A third candidate has entered the race to challenge first-term Representative Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District in 2022.
Longtime Hendersonville High School teacher and former Bearcats football coach Eric Gash has announced that he will run in the Democratic primary next March for the right to challenge Cawthorn. Gash joins Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of Asheville and Josh Remillard of Mills River in the primary; the winner will take on Cawthorn in the general election Nov. 8, 2022.
Gash is following in the footsteps of his activist mother in getting involved in public service, whom he calls his inspiration. Betty Gash, well known throughout the Henderson County community, has served on the Henderson County Board of Elections, on the former Hendersonville City School Board (before it merged with Henderson County Schools), and on the boards of Blue Ridge Community College and the Salvation Army.
Gash himself has worked for many years in the Henderson County school system—he is currently principal of Bruce Drysdale Elementary School—and serves as the pastor of Speak Life Community Church and as chaplain for the Hendersonville Police Department. He is also a former business owner.
A native of Henderson County, Gash was a popular football standout at Hendersonville High in the 1980s. He also played for the University of North Carolina and considered signing on with the New England Patriots—as his older brother Sam Gash did after graduating from Penn State—before opting for a career in business.
That career took him to the Caribbean, where he met married Katy, his wife of 25 years, before returning to western North Carolina to teach, coach, raise their family, and serve the public.
As he considered whether or not to run for public office, Gash consulted with many friends and colleagues, including former 11th District Representative Heath Shuler. Rivals in high school football games—Gash played for the Bearcats, Shuler for the Maroon Devils from Swain County High—the two men share eclectic careers in football, business, and public service, as well as a moderate Democratic approach to politics.
Shuler, considered a “blue-dog” Democrat, was able to win and hold the seat for three terms, a difficult task in a district that is predominantly rural and has tilted more Republican over the past twenty-five years. For many years a Democratic stronghold represented by Roy Taylor in the late 1960s and 1970s, the seat changed hands several times before Republican Charles Taylor (no relation) won seven elections from 1990 until 2006—when Shuler defeated him 54% to 46%.
Shuler retired in 2012 after the GOP took over the NC legislature in 2011 and, through redistricting, made the seat virtually impossible for a Democrat to win. With redistricting again on the schedule for 2021, the demographics of the seat for the 2022 race are still uncertain.
Gash knows that it will be a tough race to win, but he considers himself a bridge builder, he said, who will give everyone in the district a seat at the table. “I want everyone’s voice to be heard in our district. That means every creed, color—everyone. I want to make sure all of their voices are heard at the national level.” To ensure that goal, he himself is embarking on a listening tour of the entire district, so that he will hear the residents voice their concerns and discuss the issues of most importance to them.
Gash will continue to pastor Speak Life Community Church and serve as Police Department chaplain. “Faith is what drives me through everything I do. Without faith, nothing is possible.”