40 in 2010: NC-08

(In order for the Republicans to take back the House in 2010, they need to net 40 seats. It’s a long shot, but it is possible. By my count, there are 83 Dem-held seats that the Republicans have at least an outside chance of winning. That number will change as we get closer to election time, of course. But for now, I’ll be highlighting some of these seats from time to time.)

North Carolina – 08
Location: Eastern part of Charlotte, plus a good deal of rural area. Also includes Concord, Monroe, Laurinburg

Incumbent: Larry Kissell
Kissell ran a low-budget, grassroots campaign in 2006, focusing on economic populism. He lost in a very close race. The fact that he did get close brought him to the attention of the national Dems, and his 2008 rematch was well funded. He won easily. As a freshman, it’s hard to get a handle on his views, but like I said he appears to be a populist. He voted for the stimulus package, yet voted against Cap and Trade. He also co-sponsored Card Check. Where he stands on Health Care is not clear (Here’s one story about it). He seems to want it to be deficit neutral, but I think he’ll go for it regardless. That’s just my hunch though. On the whole, with only half a year of a voting record, there’s not much to pin against or for him.

Cook Partisan Index: R+2
Cook Race Rating: Leans Dem
CQ Politics Race Rating: Leans Dem
Rothenberg Rating: Leans Dem
(Note that, this far away, all these ratings are geared towards the incubent. Take them with a grain of salt)

Previous election results:
McCain 47, Obama 53
Bush 54, Kerry 45
Kissell 55, Hayes (R) 45 (2008)
Kissell 50, Hayes 50 (2006)

Confirmed Republican Candidates (links include donation information):
Lou Huddleston
Darrell Day

We’ll start with Darrell Day. Since this is my post, allow me to interject my blunt opinion: this guy doesn’t stand a chance. His campaign website is very unprofessional (embedded music? Seriously? Is this the 90s?). There’s very little information about him, and the entire thing is clearly geared towards the Religious Right. I want my politicians to be religious too, but there’s a difference between acknowledging that one’s beliefs influence one’s life and running for Pope. But hey, your mileage may vary. In any case, 2010 is shaping up to be about economic issues, not social ones. Someone who’s entire campaign is based on his religion generally isn’t going to go anywhere, especially in a moderate district like this.

Which brings us to Lou Huddleston, who when he announced probably caused the NRCC to collectively breathe a sigh of relief. A nice introduction to his candidacy can be seen here, so there’s no need for me to rehash. Suffice to say, he’s a veteren (served in Afghanistan), businessman, and seems a likeable guy. He’s also African American if you like playing race-based politics. His website’s a bit thin at the moment, but he seems to be positioning himself as a post-partisan, get-thing-done type of Congressman. From my view, that means be prepared for some non-conservative positions. On the flip side, he’s definitely opposed to bailouts and energy taxes and the like, so for a purple district he’d be acceptable. His only previous foray into politics was a loss in the State House last year, 62-38. That sounds pretty bad, but keep in mind that he was running against an incumbent, in a DEM-wave year, in a fairly Dem district.

Another candidate whose name was tossed around is former State Rep Mia White, although she hasn’t signalled her intentions yet. Possibly the strongest potential candidate left in the race is Union County DA John Snyder. He’s been successful in politics, and would be able to make inroads into the more liberal parts of the district. He’s also young and energetic. Will he run? This article says he’s considering it, and would decide within the next month or two. Only problem is, the article was written in February. He certainly hasn’t committed to a run yet, and I haven’t seen anything to suggest he’s definitely out yet either. So who knows? If he does run, I’d expect that he’d have the advantage over Huddleston in the primary.

One other thing; this was a district that the NRCC has struggled in recruiting. Pat McCrory, Charlotte’s mayor, has declined to run, most likely due to Gov. Perdue’s abysmal popularity and thus eyeing the governor’s seat in 2012. Robin Hayes has declined to run again, although his star may have flamed out after a 55-45 loss. Cook, CQ, and Rothenburg all rate this as Leans Dem, which means this should be a prime pickup seat. Yet, at the moment, their star is someone who’s barely begun in politics.

Does that mean we should write Huddleston off? Of course not. I don’t know how he’ll campaign. Maybe he can raise money. Maybe he’ll connect with voters the same way Kissell did in 06 as an unknown yet down-to-earth candidate. Besides, there are reasons this district is considered to be so competitive. Three major reasons, in fact.

– First of all, the district is ~27% African American. In 2010, Obama’s not on the ticket. Because of that, the district should look a redder shade of purple in 2010 than in 2008. Besides, as an African American himself, Huddleston could potentially appeal to these voters, thus giving him a better shot (assuming the local MSM doesn’t label him an Uncle Tom or something first, of course…).

– Secondly, Kessell’s fundraising efforts are below average at the moment for seats targeted as Republican takeover candidates. Yes, he did run a low-cost campaign in 2006, but it’s a lot easier to do that when you’re riding a wave and you’re the one on offense. And his low fundraising may be a sign that his base has soured someone. Which brings me to the last point.

– Finally, North Carolina’s an interesting case. According to Public Policy Polling, Carolinians despise their politicians. Nobody polls well there. Given that assessment, maybe it’s not surprising that the NRCC can’t find anyone better to run there. Huddleston’s low profile may be an advantage in an “anyone but the incumbent” year. If these approval numbers extend to Kessell, Huddleston can definitely exploit that.

On the flip side, that last bit may come back to hurt him indirectly. The top of the ticket in 2010 will be the Senate seat, with the very vulnerable Republican Burr running for reelection. If anti-incumbency hits Burr, it may affect downstream races as well. Then again, Burr’s still more popular than the major Dem politicians in the state…

Open Congress’s page

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