The Charlotte area was busy with congressional debates this week. In the 8th district, incumbent Democratic Congress Larry Kissell faced with his Republican challenger, Richard Husdon.
And in the 9th District, Republican Rich Pittenger and Democrat Jennifer Roberts debated at a Charlotte Chamber of Commerce event. They are running to replace retiring 9th District Republican Congresswoman Sue Myric.
Our political blogger, Michael Bitzer, analyzed the races and the debates with WFAE’s Michael Tomsic and Duncan McFadyen. Here’s a transcript of their conversation:
McFadyen: So let’s start with the ninth district. Michael, you were there. You saw how the candidates interacted, you said it was a civil exchange, but they did point out some stark differences.
Tomsic: Absolutely. For example, there was a specific difference on what they would do with Pres. Obama’s health care law. Here’s what they had to say about that. We’ll start with Pittenger first:
Robert Pittenger: “I see the affordable health care act as one that’s not going to be affordable. It’s going to raise the cost of healthcare.”
Jennifer Roberts: “Let’s face it everybody agrees it’s great that kids up to age 26 can be on their parents insurance, it’s great that you can get insured with pre-existing conditions. So there are some good things. You don’t throw out the whole process.”
Tomsic: I suppose you can hear from that, I mean, Pittenger clearly is of the mark that we should throw this thing out. Roberts says, ‘You know there is some good in there and we’d like to move forward with it, but you know, one of the things that surprised me is that there are actually a lot of things where they were closer to being in agreement.
Professor Bitzer, I’d like to actually ask you - I wonder if that’s partly because of the voting makeup in that specific district and that for a Democrat to win it, you kind of need to be closer to the middle?
Bitzer: Exactly, and, and I think that district if you look at, both the registered Republican percentages, that favors the Republicans certainly. If you look at how that new district would have voted in 2008, it certainly would have gone for John McCain. Jennifer Roberts has kind of an uphill battle in that she has to get crossover votes, meaning that she has to get Republicans to perhaps view Pittenger, as maybe too conservative for their taste and be willing to basically split their ticket - maybe vote for Mitt Romney, but then cast a ballot for Jennifer Roberts. That’s kind of an uphill battle for her, but I think that’s what she’d going after.
McFadyen: Was Pittenger the more conservative of the two candidates in the Republican primary?
Bitzer: He certainly came off as (that). I mean, it basically was him and (Jim) Pendergraph that kind of saw how fast they could possibly go toward the right.
McFadyen: And Sue Myrick, the woman they’re running to replace, she served 18 years in congress. How does she compare with Pittenger?
Bitzer: Well certainly Sue Myrick is kind of a moderate conservative. She certainly has some conservative values and principles, particularly on immigration, but she was someone that really was kind of willing to cross the aisle, work sometimes with members of the Democratic Party.
It would be hard for me to imagine somebody like Robert Pittenger willingly working with members of the opposite party just because he presented himself in such a stark conservative viewpoint. It would be difficult to imagine him working with Democrats. That’s something that certainly Jennifer Roberts is going play up by her experience working on the (Mecklenburg) County Commission and trying to work with Republicans there as well.
Tomsic: And professor Bitzer, that was actually one of her main selling points in the debate. She was very big on going across the aisle – how that’s one of the things that’s broken in Washington..that people aren’t going across the aisle to work together. One of her big pitches was ‘Elect me and I’ll go do that.’
Bitzer: I think she can make a real key emphasis towards, particularly, south Mecklenburg Republican voters who actually voted against the constitutional amendment defining marriage. That was kind of surprising in Mecklenburg. That kind of shows that maybe there are some Republicans that are perhaps socially moderate, not as conservative as your typical base Republican Party would be thinking and that might be the opening that Roberts can use.
McFadyen: Let’s move on now to the 8th District where we find another Democrat, this time incumbent Larry Kissell, trying to run in a district that has become more Republican since redistricting. They debated on Monday. Here’s his Republican opponent, Richard Hudson, and we heard a lot of this during the debate.
Richard Hudson: “I agree with the congressman.”
McFadyen: How much are these two trying to sound alike?
Bitzer: I think they’re trying to appeal to a fairly rural, fairly conservative district. This district has changed dramatically since Larry Kissell first got elected in 2008, and Kissell is trying to differentiate himself, kind of stand himself apart from normal Democratic Party politics.
But this is actually kind of surprising that the two of them agreed on so much, particularly after a bitter primary where Richard Hudson basically took the gloves off and went wholeheartedly after Kissell to try and convince the Republican voters to name him as the nominee. I think we’re going to see a lot more differentiation between these two candidates going, ah, into October.
McFadyen: We actually heard from a story that we ran on that debate. They complained that we didn’t highlight Hudson’s comments that Kissell had voted 23 times for President Obama’s health care law. And Congressmen Kissell, when the Affordable Care Act came to an actual vote on whether it would pass or not, did vote against it. He defied his party on that. Are there any votes that are safe in congress anymore or because so many things that are tagged on as procedural votes—is it always going to be a game of gotcha in campaigns?
Bitzer: Particularly when you have a challenger going against a sitting incumbent every vote is going to be open for interpretation, framing, and spinning, and certainly the Hudson campaign is making hay out of what were conceivably procedural votes that the Republicans continuously put up to force Democrats to basically take a stand. I can’t recall right off the top of my head exactly what all those votes were, but oftentimes you have to focus on the passage of the bill and often times the Republicans were trying to have votes to repeal the bill.
So, a lot of this gets into the weeds of congressional vote patterns, and, what they’re actually voting on. For the average votes, they are going to hear all this and go, I don’t know which side to really believe. But Kissell did vote against the bill as it originally came because he looked at his district and said, ‘These folks don’t want it, I’m going to be a delegate for my constituents.’