With all of the good news coming out of North Carolina's 8th Congressional District for Larry Kissell, I haven't had an easy time trying to figure out why the national political writers and pundits are so far behind in marking this district as competitive. I've looked at all of the other races Hayes has run and haven't come up with much that supports their position. It all still looks very good for challenger, Larry Kissell.
Details below the fold...
In 1998 Robin Hayes ran against Dr. Mike Taylor. It was a non-presidential year, but John Edwards was challenging Senator Lauch Faircloth in a nasty race. I haven't been able to find out much about how the 8th voted in the Senate race, but Faircloth had started out his political life as a Democrat, so may have mirrored many of the conservative Dems in the district. It was a tight race for Hayes though and he won with only 50.7% of the vote having spent more than four times that of his challenger, Mike Taylor.
In 2000 Hayes and Taylor went at it again in a presidential election year. This district tends to vote for Republican presidents, so that helps the Republican candidate. This election Hayes spent more than twice what Taylor spent and came out with 55% of the vote. The percentage of vote has pretty much stayed the same in the past three races regardless of the challenger's credentials or the amount spent.
Chris Kouri was the next challenger in 2002. This year saw a senatorial race between Erskine Bowles and Richard Burr. Burr was seen by many as a moderate Republican and Bowles as a more liberal Democrat from Charlotte. Hayes spent almost four times the amount the Kouri campaign spent and he had to lend himself $150,000. A poll taken in October showed that Hayes was ahead of Kouri by 12 points, but interestingly enough he was not running above 50%. He ran saying that he had brought jobs to the region. Kouri was young and inexperienced, but still captured 45% of the vote.
In 2004 Beth Troutman also took 45% of the vote after Hayes outspent her by about $1.2 million. The presidential election helped Hayes with Bush winning the district at 54%. Troutman's challenge was made more difficult by her youth and the fact that her career on the set of The West Wing made her look like an outsider. The Hayes campaign made certain she looked like an outsider. A poll completed in August showed Troutman running 19 points behind Hayes with a little more than two months left in the campaign.
What is different in 2006? How can some of us be so certain that Larry Kissell is the candidate to finally provide a real challenge to Hayes? The first, and I feel most important aspect of this race, is exactly what puts the outside pols and pundits at a disadvantage.
#1. He has the personal characteristics and qualities that make him a perfect Democratic candidate for the 8th Congressional District. This isn't anything that can be measured. It's something you sense or feel when you meet a person. Larry is getting out there and will spend the entire summer meeting the voters.
#2. Larry Kissell spent 27 years in the textile industry. He's one of the working guys who started a new career as his was being shipped to Mexico. He's not a millionaire who hangs around with other millionaires. He's just like the voters.
#3. Larry is a deacon at his church and is dedicated to his family. He's an avid cyclist and works as a high school teacher.
#4. There is no top of the ticket campaign to bring voters out. In the past Hayes has been helped by presidential and senatorial voters. This time he has no help.
#5. Two separate polls show Larry Kissell leading or in a statistical dead heat with months left to go in the campaign. Hayes has his worst poll numbers ever this year.
#6. The reason for number three is the votes on CAFTA and Fast-Track. Hayes can no longer claim to have brought jobs to the district. He broke very public promises he made to vote against CAFTA and Fast-Track, legislation that has hurt the textile industry in the district. When he voted for these two measures he voted against the workers in his district. These broken promises will hurt Hayes, possibly more than anything else.
#7. Hayes has sided with Bush on most issues and the voters in this district have soured on Bush. I don't think they care so much about the "culture of corruption" since it doesn't impact their lives or they don't feel the direct impact. The bad decisions made by the President do impact the lives of 8th District voters and his waning popularity will bring Hayes down.
There are probably quite a few other reasons why this year is different and why Kissell will win. National attention would help bring some much needed fundraising to the campaign, so it would be nice if the outsiders could see what I and others here see. My guess is they look at the difference in money raised for the race and they assume Larry can't win.
I think they're underestimating 8th District voters.