The 2014 congressional elections are still 18 months away, but the politics are heating up in eastern North Carolina, where Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre edged into office last year by only about 650 votes.
He defeated former Republican state Sen. David Rouzer in a contest that costs $9 million, one of the most expensive in the country.
Now Rouzer would like another chance. He was in Washington last week for a fundraiser given by U.S. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Republican members of the North Carolina delegation.
The National Republican Congressional Committee , the political group trying to strengthen the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, put McIntyre on its list of top targets and ran a TV attack ad against him.
Its political counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, listed McIntyre as one of the 26 incumbents it will fight to protect.
But McIntyre could face attacks from the left as well as the right. Another Democrat, real estate businessman and New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr., has said he will challenge McIntyre in the congressional primary next year. He said he has heard complaints from Democrats that McIntyre doesn’t support President Barack Obama’s agenda.
McIntyre, an attorney from Lumberton, hasn’t officially announced yet whether he will seek re-election. He has been spending time getting to know his new constituents – and for them to know him – in the 7th Congressional District, which the Republican-led state legislature redrew in 2010 to the GOP’s advantage. He lost Democratic-leaning areas of Fayetteville and Wilmington, and picked up three new counties and parts of three others.
The nine-term, incumbent Democrat has been letting voters know he has voted with House Speaker John Boehner’s majority Republicans on every vote to repeal the president’s health care law, against expanded gun checks and for a ban on same-sex marriage.
Rouzer said it doesn’t matter how often McIntyre votes with Republicans. He’s still a Democrat, and the Democratic Party needs to keep seats and pick up new ones to win back the House. The majority party controls floor legislation and committee action.
“The main thing for me now is to build my brand, to show people who I am and what I stand for,” Rouzer said.
McIntyre, who declined to comment, is a senior Democrat on the House Agriculture and Armed Services committees. According to OpenCongress.org, he has voted with the Democrats 76 percent of time since January. Only Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah votes with the party less frequently, at 63 percent.
McIntyre has supported veterans issues and military spending, and opposed cuts in Medicare for senior citizens. Recently he sponsored bills to improve outreach to veterans, replenish storm-damaged beaches and scale back environmental regulation of oil tanks on farms. New rural and veterans health clinics have opened in his district.
He was also one of just three Democrats to support a Republican measure blocking a White House order that would prevent the deportation, under certain conditions, of young immigrants brought to this country as children.
Republicans have already started their media assault with a TV commercial this spring claiming that McIntyre supported the health care overhaul that critics refer to as “Obamacare.” They cited his vote against a budget plan offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012 that included repeal of the health care law.
Every House Democrat, including McIntyre, voted against it, as did 10 Republicans.
McIntyre’s opposed Ryan’s budget because it would have cut Medicare, said David Heller, McIntyre’s longtime political consultant. But he has voted to repeal the health care law every time Republicans have held specific votes to do so, Heller said.
“The key to Mike McIntyre’s political success is the fact that he’s such a warm, and engaging and genuine and sincere man,” Heller said.
Rouzer said that he’s been “doing a little farming” and working on his distributorship for oil and fuel filters for trucks since he left the state senate in December. He’s also raising money for his campaign.
“I crisscross the district every week,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in Wilmington and New Hanover and Brunswick counties. Those are two counties where there are more Republicans moving in day by day.”
With fewer competitive races for the House in 2014, “races like this one that are big targets,” said Brock McCleary, a Republican political strategist based in Pennsylvania who’s working for Rouzer. “Everyone knows it from the get-go.”
Meanwhile, Barfield, unlike McIntyre, supports Obama’s health plan and said he has experience on the issue as a member of a hospital board of trustees. He also is in favor of a ban on high-capacity magazines and expanding gun background checks to gun shows and Internet sales.
That also draws a clear line with McIntyre, who earned an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association in the last election.
Democrats say their party is a big tent and McIntyre still fits in because he’s “fighting for middle-class families,” as one source put it, picking up a theme Obama has been using.
Even with redistricting, said Thomas Eamon, an associate professor in political science at Eastern Carolina University and the author of an upcoming book on the state’s politics, “This is one of the districts that could go either way.”