Republican Richard Hudson, a veteran congressional staffer, captured the 8th District seat by knocking off Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell, who had ousted Hudson’s former boss, Rep. Robin Hayes, in 2008. Despite Kissell’s conservative voting record and his weathering of the 2010 Republican wave, GOP-led redistricting made the district all but unwinnable for a Democrat.
Hudson grew up in the Charlotte area, helping his grandfather campaign in the northeastern part of the state for the Roanoke Rapids City Council, where he served for 30 years. Hudson went on to become student-body president at the University of North Carolina (Charlotte), where he graduated with a bachelor’s in history and political science. He worked as a campaign volunteer putting up yard signs for another role model, conservative Sen. Jesse Helms.
After college, Hudson continued to work behind the scenes in politics. In Washington, he served as chief of staff to GOP Reps. Mike Conaway and John Carter of Texas and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. He also was district director for Hayes. In November 2011, two months after moving back to the district, he said he had a sense that God had a higher purpose for his life and was calling him to run for Congress.
The GOP Republicans made Kissell’s seat a top 2012 takeover target, and redistricting added heavily Republican areas in Rowan, Davidson, and Randolph counties while removing thousands of Democratic voters in Charlotte and Fayetteville. Although Hayes passed on a bid, the race drew four other Republican candidates in addition to Hudson. Hudson captured first place on the primary ballot with 32 percent, setting up a runoff with former Iredell County Commissioner Scott Keadle.
When Keadle tried to frame Hudson as a Washington insider out of touch with the needs of the district, Hudson maintained that his experience on Capitol Hill created connections that would allow him to be more effective than most freshmen. He also got endorsements from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Hudson cruised to a runoff win, 64 percent to 36 percent.
In the general election, it was Hudson’s turn to paint Kissell as the Beltway insider. He blamed the incumbent for moving the country toward “skyrocketing debt” and for “out-of-control spending.” To find work for the district’s many laid-off off textile workers, Hudson promised to work to fully fund retraining programs. He also accused his rival of flip-flopping. “I don’t know where my opponent stands on many issues, it depends each day of the week it is,” he told The Fayetteville Observer.
Kissell stressed his vote as one of 39 Democrats who opposed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and touted a provision he inserted into the economic stimulus bill requiring the Transportation Security Administration to buy U.S.-made uniforms. He also boasted of getting the National Rifle Association’s endorsement. But his efforts to distance himself from Obama alienated black voters, and Hudson captured the seat.