LUMBERTON — U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, a Democrat, is not counting himself out of his re-election bid for North Carolina’s District 8 seat in Congress just because national polls are showing he’s lagging behind his Republican challenger Richard Hudson.
“They (pollsters) don’t know my district and the relationship I have with the people there,” Kissell said. “The polls don’t bother me at all. I read the same things when I ran in 2008 and 2010.”
As a result of recent redistricting based the 2010 census, all but a sliver of Robeson County is now in the 8th Congressional District, which runs from Charlotte to Robeson County. Robeson County had been in the 7th District, currently represented by Mike McIntyre, a Democrat from Lumberton.
Kissell, from Bisco, is considered a moderate to conservative Democrat. He is seeking his third two-year term in a district that due to redistricting now leans more Republican than it has in past years. A former textile worker and high school history teacher, Kissell was first elected in 2008 when he unseated Republican Robin Hayes, the grandson of textile magnate Charles Cannon. Kissell had failed in his first bid to defeat Hayes in 2006.
“From the beginning, my reason for running for the Congress has been the economy and my desire to save American jobs,” he said. “… With the economy, Washington had made some bad decisions for our part of the country. Jobs were lost and people were put out of work.”
Kissell touts that he is a strong advocate of keeping manufacturing jobs in America. He calls for good trade deals that “work for America.” Fewer regulations are needed on businesses, he said, to make them more productive and encourage job creation.
“When spending taxpayers money, it should be on American-made or American-grown goods,” he said.
Kissell has a mixed voting record in Congress, which has led Hudson to say that he is a liberal in Washington and a conservative when back in his home district. Although supporting such Democratic Party-backed policies as President Barack Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus bill, Kissell broke ranks with the Democrats and voted against Obama’s proposed health care overhaul and the president’s cap-and-trade bill aimed at reducing global warming.
Kissell recently told The Robesonian that he “loves” having Robeson County as part of his district because the issues and concerns of the people are the same as in the rest of his district.
“When I travel around the county I hear about the economy, how trade deals have caused a loss of jobs, and how there is a lack of focus on American jobs,” he said.
Hudson, 41, from Concord, also believes that getting people back to work is the most important issue that need to be addressed in the 8th District.
Although running for his first elected public office, Hudson is no stranger to state and national politics. Positions he has held include communications director for the North Carolina Republican Party, campaign manager for Pat McCrory’s 2008 gubernatorial campaign, and district director for former U.S. Rep. Hayes. Most recently he has served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas.
Hudson, who won the right to face Kissell in Tuesday’s election after defeating four others in a GOP primary, describes himself as a Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms conservative.
“I’ve always been a conservative,” he told a small gathering of GOP loyalists in Lumberton earlier this year. “I’m not going to vote against my convictions and your interests.”
Hudson during his campaign stops in Robeson County has painted himself as the candidate with local ties to Robeson County. He said that his family in Robeson County dates back to the 1700s.
“I want to take Robeson County values, such as don’t spend money you don’t have, and always tell the truth, to Washington,” he said.
Hudson said that “people are suffering and hurting” because there are no jobs. Policies are creating uncertainty among those who would like to start a business, he said.
Hudson charges that the stimulus money that Kissell supported and was supposed to create jobs, did not work and was money wasted. He also said that Kissell has voted three times to lift the nation’s debt ceiling, a charge that Kissell has denied.
If elected, Hudson has pledged to immediately begin to work to repeal ObamaCare, the president’s overhaul of the nation’s health care system. He also said that he will work to reduce the size of the federal government.
Hudson said that he would become an effective representative immediately because of his experience working in Washington.
“I won’t need on-the-job training,” he said. “… I’ve worked behind the scenes all my life. I know how things work.”
In addition to Kissell and Hudson, Dobbins Heights Mayor Antonio Blue, a Democrat, is running for the 8th District seat as a write-in-candidate. Blue, the former chairman of the Richmond County Democratic Party, was picked by the 8th District Black Leadership Caucus Political Action Committee to run against Kissell.
Bo Biggs, a veteran Robeson County political observer, doesn’t believe Blue’s write-in candidacy will sway the race in either direction.
“He is a protest vote,” Biggs said. “It gives voters an outlet to express frustration.”
John McNeill, chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Party, agreed.
“I know some Democrats are dissatisfied with Kissell because he sometimes votes independently,” McNeill said. “But in a district that is nearly 60 percent red, only a moderate to conservative Democrat is going to win.”