Sen. Richard Burr (R)
Elected: 2004, term expires 2010, 1st term.
Born: Nov. 30, 1955, Charlottesville, VA .
Education: Wake Forest U., B.A. 1978.
Family: Married (Brooke); 2 children.
Elected office: U.S. House of Reps., 1994-2004.
Professional Career: Natl. sales mgr., Carswell Distributing, 1978–94.
Richard Burr, North Carolina’s senior senator, was first elected to the House in 1994 and to the Senate in 2004. A distant relative to Vice President Aaron Burr, he grew up a minister’s son in Winston-Salem, was a star football player at Reynolds High School and Wake Forest University, then worked in sales for a wholesaling firm. In 1992, Burr ran against Rep. Steve Neal, a Democrat first elected in 1974. Although outspent 3-to-1 by Neal, he lost by a relatively narrow 53%-46%. Neal retired in 1994 and Burr ran again, this time winning a solid 57% of the vote. He did not have a serious challenger in the next four House elections.
|Richard Burr (R)||1,791,450||(52%)||($12,853,110)|
|Erskine Bowles (D)||1,632,527||(47%)||($13,359,764)|
|Richard Burr (R)||302,319||(88%)|
|John Hendrix (R)||25,971||(8%)|
|Albert Wiley (R)||15,585||(5%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 House (70%), 2000 House (93%), 1998 House (68%), 1996 House (62%), 1994 House (57%)
In the House, Burr had a mostly conservative voting record. On the Energy and Commerce Committee, his early cause became streamlining the Food and Drug Administration’s drug and medical-device approval process, which he argued kept lifesaving products from the market. For over two years, he worked with the agency, doctors, patients, consumer groups, and the pharmaceutical industry to come up with a consensus. With broad bipartisan support, his FDA Modernization Act became law in 1997. He helped to set up the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health. After September 11, he sponsored laws to improve defenses against bioterrorism and to compensate people injured by smallpox vaccination. He strongly opposed FDA regulation of tobacco and, with others from North Carolina, later called for an optional buyout of tobacco quotas. He sought a crackdown on illegal textile imports but backed President Bush’s call for trade promotion authority after securing promises that the local textile industry would have a seat at the table. He called it a difficult vote but said it could help make U.S. textiles more competitive internationally.
By 1999, Burr made no secret of his interest in running for the Senate. He had promised to serve only five terms in the House, and was looking ahead to 2002, when GOP Sen. Jesse Helms would turn 80, and to 2004, when Democratic Sen. John Edwards’ seat would come up. In 2002, he deferred to Elizabeth Dole on the Helms seat when it became apparent that the Bush White House was pushing her. By 2003, Edwards was running for president, giving Burr the shot he was looking for. He had $2 million in his campaign account and this time was encouraged by White House political strategist Karl Rove.
Burr’s Democratic opponent was Erskine Bowles, the former White House chief of staff under President Clinton who had lost the 2002 race to Dole. Despite his many years in Washington, Bowles had deep roots in North Carolina. His father, Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1972, and his wife, Crandall Close, was the chief executive officer of Springs Industries, a large textile firm started by her family. As Clinton’s top aide, Bowles negotiated the 1997 legislation that helped produce a balanced federal budget for the first time in years. He had earned the respect of Republican leaders even as they seethed with mistrust of Clinton. With greater name identification than Burr, Bowles led by about 10% in most polls until September. He started running ads six months before the election and had the resources to continue. Burr didn’t run ads until September, hoping to match whatever Bowles could spend in the final weeks. In the end they spent about the same, Burr $12.8 million and Bowles $13.4 million, making their contest the third-most-expensive Senate campaign in 2004.
Bowles ran on a 10-point economic program and, pointing to recent losses of furniture and textile jobs, said he was “the only candidate with a real jobs plan.” He called for expanding health insurance for children and providing tax credits for health insurance for small businesses. He touted his ability to work with both parties while depicting Burr as the king of the special interests, especially the pharmaceutical and tobacco companies. A major issue in the campaign was the tobacco buyout. The proposal was before Congress, and the entire North Carolina delegation favored ending the tobacco quota system in place since 1938; tobacco quotas had been cut back in recent years and seemed likely to be again. At issue was whether the buyout should be coupled with FDA regulation of tobacco. The Senate passed a corporate tax bill with both the buyout and FDA regulation. In the House, Burr voted for the buyout without the FDA regulation caveat. He argued that the toxicity of cigarettes should be regulated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that packages and labeling should fall under the Federal Trade Commission. Bowles charged that Burr’s position was influenced by R.J. Reynolds, based in Winston-Salem, which opposed FDA regulation. In the fall, Bowles interrupted his campaign to lobby for the buyout, and later claimed that he had persuaded Senate Democrats not to filibuster the legislation.
Burr was appointed by House Republican leaders to the conference committee on the bill. When the House held out for the buyout without FDA regulation, the Senate yielded and the bill was enacted. Republicans made much of Burr’s role. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee came to North Carolina and proclaimed, “It took monumental leadership, and without Richard Burr providing that monumental leadership, this bill would not have occurred.” This may have been the turning point of the campaign. Burr had pulled even with Bowles in polls by late September. His ads linked Bowles to Clinton and to his policies on tax increases, welfare for immigrants, trade with China, and trade policy generally. One ad dubiously called Bowles Clinton’s “chief negotiator” on the North American Free Trade Agreement. Both candidates skittered back from previous free-trade positions. And a Burr ad said Bowles “doesn’t have the courage to stand up for traditional marriage.”
That year, President Bush carried North Carolina 56%-44%. Burr beat Bowles 52%-47%. Burr ran 4% behind Bush in the state’s three big metropolitan areas, which cast just over half the votes. He ran 5% behind Bush in the rest of the state. Bowles won big majorities in rural black-majority counties and in the counties with Durham and Chapel Hill. Burr carried almost every rural county in the Piedmont and the mountains.
In the Senate, Burr leaned conservative on cultural issues and toward the center on foreign policy. Starting off in the majority, he sought to review the work of NIH after it had received a doubling of funds over five years. Unlike Bush, he supported using frozen embryos in fertility clinics in stem-cell research. He won enactment of a bill to create the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop vaccines and other countermeasures to biological terrorism or a pandemic. Opponents criticized the bill for its secret operations and for protecting companies that make ineffective or harmful medicines. Burr responded that the agency would become the “venture capitalist” for private-sector initiatives, and would have complete access to their data. Biotech firms applauded the bipartisan deal.
After pledging to vote against the Central American Free Trade Agreement in the campaign, Burr voted for the agreement in 2005, saying “new side agreements” that would boost the state’s economy persuaded him to support it. In 2006, he voted against the Senate immigration overhaul bill because he said it would lead to “blanket amnesty” for illegal immigrants. During negotiations on the compromise bill in 2007, Burr supported the “touchback” amendment that would have forced illegal immigrants to return to their home countries before applying for visas. When the amendment was voted down, he voted against allowing the compromise bill to advance.
In 2007, Burr became the ranking minority member on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. In February 2008, he sponsored a bill to give transition payments for soldiers moving from active duty to veteran status. In March 2008, he proposed an amendment transferring funds for Filipino World War II veterans not living in the United States or suffering from service-connected disabilities in order to free $220 million for benefits for Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans. It was killed by Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, who opposed transfers from Filipino veterans. In July 2008, he tried to prevent the Veterans Administration from listing veterans as “mentally defective” in its background check database without a judicial determination. And in August 2008, he got the Senate to pass a bill setting the cost-of-living adjustments for veterans with service-connected disabilities to the same rate as Social Security. Burr co-sponsored with Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona a revision of the GI Bill of Rights that would allow veterans to transfer half their benefits to spouses or children after six years and all of them after 12 years. The Senate passed a bill by Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia that went even further, allowing veterans with three years’ service to get tuition at the most expensive of their state’s public colleges. Burr argued that Webb’s version would discourage re-enlistments.
Burr’s other recent legislative projects have included advocating a form of equalized tax treatment of employer-provided and non-employer-provided health insurance, with a tax credit of up to $5,400 per family. He sponsored a bill to bar NIH from recalling from their haven in Keithville, La., chimpanzees retired earlier from medical research. In April 2007, he fought the Navy’s proposal to build a landing field near the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina. In January 2008, as Congress considered a bipartisan economic stimulus bill, Burr called for a sales tax holiday from April 3 to 13.
In 2007, Burr lost a bid to move up the ladder to Republican Conference chairman to Lamar Alexander of Tennessee on a 31-16 vote among Senate Republicans. However, he was selected co-chairman of the 2008 Republican National Convention’s Platform Committee, and his legislative acumen paid off when, in January 2009, he was named chief deputy whip in the Republican leadership.
In 2008, Obama’s victory in North Carolina—and even more, Dole’s defeat for re-election to the Senate—increased speculation that Burr would encounter serious opposition when he comes up for re-election in 2010. He has reportedly spent more time in the state than did Dole, who chaired the Senate Republicans’ campaign committee in 2005-06, a job demanding much time and travel. Several Democrats would be plausible opponents; the strongest, based on previous electoral performance, probably would be Attorney General Roy Cooper. In addition, there seems to be a jinx on this seat. Since Democrat Sam Ervin retired in 1974, none of its holders has won a second term.