 election on his official campaign Facebook page in May. He faces stiff competition for the vacancy Republican Sen. Richard Burr is leaving behind after choosing to not seek a fourth term.
Ahead of the primaries, Cooke is up against big-name politicians, including former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, Democratic former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and U.S. Rep. Ted Budd. President Donald Trump endorsed Budd earlier this month during the GOP convention in Greenville.
A Trump supporter, Cooke said it was the former president’s loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 election that solidified his decision to run for office. He grew frustrated with the failed impeachment attempts, and he feels the country is “letting the southern border drop” and has taken its eyes off China and Russia.
“I’m tired of seeing this inability to get things done,” Cooke said. “A lot of times I feel like I see people sitting on their hands. They’re more interested in the status quo, and we’ve got problems with respect to this country that need to be fixed.”
Cooke is also concerned about inflation, noting rising lumber costs and gas prices, as well as the ongoing labor shortage.
“These stimulus checks going out –– there are restaurants in Shallotte that are closing,” Cooke said, “can’t find workers.”
Cooke is, as he put it, “very, very pro-life.” He’s a proponent of the right to bear arms and a proud NRA member, who favors a strong military and increased financial support and healthcare benefits for its members and veterans.
As commissioner, Cooke played a role in passing the unanimous resolution to designate Brunswick as a “Constitutional Protected Rights County.” The move tied the area to a nationwide trend of establishing “gun sanctuaries,” but the leaders stopped short of actually using that title, instead taking a safer route that highlights the Second Amendment.
Cooke was first elected to the board of commissioners in 2008. The same year, his wife Catherine Cooke joined the Brunswick County Board of Education and went on to serve three terms until this past December. She lost in the 2020 primaries by less than 1% of votes.
If elected, Cooke hopes to serve similarly to Jesse Helms, a U.S. Senator who was elected in North Carolina in 1973 and served until 2003. Cooke credits Helms for getting back to citizens on concerns in a timely manner.
“The thing I found about Jesse Helms was that, if you had an issue, he took it on as if it was his issue,” Cooke said. “He would get his staff or somebody to call you back and get things done.”
Cooke believes quick response to constituents and the issues is comparable to how the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners operates. By all appearances the entirely Republican board gets along seamlessly, rarely splitting on votes. Two of the three that were up for re-election in 2020 ran unchallenged. Commissioner Pat Sykes beat out her sole opponent, a Democrat, by an overwhelming margin.
Still, weighing in on federal decisions in Washington would be a significant promotion from serving the rural and beach communities of Brunswick County. Cooke notes Brunswick is the fastest growing county in the state and the seventh-fastest growing in the nation, containing 19 municipalities.
“I’m just saying it’s a very aggressive, very busy county,” Cooke said.
As a collective, Cooke and his fellow commissioners led the county as it maintained one of the lowest tax rates in the state, the top ranked community college in the U.S. by SmartAsset, and a distinguished emergency management team that combats tornadoes and hurricanes.
In 2017, Cooke was part of approving the Brunswick Guarantee, a program providing resident high school graduates free tuition to the community college. The number of students receiving free tuition at Brunswick Community College under the Brunswick Guarantee nearly doubled in the first three years of the program.
“That’s been unprecedented,” Cooke said. “It was not seen anywhere and we developed that over the past few years.”
A self-identified devout Christian, Cooke also boasts that “In God We Trust” was placed on all county vehicles.
The Senate race in North Carolina will likely grab national attention with both Democrats and Republicans vying for critical seats that could swing the legislature to their parties’ side. Republican senators have won the four past elections in North Carolina.
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