Rep. Larry Kissell (D)
North Carolina 8th District
In the Carolina Piedmont, from Atlanta to Durham along Interstate 85, lies the thickest concentration of America’s once-mighty textile industry. Within North Carolina, I-85 brushes past Concord and Kannapolis, the latter named for its founding company, Cannon Mills. While eastern Carolina was settled by Englishmen, the Piedmont was settled mainly by Scots and diverse groups like Quakers and Moravian sects, coming down the Blue Ridge from Pennsylvania through Virginia. These migratory patterns were reflected in Civil War divisions and continue in current voting habits. The coastal counties all the way up through the Sand Hills were Confederate and are now Democratic. The textile mill towns along the interstate were anti-secession and are now Republican.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Parts of both of these areas are in the 8th Congressional District. The most populous county in the district is Cabarrus County, which includes the southern end of the textile corridor around Kannapolis and Concord. In recent years, Cabarrus, fed by migration from Charlotte, has moved beyond its textile and small-town roots and become an exurban county, growing by 25% from 2000 to 2007; it was the 29th-fastest-growing county in the nation in 2007. Cabarrus casts one-fourth of the district’s votes. The bankruptcy of Pillowtex (formerly Cannon Mills) in 2003 eliminated some 4,000 jobs in Cabarrus and Rowan counties. As if the region didn’t have trouble enough, South Carolina sued in 2007 to try to stop North Carolina from diverting water from the Catawba River basin to Concord and Kannapolis. South Carolina views the river as a recreational resource, while the North Carolina areas rely on it to fill depleted reservoirs and for industrial uses.
The 8th District extends east to include part of Fayetteville’s Cumberland County, which casts 20% of the vote, but stops short of the military neighborhoods outside Fort Bragg. Democratic redistricters included as much of the Democratic Sand Hills as they could, and removed most of Union County, a fast-growing and heavily Republican area just east of Charlotte. They added central-city precincts in Charlotte with a mix of African-Americans and white liberals. This split-personality district has usually been carried by Republican presidential candidates and by North Carolina Democrats in close statewide contests. Both parties have long targeted it as a marginal district. Barack Obama increased the local turnout by nearly 20% compared with 2004, and won here with 52%.
Rep. Larry Kissell (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: Jan. 31, 1951, Biscoe .
Education: Wake Forest U., B.A. 1973.
Family: Married (Tina); 2 children.
Professional Career: Union Carbide, production mgmt., 1973-74; Russell Hosiery, 1974-2001; Social studies teacher, East Montgomery HS, 2001-08
The new congressman from the 8th District is Larry Kissell, a Democrat who was elected in 2008 on his second try for the seat. A strong Democratic tailwind helped the social studies teacher across the finish line in his rematch with Rep. Robin Hayes, a five-term Republican. Kissell is a native of Biscoe, at the edge of the Uwharrie National Forest. His mother was a mathematics teacher, and his father was the town’s postmaster for many years. After graduating from Wake Forest University, Kissell returned home to work in the local textile mills. He started at Union Carbide, and then joined Russell Hosiery in the town of Star, where he stayed for 27 years. At the time, many of the plants were closing as jobs were shipped overseas, so he switched careers to become a teacher. He says he was inspired by his mother, and also by a recognition that the exodus of factory jobs in the region put a premium on children getting an education. Kissell is a conservative Democrat who espouses smaller government and lower taxes, but says he believes that social issues like abortion rights are matters of individual choice. During the campaign, he said he supported increasing the hourly minimum wage.
|Larry Kissell (D)||157,185||(55%)||($1,509,753)|
|Robin Hayes (R)||126,634||(45%)||($3,808,201)|
|Larry Kissell (D)||Unopposed|
He first ran against Hayes in 2006, and although he lost, he held the incumbent to less than 54% of the vote. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel, then a representative from Illinois, conceded that the race was a missed opportunity for the national party. Two years later, the DCCC had the contest in its sights. Kissell ran an effective grassroots campaign, using a “common man” message in a year when most “common men” were feeling anxious about the economy. His small-town upbringing and background as a former mill worker had appeal for many district voters who had not forgiven Hayes, a wealthy hosiery-mill owner, for casting a decisive vote in favor of the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement after vowing to vote against it because of the potential impact on textile workers. Kissell dubbed the vote Hayes’ “CAFTA betrayal,” and focused his speeches on job creation in the economically struggling region.
Kissell was outspent $3.8 million to $1.5 million, but he was helped by $2.4 million in DCCC spending and by Barack Obama’s aggressive voter registration efforts in North Carolina. Hayes added to his own woes with a controversial remark a few days before the election at a rally for John McCain, saying that “liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God.” He later said his remarks were a mistake.
In their second contest, it wasn’t close. Kissell won 55%-45%, capturing eight of the 10 counties. He took the urban-area counties of Mecklenberg, 75%-25%, and Cumberland, 59%-41%. Hayes won the two large suburban counties: 57%-43% in Cabarrus and 62%-38% in Stanly. Although Republicans promised to compete for the seat and make this a test of Democratic control of Washington in 2010, Kissell’s 30,000-vote advantage will be formidable.
In the House, Kissell landed a seat on the Armed Services Committee and also on the Agriculture Committee.
Kissell's first act was to co-sign legislation turning back the pay increase Congress was slated to get this year.