This story is the latest installment in our “Contenders” series, where we outline the strengths and weaknesses of the people most likely to run for higher office in the coming years. Want to keep up? Sign up for the weekly Longleaf Politics newsletter.

Why Jason Saine is a contender

Reps. Tim Moore and David Lewis get the most attention, but General Assembly insiders point to a Lincolnton Republican as one of the most influential behind the scenes: Rep. Jason Saine.

Saine has become a go-to lawmaker on technology and tax issues, and the 2018 elections could put him in line for an even bigger role moving forward. This year, he also served as the national chairman for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful organization for conservative policy.

He’s roundly praised by leadership in the General Assembly and has frozen out meaningful competition since being appointed to the seat. At just 45 years old, Saine has a long career ahead of him.

Jason Saine’s advantages

Bridging the urban/rural divide. Saine represents a semi-suburban area that makes up the new battlefield in North Carolina politics. He’s worked in Charlotte but is also close to rural politics.

Expert on the right issues. Saine has developed expertise in economic development and technology policy, which are both hot topics and appealing to a broad range of voters.

Powerful life story. Saine has spoken about being on unemployment benefits in 2010 and 2011 when he was first appointed to the state legislature. It’s opened him to some criticism, but this can also be a compelling framework for a campaign.

Willingness to be bipartisan. Saine held a press conference with Democratic AG Josh Stein to promote a cybersecurity bill in January 2018. Independent voters generally like politicians who are open to crossing the aisle for common-sense bills.

Jason Saine’s disadvantages

Untested. It’s always a big jump to go from a ruby red district to something broader. And without much competition for the last few elections, he’s also escaped the scrutiny that comes with a close race. Still, some of his campaign spending has been criticized, primarily on clothes and food (though, to be honest, a lot of that reeks of body shaming).

Too connected to the establishment? While this can be a big advantage in role and fundraising, it also means his wagon is hitched to other politicians. The 2018 elections showed that interest in business as usual is waning. ALEC is also a boogeyman for the left, which could open him to more criticism in a statewide election.

The crystal ball

With Rep. Nelson Dollar leaving, count on Saine to be a chief budget writer in the N.C. House in the next biennium — with all the power that entails. That could put him on the fast-track to House speaker after Moore leaves the role. After that, who knows?

Cover image by Jason Saine via Facebook

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