CLAYTON — Veteran North Carolina Congressman Mike McIntyre is a Democrat, though you’d never know it to hear him on the campaign trail.
A member of his party’s conservative Blue Dog caucus, McIntyre casually quotes Scripture, rails against illegal immigrants, touts his votes against “Obamacare” and says he’s never met a tax cut he didn’t like.
But that might not be enough for the 56-year-old Robeson County native to defeat GOP challenger David Rouzer and win a ninth term representing eastern North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District, a sprawling rural stretch sprinkled with small towns that many residents of the state’s more-populous areas know only as exit signs on the way to the beach.
National Republican leaders see the district as a prime opportunity to extend the party’s majority in the U.S. House and are pouring money into 30-second attack ads that accuse McIntyre of talking like a conservative when he’s at home but voting like a liberal in Washington.
“We’re the underdog in this battle because they drew a seat to predetermine the outcome of the election,” McIntyre, who has been in Congress since 1997, said this week. The redrawn district includes just a sliver of Robeson County.
McIntyre was referring to new district lines drafted by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature last year that cut out heavily Democratic precincts in central Wilmington and McIntyre’s hometown of Lumberton.
Rouzer, 40, voted for those new lines as a two-term state senator and is a resident of Republican-leaning Johnston County, which was added to the district.
Even before the changes, the district was trending Republican, voting to re-elect President George W. Bush in 2004 and for GOP nominee John McCain in 2008. McIntyre narrowly survived the Tea Party wave of 2010, which swamped many of the remaining rural Democrats in Congress.
Rouzer’s political resume includes stints on the Capitol Hill staffs of former U.S. Sens. Jesse Helms and Elizabeth Dole. He also was appointed by President George W. Bush as an associate administrator of rural development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he helped oversee a $1.2 billion loan program.
If elected, Rouzer has said he would pursue the traditional Republican goals of cutting taxes, reducing government regulations on business and repealing the Democrats’ health care overhaul.
“When I travel around the district, I hear from people who say, ‘You know, Mike’s been there 16 years, I’ve always liked Mike, but I don’t know what he’s done,’” Rouzer said Thursday.
Several of the TV spots aim to link McIntyre to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, saying he votes with her more than 90 percent of the time. That relies on a Washington Post analysis of McIntyre’s “votes with party” percentage from 2007 through 2010, when Pelosi was House speaker.
A head-to-head comparison of the 1,318 House votes both have cast since 2007 shows McIntyre voted the same as Pelosi 67 percent of the time, according to a search of the OpenCongress.org voting database.
McIntyre has often bucked his party, voting for extensions of the Bush-era tax cuts, against President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and against the 2008 bank and auto company bailouts.
Rouzer has attacked McIntyre’s legislative record, saying he has failed in 16 years in Congress to get a single bill of which he was a primary sponsor signed into law. McIntyre said the criticism ignores such high-profile accomplishments as his role in securing passage of the 2004 tobacco quota buyout.
Meanwhile, McIntyre has hammered Rouzer for working as a lobbyist, accusing his opponent of supporting “amnesty for illegals” and shilling for a foreign government.
The attacks are rooted in Rouzer’s support for a guest worker program supported by farmers, who rely on migrant labor to harvest crops, and his lobbying for the U.S.-based affiliate of Japan Tobacco Inc., a private company in which the Japanese government is a major shareholder.
“Yes, I have done work for Japan Tobacco. But guess what? Japan Tobacco is the No. 1 buyer, foreign buyer, of U.S. tobacco. I’m not apologizing for that,” Rouzer said in a recent debate.
While the challenger touts his record in the N.C. Senate, where he championed tax cuts for corporations and rolling back state regulations on business, McIntyre has lined up endorsements from about three-quarters of the mayors in the district — including the leaders of the two largest towns in Rouzer’s home county.
McIntyre has also been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as hardline anti-abortion and anti-immigration groups that typically support Republicans.
In the end, however, it could be the presidential race that most influences whether McIntyre returns to Washington. Asked if he plans to vote to re-elect Obama, who polls say is unpopular in his district, the Democratic congressman refused to answer.
“I’m not making any comments on that,” McIntyre said. “I’m running my own race.”
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck