Businessman and longtime Republican activist Mark Meadows took back this seat for his party in western North Carolina’s 11th District. Meadows beat retiring Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler’s former chief of staff, Hayden Rogers, in a redrawn district that swapped the liberal base of Asheville for new, heavily Republican precincts around Morganton and Lenoir.
Meadows was born in the 42nd Army Field Hospital in Verdun, France, while his father was stationed abroad. His father was a draftsman; his mother, a surgical nurse. He attended high school in the Tampa, Fla, area, where he met his wife, Debbie, and went on to get a degree in business management from the University of South Florida.
After college, he went to work for Tampa Electric, but he and his wife dreamed of living in North Carolina. “My wife and I honeymooned here 33 years ago, and we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to retire to the mountains one day?’ Instead of retiring, we just moved up” in 1986, Meadows said in an interview. He and Debbie started a small sandwich shop in the resort town of Highlands, running it for a few years before selling it and turning to real-estate investments.
A self-described history buff, Meadows says that his observations of history and experiences as a businessman drew him to conservative politics. He was the only person who showed up for a precinct meeting of the local Republican Party, thus becoming precinct chair and eventually county chair. He has worked on behalf of GOP candidates for 25 years and was a delegate to state and national Republican conventions.
In 2010, Republicans captured a majority of seats in both houses of North Carolina’s General Assembly for the first time since Reconstruction, and with decennial redistricting took aim at reducing the Democrats’ 7-6 majority in the state’s House delegation in Congress. Shuler’s 11th District was one of four targeted, and it was dramatically revamped to become significantly more conservative. Shuler, who had challenged Nancy Pelosi for minority leader following the 2010 elections, decided to retire in February, setting up a competition for the open seat.
Meadows faced six Republicans in the May primary. He won with 38 percent of the vote, two points shy of the 40 percent that North Carolina requires to avoid a runoff. In the runoff election, Meadows faced tea party activist Vance Patterson of Morganton. Both men stressed their opposition to increases in federal spending and regulation. Despite a low turnout of less than 5 percent, Meadows trounced Patterson, 76 percent to 24 percent.
In Rogers, Meadows faced a Democratic opponent who easily won his primary and earned significant financial backing from local business and labor interests. A moderate western North Carolina native, he was regarded as the Democrats’ best chance to hold onto the seat. Rogers ran ads espousing his “mountain values” and sought to depict his opponent as wealthy and out of touch. But Meadows played up his business background, and his own ads, which focused heavily on opposition to President Obama, struck a chord with the district’s conservatives.