The stakes are high in next week's Republican run-off for the 8th Congressional District. Newly-drawn boundaries for the district strongly favor a Republican in the general election. Incumbent Democrat Larry Kissell is working hard to show he votes his conscience and not his party. But will it be enough to win in a district that's more conservative than it was two years ago?
If you're inclined to believe the rhetoric coming out of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Larry Kissell is nothing but a "rubber stamp for President Obama's job-destroying policies," says NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozak. The glaring problem with that statement is that Kissell voted against the President's health care law - which Republicans see as the ultimate job-killing policy.
Kissell took a lot of heat for that vote from Democrats in the 2010 election. So how does the NRCC justify sending out an email with this headline: "Kissell's Healthcare Takeover is a Big F***ing Tax"? "Larry Kissell last year voted against repealing the health care bill so, in effect, he voted to keep Obamacare the law of the land," says Bozek.
That's true. Kissell voted against the initial law because of his concern for cuts it makes to Medicare, but when U.S. House Republicans tried to repeal it in January 2011, Kissell wouldn't support their effort because he said it would be better to try and fix the act, rather than repeal it entirely and risk having the same fight all over again.
Another repeal vote is expected to come up in the House tomorrow, and this time, Kissell said in a statement he will vote to repeal it. Analyst Nathan Gonzalez of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report says Kissell has good reason to try and show he's not a rubber stamp for Obama or the Democrats, "because he's running in a redrawn district that is definitely more Republican."
"(NC District 8) is at least 10 points more Republican than the one he's run in before," says Gonzalez.
Kissell's staff declined to make him available for an interview, but campaign spokesman Chris Schuler wrote in an email that the congressman's position on health care has nothing to do with the need to win over Republicans in his district. Schuler adds that Kissell is so focused on serving the people of the 8th district that he may not even travel a few miles down the road to attend the Democratic National Convention in September.
Surely Kissell's independence will impress some independent voters in the district, Gonzalez says, but, "Congressman Kissell needs to convince a bloc of Mitt Romney voters to turn around and vote for him for Congress. And I think that's going to be a difficult road for him." Which means July 17 really matters. That's the day Republicans in the 8th District decide who will face Kissell in the general election. Their choices are Richard Hudson, a former aide to several members of Congress, or Scott Keadle, a dentist and former Iredell County commissioner.
The challenge for Republican voters is to differentiate between the candidates based on their views. In a WTVI debate Monday, Keadle and Hudson shared largely the same views on health care, federal spending, energy, immigration and defense.
"I think the first thing that has to happen is that we do need to repeal Obamacare," said Keadle.
"Repealing Obamacare is absolutely a number one priority for me," said Hudson.
"We're spending way more than we can afford and we're taxing more than we can afford, frankly," said Keadle of the federal budget.
"Well, I agree with Scott that one of the keys to getting this economy going is to cut spending," said Hudson.
What they don't agree on is who is best qualified to take those positions to Washington. Hudson and Keadle have turned to attacking each other's credentials as conservatives and North Carolinians. Hudson goes after Keadle for voting to accept stimulus money while on the Iredell County Commission.
"We need someone in Congress who doesn't have a record of voting for stimulus and who will go up and challenge that type of mentality," says Hudson.
Keadle counters that stimulus vote was a responsible one because it was "pass-through money" but that he would not support a stimulus package in Washington. Then Keadle goes after Hudson's roots: "Mr. Hudson has lived for the last 11 years in Washington, DC. He still has a home in Arlington where his wife lives and works for a Congressman from Arizona. Richard Hudson is not from here, Richard Hudson has been part of the problem."
Hudson says he lived in North Carolina for many of those years as a congressional aide, has lived in the 8th district since he was 14 and "can trace (his) family roots in this district to 1772."
Genealogy aside, Keadle and Hudson have pledged to support whoever wins the Republican primary run-off. The National Republican Congressional Committee will too. It has already reserved $1 million in TV ad time for a District 8, which it deems a "top pick-up opportunity" in 2012.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved a similar amount of time to defend Larry Kissell, even though some of his votes have angered Democrats. Note: The 8th District Republican debate airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on News Channel 14 and Thursday at 10 p.m. on WTVI.