North Carolina’s filing deadline passed yesterday - the 9th state in which this occurred- and this is one state in which Democrats suffered no last-minute surprise. All of their incumbents are running for re-election, which was not a given that three of them were once eying the Senate race and one of them was the subject of some retirement rumors in recent months.
In fact, all fourteen of the state’s congresspeople are seeking another term: Senator Richard Burr and 13 House members (8 Democrats, 5 Republicans). While the GOP’s 5 House districts should be safe, Burr is arguably the country’s only vulnerable Republican senator. Meanwhile, Democrats don’t look like they’ll have to seriously worry about more than one district, freshman Larry Kissell’s NC-08. While some Republicans might hope to target NC-11, NC-07 and NC-07, the party appear to have missed opportunities to put itself in a strong position in these Bush districts, especially in the latter two. While Democrats dominate the state’s congressional delegation, it’s unlikely North Carolina will contribute to the fall’s GOP gains to a significant extent - unlike, say, states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The 8 Democratic seats
The most vulnerable Democratic incumbent is NC-08’s Rep. Larry Kissell, and it’s no coincidence that he is the state delegation’s only freshman. Compared to the NRCC’s hopes of recruiting Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory or former Rep. Robin Hayes, the final GOP field is certainly weaker than it could have been, but Kissell nonetheless remains vulnerable;. 5 Republicans have filed to run: former sportscaster Harold Johnson, businessman Hal Jordan, veteran Lou Huddleston, businessman Timothy D’Annunzio and Darrell Day. The front-runner appears to be D’Annunzio, for no other reason than the half-a-million of his own money he has poured into his campaign. Yet, the NRCC-favorite appears to be Huddleston, an African-American who has been added to the committee’s “Young Gun program” and has secured a number of important party endorsements.
Next is Rep. Heath Shuler in Western North Carolina’s NC-11. While his district voted for McCain, he cruised to his first re-election last year. He now has to face 6 Republicans, none of which appear particularly threatening: businessman Kenneth West, former Hendersonville mayor Greg Newman, businessman Jeffrey Miller, attorney Ed Krause, James Howard and eye doctor Dan Eichenbaum. Against one of the best-funded Democratic incumbents in the country, none of these candidates could get far without the NRCC’s help - and they’re going to have to prove themselves before national Republicans target Schuler. None of these candidates are at the moment on the NRCC’s long list of Young Gun candidates, which includes challengers from 54 Dem-held districts.
In NC-02, three Republicans filed for the right to run against Rep. Bob Etheridge in a district that twice voted for George W. Bush before choosing Obama by 5%: Frank Deatrich, car dealer Todd Gailas (who was recently featured in a CNN story for his troubles during the recession) and Renee Ellmers. None seems in a position to topple the 6-term incumbent; after all, North Carolina’s historically Democratic voters have remained more loyal to the party than in most other Southern states, which means the GOP can’t hope defeating such entrenched incumbents without a top-tier effort - not to mention that Etheridge has more than $1 million of cash-on-hand in the bank.
In NC-07, a more conservative district that gave McCain a 5% victory, three Republicans want to face Rep. Mike McIntyre, one of the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus. While the first two are low-profile (William Breazeale, the 2008 nominee who lost 69% to 31% to McIntyre and now has $2000 in the bank, and Randolph Crow), the third attracted national attention a few years ago. While serving in Iraq, Ilario Pantano was accused of premedited murder in Fallujah but a military tribunal cleared him of the charges; he later wrote an autobiography that got a fair amount of publicity and also served as Deputy Sheriff in Wilmington. But Pantano will have to answer Breazeale’s criticism that he only became a Republican on November 25th, not to mention that he has very little time left to mount a political operation against an entrenched and well-funded incumbent who has never shown a sign of vulnerability. Had the NRCC been committed to putting this district in play, they would have wanted to find another candidate; given that so many other Democrats in similar districts are facing top-tier opposition, it looks McIntyre has dodged a bullet.
Rep. Butterfield (NC-01), Rep. Price (NC-04) and Rep. Watt (NC-12), Rep. Miller (NC-13) represent heavily Democratic districts and they should safe. However, it is remarkable to see that each one has drawn 3 or 4 Republican challengers; that says a lot not only about the GOP’s confidence but also about the Republican base’s determination to take on Democrats and go all-out politically. If the red wave gets truly gigantic, could any of these seats grow competitive? I’d keep an eye on the Wake County-based NC-13, which might have given Obama a 59% victory but also voted for Bush back in 2000 - but Republicans did not recruit a candidate in a position to take advantage of the environment. Bernie Reeves is a magazine publisher, Dan Huffman is a conservative businessman, Bill Randall is a veteran who has set up a website and I can’t find any information about Frank Hurley.
The 5 GOP seats
Given that Democrats already control 8 of 13 districts, it is no surprise that the 5 remaining Republicans represent heavily conservative district and should be safe. They are: Rep. Jones (NC-03), Rep. Foxx (NC-05), Rep. Coble (NC-06), Rep. Myrick (NC-09) and Rep. McHenry (NC-10).
It’s worth saying a few words about NC-03. Walter Jones has faced a lot of Republican opposition in recent years, as he became one of the GOP’s few staunchly anti-war voices and survived a strong primary challenge in 2008 with just 58%. He doesn’t have much to worry about in 2010, however. Two Republicans have filed against him. One is Craig Weber, who was his Democratic opponent in 2006 and 2008 - not someone who will excite conservatives; the other is Robert Cavanaugh about whom I am unable to find any. In the general election, ones is sure to face Johnny Rouse, the party chairman in Pitt County, a relatively populous county of nearly 170,000 inhabitants. That doesn’t mean he can beat Jones in a district that voted for John McCain by 18%, but he should have enough experience and connections to at least help bring out his party’s base to the polls - thus helping in other races.
In fact, Democrats have filed at least one candidate against all of these Republicans, which is always a good sign for a party’s overall competitiveness and something they had fallen well short on in Texas. In the NC-05 and NC-06, the only Democratic candidates are William Kennedy and Gregory Scott Turner; I have not found information about either of them. In NC-10, Jeff Gregory and 2004 nominee Anne Fischer will square off for the right to represent Democrats in a district that gave Obama 36%.
The only Democratic challenger in the state to have set up a website is Jeff Doctor, a businessman who is running in NC-9 against Sue Myrick. (The former Mayor of Charlotte, Myrick has attracted most attention in recent years for her extremely anti-Muslim views, most notably when she called on the US to revoke Jimmy Carter’s passport over his ties with Palestinians and when she linked terrorist threats with the high number of Muslims running convenience stores.) Interestingly, NC-09 is the state’s GOP-held district that gave McCain the smallest margin of victory: 55% to 45%. As of the end of 2009, Doctor had raised $53,000, which is already more than any Democrat raised against Myrick this past cycle except for her 2008 opponent Harry Taylor, who lost 62% to 38%, significantly underperforming relatively to Obama. I suspect Doctor might have at some point drawn Democrats’ attention in 2008-like circumstances, but it’s a very different situation this year.