Rep. Patrick McHenry (R)
North Carolina 10th District
Steeped in the hues that gave them the name Blue Ridge, the heavily wooded mountains of North Carolina seem placid and ancient. Geologically, they are some of the oldest ranges in the world. Economically, the region is blue-collar and oriented toward manufacturing, though there is some cotton farming, too. During the 1990s, residents here benefited from investment in fiber-optic factories, which, along with the general economic boom, helped reduce the local unemployment rate to near-record lows. But the Internet bust hurt the fiber-optic business. Textiles and furniture were also troubled, and the local unemployment rate rose. At the same time, this corner of North Carolina is adapting—as are so many other rural areas in the U.S.—to growing diversity. County seats like Morganton in Burke County are now home not just to Hispanics but to newcomers from Laos; the influx of recent arrivals has prompted some anti-immigrant backlash in this previously insular region, including the occasional rejection of school bond proposals on the grounds that they could help immigrants disproportionately. The Catawba Valley is home to the Hosiery Technology Center and produces about one-third of the nation’s hosiery. It remains a furniture center, but it has suffered major job losses due to international competition and is at risk of more competitive threats from Central America and China. The one bright spot in the local economy was Google. The Internet search engine company in 2007 broke ground in Lenoir on a $600 million data center after the city and county offered it millions of dollars in tax rebates to locate a so-called server farm there.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 10th Congressional District of North Carolina stretches across the state from Tennessee, where the mountains are high enough to support a modest ski industry, to the South Carolina border. It is composed mostly of small towns, and is still predominantly white. It ranks first among 435 congressional districts in the percentage of manufacturing and blue-collar jobs. The largest population center in the 10th is Hickory in Catawba County, which accounts for just over 20% of the district’s population. This remains a very Republican area—home to a rough-hewn, hill variety of Republicanism that is unsympathetic to government regulators, from factory inspectors to revenuers on the lookout for illegal stills. Despite job losses and worries about international competition that increasingly have made this a service economy, it remains one of North Carolina’s most Republican districts. George W. Bush got 67% here in 2004, and John McCain 63% in 2008.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R)
Elected: 2004, 3rd term.
Born: Oct. 22, 1975, Charlotte .
Education: Attended NC St. U., Belmont Abbey Col., B.A. 1999.
Elected office: NC House of Reps., 2002-04.
Professional Career: Real estate broker, 2000-02.
The congressman from the 10th District is Patrick McHenry, a Republican elected at age 29 in 2004. He grew up in Cherryville, and graduated from Belmont Abbey College, where he was president of the state College Republicans. After school, he was a real estate broker. As a young staunch conservative, he cut his political teeth on his strenuous opposition to the Clintons. He once dressed up in an Abraham Lincoln costume at a North Carolina appearance by President Clinton after Clinton was accused by Republicans of rewarding big contributors with overnight stays in the Lincoln bedroom in the White House. In 2000, he ran a website, notHillary.com, opposing Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate candidacy in New York. McHenry worked on several Republican campaigns in North Carolina, including Rep. Robin Hayes’ unsuccessful run for governor in 1996. At the start of the Bush administration, he was appointed to a job in the Labor Department. And in 2002, he was elected to the state House.
|Patrick McHenry (R)||171,774||(58%)||($1,587,880)|
|Daniel Johnson (D)||126,699||(42%)||($684,167)|
|Patrick McHenry (R)||34,457||(67%)|
|Lance Sigmon (R)||16,892||(33%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (62%), 2004 (64%)
He was in the state Legislature for less than two years when GOP Rep. Cass Ballenger retired, leaving an open seat in Congress. In the Republican primary, his chief competition was Catawba County Sheriff David Huffman, and both men made conservative “Christian values” their main issue. Huffman finished first with 35% but was forced into a runoff with McHenry, who got 26%. In the four weeks to the runoff, the campaign took a negative turn. Huffman questioned McHenry’s record as a businessman and accused him of having noisy all-night parties at his house, which also served as a residence for his campaign staff. McHenry’s neighbors insisted Huffman’s claim was untrue. McHenry accused Huffman of campaign finance irregularities. McHenry ran an energetic, door-to-door grassroots campaign, billing himself as a “pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay-marriage” Christian conservative. He won the runoff by just 85 votes, after a recount. Huffman carried Catawba County 59%-41%. But McHenry rolled up huge majorities in the counties south of Interstate 40 and close to his Gaston County home. He easily won the general election against Democrat Anne Fischer, who called herself a part-time stress release facilitator.
In the House, McHenry was an atypical newcomer. Rather than keeping a low profile and doing constituent work to sew up his seat as most freshmen do, he became a noisy partisan and party pit bull. He courted the limelight, making repeat appearances on talk shows for his ability to serve up red meat and good quotes. He cited as his role model the late Sen. Jesse Helms, the legendary North Carolina conservative who employed race-baiting in his campaigns as recently as the mid-90s. On the House floor, he took on Democrats, no matter how powerful or how senior, picking verbal fights with liberal Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, known for his debating prowess. In 2007, McHenry accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California of abusing her office by using military jets to fly home to San Francisco during congressional recesses (although former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois did the same thing).
Although he rarely breaks with his party, McHenry in 2005 voted against President Bush on the Central American Free Trade Agreement because of its potential impact on jobs in this district. He also opposed the president on giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, which McHenry called “amnesty with makeup.” On the Financial Services Committee, he won enactment of his bill allowing financial institutions involved in multiple transactions to combine them into one contract, something helpful to the banking industry in nearby Charlotte. On other issues, he won passage of his amendment to limit foreign aid to nations that refuse to extradite suspects accused of killing U.S. law enforcement officers. In the 111th Congress (2009-10), he is the ranking Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives, where he was poised to go toe-to-toe with the Obama administration over the 2010 census. McHenry objects to Obama’s plan to have the Census Bureau report directly to the White House as it oversees the politically sensitive task of tallying the population numbers that will directly affect the next congressional reapportionment.
But it’s his shoot-from-the-hip remarks that get McHenry the most attention. At a private meeting in January 2008, he asked aloud why Republicans “shouldn’t be physically ill at the prospects of a President McCain.” The Pentagon took McHenry to task the same year after he apparently violated military security rules by posting on his website video footage of a Green Zone rocket attack that he witnessed in Baghdad. He subsequently removed the video. After McHenry repeatedly took to the floor to criticize special spending provisions called earmarks added to bills by other lawmakers, the House in 2007 took the rare step of voting down an individual earmark—$129,000 that McHenry had slipped into a bill to expand a Christmas crafts store in Mitchell County. The vote was a resounding 249-174.
In 2006, McHenry was re-elected easily. In 2008, former Air Force attorney Lance Sigmon challenged him in the primary, saying his Iraq video put American lives at risk. McHenry won 67%-33%. But in November, his 58%-42% victory over well-funded former prosecutor Daniel Johnson, a Democrat who lost both legs during training in the Navy, was his closest House election.