N.C.'s Kissell shares cake, plans future in Congress

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 5, 2008 

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Larry Kissell had a cake left over from his election victory party, and knew just what to do with it Wednesday morning.

"I took it down to the high school for my co-teachers there to share with them, and to see some of my students," Kissell said a day after he was elected to Congress. "The school is a very important part of my life."

For the last seven years, the former textile plant manager has taught civics at East Montgomery High School, the same place where his mom was a teacher and his daughters have been students.

It's located 70 miles east of Charlotte in Biscoe, his hometown of 1,750 people with an annual budget of $2.7 million. As a Congressman, he'll get at least half that amount to run his Washington and district offices.

Kissell might personify small-town America, but there was nothing small-town about the Democrat's win Tuesday over five-term U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, a Concord Republican whose family has been an institution in the region for generations.

Two years ago, Kissell came within 330 votes of beating Hayes, but this time he found those votes and more when the ballots were counted Tuesday. Of the 10 counties in the district, he won all but two, Stanly and Hayes' home of Cabarrus. He won with 55 percent of the vote ? by a margin of 30,381 of 281,000 cast, according to unofficial elections results.

Hayes, a multimillionaire heir of the Cannon textile fortune, said he feels blessed to have served in Congress for the last decade. He said he was swept out by a wave that elected Democrats to the White House, the U.S. Senate and the governor's office in Raleigh.

When he called Kissell to concede defeat and offer assistance, Hayes told WBT news talk radio in Charlotte that he said: "Larry, you've been chasing this car for a long time. You caught it now. I hope you can drive it."

Kissell was already working on his transition Wednesday, talking about how to structure the office he'll run after he's sworn into Congress in January. Some of his campaign staff might join him but no decisions have been made yet.

His top priority, he said, will be improving the job climate of the 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of Mecklenburg, Union and Cabarrus counties, an area that has suffered the loss of textile and other manufacturing work over the years.

"We've talked all along about the economy," he said. "It's unfortunate the national economy has gone through a crisis, but in the 8th District there's been a much longer lasting crisis. All the different aspects of improving the economy, that's what we're going to be about."

Kissell, who earned $32,000 as a school teacher last year, said he and his wife feel fortunate to have jobs, noting there are "many different kinds of wealth."

"In terms of friends, family, being happy, we're very wealthy," said Kissell, who will earn $169,300 as a member of the U.S. House.

Kissell seemed humbled but confident with the challenge before him, saying he was prepared for this job by his upbringing in Biscoe.

"I was raised in a town that really led you to believe you can accomplish what you want to accomplish, and that you have an obligation to help people."

North Carolina's 8th Congressional seat was a high-priced contest.

Winner Larry Kissell, a Democrat from Biscoe, spent at least $1 million on the race, according to Federal Election Commission reports that cover the election cycle through Oct. 15. The incumbent he beat, Rep. Robin Hayes, a Concord Republican, spent $2.6 million over the same period, a figure that doesn't include $250,000 his campaign borrowed on Oct. 24.

But that's just part of the story.

Kissell got at least $2.4 million in support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to a tally compiled by the Campaign Finance Institute.

The National Rifle Association spent about $40,000 and Right to Life spent about $3,500 on behalf of Hayes.

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