Previewing North Carolina's House Primaries
North Carolina is supposed to be one of the Republican Party's great prizes of this redistricting cycle. After drawing more favorable lines for a quartet of current Democratic House seats and protecting the current Republican delegation, Tuesday's primary represents the next step toward GOP stranglehold on North Carolina's congressional districts. But that ultimate goal is getting lost in several combative, race-to-the-right primaries that could damage the GOP's prospects in November.
Throughout most of the country, the GOP -- its congressional ranks swollen by the 2010 wave elections -- chose to protect territory already won rather than go after new seats in redistricting. In the Tar Heel State, though, Republican state legislators took the opposite approach with devastating effectiveness. Democrats have effectively ceded retiring Rep. Brad Miller's 13th District, and they face long odds in retiring Rep. Heath Shuler's 11th District, too. The other two threatened Democrats, Reps. Mike McIntyre (7th District) and Larry Kissell (8th District), will battle Republicans through November, though, and exactly which Republican each faces will have a lot to do with whether they return to Congress.
That has some Republicans worried, especially in McIntyre's district. His 2010 opponent, Ilario Pantano, is competing for the GOP nomination once more, but Pantano's flaws (including a stint at Goldman Sachs and dismissed charges of murdering two prisoners while serving as a Marine in Iraq) kept him from wresting McIntyre's seat away last cycle. GOP state Sen. David Rouzer could be a stronger general election contender; his endorsers, including Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry, typically made sure to say so when they have announced their support. Rouzer has his own vulnerabilities, though, including work lobbying for a 2007 agriculture bill that included a pathway to legal status for some undocumented immigrants. Rouzer, once a staffer for the late GOP Sen. Jesse Helms, contends that the bill is just like one that Helms supported, but that line of defense highlights the establishment connections that Pantano, a strident tea partier, runs against. The newly drawn 7th District went from 52 percent John McCain to 58 percent after redistricting, so McIntyre is in for a tough run either way. But Pantano's lingering name recognition from 2010 could be a burden to his party as it is a boost for him.
Kissell's neighboring 8th District swung even further in redistricting, from 52 percent President Obama to 57 percent for McCain. Yet the prospect of a November pickup has faded into the background as Republicans decide on their nominee. The Club for Growth threw its considerable weight behind a former local official, dentist Scott Keadle, backing him with bundled contributions and nearly $265,000 in independent expenditures. Although Keadle's conservatism won him some outside help, it also sparks concern about his viability. (The Charlotte Observer said only two GOP candidates were "worth considering" -- and Keadle wasn't one of them. They, and many establishment Republicans, have endorsed Richard Hudson, a former congressional chief of staff. Hudson is also the first non-incumbent to receive aid from the YG Action Fund, a super PAC created and staffed by former aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. Perhaps in an effort to shed his establishment image, Hudson recently questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States, a move that could help him in the short-term but couldn't possibly in a general election. With a field of five candidates, this primary could be heading for a runoff. (A top-two runoff would occur in July if no candidate exceeds 40 percent on Tuesday.)
The rest of the action in the Tar Heel State will also be in Republican primaries. Runoffs are distinct possibilities in the 9th and 11th Districts too, where 11 and eight Republicans, respectively, are vying for two open seat nominations. The 9th District, vacated by retiring Rep. Sue Myrick, is safely Republican, and her anointed replacement, county commissioner Jim Pendergraph, emulated Hudson in "going birther" a few weeks ago, to derision from the local press. A millionaire former state senator, Robert Pittenger, has been Pendergraph's main antagonist in the primary, and the two may well meet in a runoff. But the wide field makes the eventual result unpredictable.
The same is true in the 11th District. Democrats got Hayden Rogers, Shuler's ex-chief of staff, to run for his boss's seat, but he'll have a very tough race against whomever emerges from a crowded Republican primary where the candidates have almost exclusively chosen to go after the president and congressional Democrats instead of each other. With such little differentiation in a field that includes just one elected official, a district attorney, it's anyone's guess how the results will stack up.
The remaining GOP contest of note is in the 13th District, where Wake County official Paul Coble is up against former U.S. Attorney George Holding. Coble brings a wealth of local government experience to the race, while Holding brings a wealth of wealth: He loaned himself over a quarter-million dollars, more than Coble's total fundraising, and a super PAC funded mostly by Holding's relatives has spent an additional $550,000 on TV ads backing his run. Coble was the mayor of Raleigh and has been involved in local politics for two decades, but the deluge of television ads he faces calls to mind the Maryland 6th District Democratic primary earlier this year, where a well-connected, grassroots-powered state senator ran into a multi-million dollar advertising buzzsaw. Coble started the campaign better-known, but it's a rare candidate who can stand up to that kind of advertising onslaught.