Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler to Retire
Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., speaks about Democrats and Republicans sitting together during President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., will not seek reelection next year, according to sources close to the candidate. The retirement is bad news for Democrats seeking to regain control of the House. The seat is a likely pickup for Republicans and became at risk after redistricting.
Shuler, a former NFL quarterback, is in his third term and he has repeatedly expressed concern about the lack of influence moderate and conservative Democrats had in the smaller Democratic caucus in this Congress. He ran for minority leader against Nancy Pelosi at the beginning of 2011.
Benson said that Shuler was facing a likely primary challenge from Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell, but, "I thought he had a good chance to win."
Shuler represented one of the most conservative Democratic districts in Congress: The 11th gave John McCain 52 percent of its presidential votes in 2008, and George W. Bush carried the district with 57 percent in 2004. Despite the GOP wave of 2010, Shuler still managed to win a relatively comfortable 54 percent of the vote, but Republicans in North Carolina's legislature made the district even more conservative in this year's redistricting, narrowing Shuler's path to reelection that much more.
Shuler's retirement leaves Democrats short of time to contest his district. The filing period for access to North Carolina's primary ballot opens in Feb. 13 and closes in Feb. 29. The primary itself is May 8, only four months away.
GOP Businessman Ethan Wingfield just joined the race and loaned himself about $100,000 to start his campaign. Clay County GOP Chairman Kenny West and Jeff Hunt, a district attorney, are also in the race on the Republican side. Other GOP candidates include doctor Dan Eichenbaum and businessmen Mark Meadows and Vance Patterson.
Asheville Democratic City Councilor Cecil Bothwell is already in the race, but he was running as a self-described anti-corruption crusader.
Retirement buzz around Shuler increased on Wednesday when the congressman's latest campaign finance report showed only two itemized contributions from individuals in North Carolina.
Shuler is the twelfth House Democrat to announce his retirement outright this cycle. He is also the shortest-tenured Democrat slated to retire at the end of the 112th Congress.