WASHINGTON — 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 of Johnston County in a contest that cost $9 million, one of the most expensive in the country.
Now Rouzer would like another chance. He was in Washington earlier this month 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, has put McIntyre on its list of top targets and run a TV ad against him.
Its political counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has 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 whether he will seek re-election. He has been spending time getting to know his new constituents in the 7th Congressional District, which the Republican-led state legislature redrew in 2010 to the GOP’s advantage. He lost the Democratic-leaning areas of Fayetteville and Wilmington and picked up three new counties, including Johnston, and parts of three others.
The nine-term Democrat has been letting voters know he has voted with House Speaker John Boehner’s Republican majority on every vote to repeal the president’s health care law. He has voted also 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 the time since January. Only Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah has voted 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.
GOP starts assault
Republicans have already started their media assault with a TV commercial this spring claiming that McIntyre supported the Affordable Care Act, 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., that included repeal of the health care law.
Every House Democrat, including McIntyre, voted against it, as did 10 Republicans.
McIntyre 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 future 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 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.”