CONCORD — Republican Richard Hudson has unseated incumbent Larry Kissell in the 8th Congressional District race.
With more than two-thirds of the precincts counted, Hudson, 41, wins back a critical House seat for the GOP that had most recently belonged to Hudson’s former boss, former Rep. Robin Hayes.
At 9:30 p.m., Kissell said he called and congratulated Hudson .
“I told him he would be representing the greatest people in the world,” the two-term Democratic incumbent said.
Hudson led Kissell 57 percent to 41 percent with nearly 240,000 votes counted.
Enthusiasm was high at Hudson’s election night party where more than 200 supporters joined together at the Hilton Garden Inn in Concord to watch results come in.
“He just connected with regular people,” said Shawn Kocher, a longtime friend and campaign treasurer. “This area was hit pretty hard with unemployment, and I think he, Romney, and others not yet in office can provide some confidence.”
Hudson will return to Washington where, until last year, he worked as chief of staff for three members of Congress.
The Republican’s victory has national repercussions. National GOP leaders dubbed North Carolina, and particularly the District 8 race, as ground zero in their efforts to increase their majority in the House of Representatives.
Kissell’s seat is one of four N.C. House seats that Republicans hope to capture after state GOP legislators redrew voting districts to make it significantly harder for several Democratic congressmen to keep their seats.
Democratic Reps. Brad Miller of Raleigh and Heath Shuler of Waynesville decided to retire instead of running again in the new districts. Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton is also in a hard fought race against State Sen. David Rouzer.
Hudson survived a bitter primary runoff where he touted his conservative credentials and Tea Party endorsements. In the fall campaign, he focused on tying Kissell to President Barack Obama’s more controversial policies such as the healthcare reform and the economic stimulus package. He promised to take a “wrecking ball to the Obama-Kissell liberal agenda.”
Hudson has pledged to work on reducing burdensome regulations and reform the tax code to jump start the economy. He said it is time to reduce national spending, balance the budget, and pay down the national debt.
The National Republican Congressional Committee poured $900,000 into the campaign for TV ads against Kissell. Perhaps seeing the inevitable, the Democratic Congressional Committee pulled more than $1 million it had reserved for ads against Hudson.
The mood was much more somber at Kissell’s concord headquarters where a handful of staff and members of the media watched the results.
When he dropped by to greet staffers, Kissell only stayed five minutes.
Kissell, who was running for his third term, was viewed as one of the nation’s most vulnerable Democrats.
He beat similar odds in 2008 and 2010, but could not overcome the new district that added heavily Republican areas of Rowan, Davidson and Randolph counties while removing thousands of Democratic voters in Charlotte and Fayetteville.
The former high school teacher and textile mill worker was actually one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. He spoke often that party labels are less important and that he was elected to represent all the people of the 8th District.
Kissell never ran a campaign like he was an endangered incumbent, said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College. He fell behind in fundraising. And the deck was stacked against him with redistricting.
“The Republicans started with redistricting and put a pretty big bull’s-eye on him,” Bitzer said. “And then they got a very effective candidate. Hudson has basically run a very smart campaign and had the resources to call on.”
Kissell tried to counter Republican attacks. He boosted his conservative credentials by increasingly voting with Republicans on key issues.
Kissell was one of 17 Democrats who voted with Republicans to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress. He also voted to repeal the president’s health care reforms. He declined to endorse Obama and skipped his party’s political convention, which was held within 15 miles of his district’s borders.
While campaigning across his new district, he distributed yard signs reading “Another Conservative for Kissell,” and said he’s used to being written off.
His efforts didn’t always sit well with Democratic loyalists.
African-American supporters, who helped Kissell oust longtime Republican incumbent Robin Hayes in 2008, pulled their support in July when Kissell told the Observer that he would not endorse President Obama.