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Dems hope to 'Draft Billy Kennedy'

Article Published: Dec. 30, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Dems hope to 'Draft Billy Kennedy'

Young Democrats are encouraging Billy Kennedy to run for U.S. Congress.

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Old-school politics usually involved lots of back-room maneuvering of candidates, with a small party core deciding which candidates to put forth in coming elections.

That grooming process has been tossed out like punch-card ballots and train-whistle stops by Democrats who are lining up behind their favored candidate to take on incumbent Republican Virginia Foxx for the Fifth District U.S. Congressional seat next year.

A public campaign is under way called "Draft Billy Kennedy," with party faithful hoping to gently pressure Kennedy into entering the race. What makes the draft attempt different is that the momentum is gathering in the virtual world, driven by a younger pool of voters.

Jesse Presnell, vice chairman of the Watauga County Young Democrats who administers the Facebook social networking page, said a few people had heard Kennedy was thinking about running, and he started the Facebook group "Draft Billy Kennedy" to garner support.

"It wasn't just creating the page, it was how many people instantly got behind it that was exciting," Presnell said. During the first week of launch, the group was getting about 60 new members a day.

"A lot of the hits were from Washington, D.C.," Presnell said. "People are really interested in this race. I've been wanting to draft him for a long time, and a lot of other people have wanted to create the groundswell support to get him to run."

Kennedy said he was grateful for the attention and support and is seriously considering running. He said he would make a decision after the holidays.

Kennedy is a carpenter and farmer in Bethel, having lived in the county for 30 years. He's served as a party precinct chair and with the party's state executive committee, though he's never run for public office. He is also host of the "Watauga Talks" radio show that airs Friday mornings on 1450 AM WATA.

Kennedy sent Presnell a letter to post on the blog as he makes up his mind: "I've been overwhelmed and honored by so many people asking me to run for the 5th district Congressional seat. Our district needs representation in Washington that is serious about the needs of people in our area, most especially jobs and future opportunities for ourselves and our children. In light of these hard times, it is not acceptable that our current legislator, Virginia Foxx, says 'no' to every proposed solution while at the same time taking advantage of limited taxpayer dollars for her own needs.

"As for now, I am seriously considering my options. This is not something I can suddenly rush into without a lot of homework and planning, not to mention the support of my family and closest friends. I hope to have a concrete decision in the coming weeks and will certainly let all you good people know as soon as possible what my plans are. In the meantime, keep the faith that positive change can indeed come to our district."

Presnell noted that the draft campaign was picked up by Beltway Blitz, Blue NC, Swing State Project and other prominent political blogs. "He definitely got a ton of attention really quickly," Presnell said. "Most people know he's the radio host from Boone."

As of Wednesday, Kennedy had 438 members of the "Draft Billy Kennedy" Facebook group.

Bradley Smith, a general contractor in Wilkes County, has announced he will run in the race as an independent. Because of campaign requirements for third parties, he will need to collect a petition of 17,000 signatures in order to get on the ballot. His Web site is

Foxx has not yet formally announced a run for a fourth term, but her Web site Virginia Foxx for Congress ( is still active and accepting contributions. She has a Facebook page at with 3,875 friends.

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