Representative Mike McIntyre is campaigning on extending tax cuts for all income levels, repealing President Barack Obama’s health-care law and blocking illegal immigration. Republicans respond with a familiar refrain: He’s still a Democrat.
The eight-term North Carolina lawmaker, one of a dying breed of fiscally conservative “Blue Dog Democrats,” is struggling to win re-election in a Republican-leaning district. McIntyre, 56, won by almost 8 percentage points two years ago as 52 other House Democrats were defeated. Republicans, who control the North Carolina legislature, redrew his district to make his re-election a tougher prospect this time.
McIntyre, formerly a small-town lawyer, has delivered federal assistance to his district’s tobacco farmers, the state’s port in Wilmington and coastal tourism. He helped enact a $10 billion buyout of tobacco farmers, financed by cigarette makers, to end crop-price supports.
Blue Dog Democrats numbered 53 before Republicans took control of the House after the 2010 election. Including three resignations, their ranks have dwindled to 24 in this session of Congress as the House became more politically polarized with 87 new Republican members. Like McIntyre, others in the coalition fighting for their political lives include Representatives Larry Kissell of North Carolina, John Barrow of Georgia, Leonard Boswell of Iowa and Jim Matheson of Utah.
‘Predetermine the Outcome’
“There is no doubt I am an underdog” because Republican legislators deliberately drew the district to benefit his challenger, state Senator David Rouzer, McIntyre said in an interview. State lawmakers “tried to predetermine the outcome of this race.”
The legislature removed McIntyre’s hometown of Lumberton from his district along with reliably Democratic areas of Wilmington.
Republican groups have spent more than $3 million to defeat McIntyre, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan Washington group that tracks political spending. Democratic groups have countered with $1.6 million to help McIntyre defend the seat, the center said.
Even if McIntyre wins a ninth term, Democrats are at risk of losing three other U.S. House seats in North Carolina, including Kissell’s. Redistricting prompted two House Democrats from the state, Brad Miller and Heath Shuler, also a Blue Dog, to announce their retirements.
“North Carolina is one of the reasons why Democrats aren’t in a position to take back the House,” said House political analyst David Wasserman, with the non-partisan Cook Political Report in Washington.
Cook analysts rate Republican candidates as likely winners against Kissell and in the races for the two open Democratic seats. It rates McIntyre’s race against Rouzer as a “tossup.” In Georgia, Barrow’s redrawn district that was stripped of heavily Democratic Savannah is said by the Cook report to “lean Republican.”
“It’s possible that there won’t be any conservative southern Democrats in the House after this round of redistricting,” Wasserman said.
The North Carolina Legislature gave McIntyre’s opponent an advantage when they added Republican-leaning Johnston County to the congressional district. That’s Rouzer’s turf, and makes up 23 percent of the redrawn district’s electorate.
Rouzer, 40, in an interview at his Smithfield campaign office, questioned McIntyre’s credentials as a fiscal conservative and emphasized the times his opponent voted with fellow Democrats.
“On the social issues he votes with a lot of Republicans but that’s about where it stops,” Rouzer said. He singled out McIntyre’s backing of Californian Nancy Pelosi to be House speaker when Democrats controlled the chamber and the lawmaker’s vote “for the failed Obama stimulus,” referring to the $833 billion legislation passed during the president’s first months in office.
In his television ads, McIntyre highlights Rouzer’s career as a lobbyist, particularly for such overseas companies as Japan Tobacco. One ad accuses Rouzer of lobbying on behalf of legislation that would give “amnesty” to “illegal immigrants.”
In 2007, Rouzer lobbied for North Carolina’s Mt. Olive Pickle Co. for legislation to expand immigration status for temporary farm workers. It would have given temporary farm workers a path to permanent residency.
Rouzer says the legislation, which wasn’t enacted, would have helped North Carolina farmers who need inexpensive, willing labor.
Often allied with Republicans on taxes, spending and social issues such as opposing abortion rights, McIntyre disputes as “laughable” Rouzer’s assertion that he marches in political lockstep with Pelosi, the House Democratic leader. That may be a hard sell for McIntyre in Johnston County, where Obama won less than 40 percent of the vote in 2008.
Independence from the national party is a necessary survival skill for rural Southern Democrats like McIntyre and Barrow, said Merle Black, a political scientist who specializes in southern politics at Atlanta’s Emory University.
Obama and Pelosi “are liberal Democrats all the way and that’s a non-starter in a lot of the rural small towns,” Black said.
Not Endorsed Obama
An opponent of the 2010 health-care law who voted with Republicans to repeal it, McIntyre hasn’t endorsed Obama’s re-election, though he would benefit from turnout for the president among Democratic voters.
“I have not gotten into other people’s races and I am not going to,” McIntyre said. His endorsement of Obama four years ago was made at a different time, he said, when the presidency “was an open seat.”
McIntyre stresses his political independence, which enables him to work with Republicans and Democrats to help his district get federal money to build veterans’ health clinics, replenish sand on eroded beaches and support rural development.
“My voting record has been consistently down the middle,” McIntyre said. “That leads to success here at home.”
McIntyre also opposed the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul and a House-passed measure to curb air pollution that contributes to climate change.
He is one of five House Democrats endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business lobby that mostly supports Republicans, also backs McIntyre.
“I have never met a tax cut I didn’t like,” he said, by way of explaining the business support for him.
He backs continuing the expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all income groups, including top earners. That puts him at odds with Obama and most Democrats who favor ending the tax cuts for married couples with income exceeding $250,000 a year and for individuals making more than $200,000 annually.
The depletion of the Blue Dog ranks “eliminates those voices from the Democratic caucus” who are willing to break from the party line, said Ferrel Guillory, who teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. It also undercuts centrist views on the other side of the political aisle, he said, because “Rouzer and those like him are not moderate Republicans.”