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Rep. Kissell in hot seat over health care

Kissell staffer Georgia Lozier (center) listening to members of the State Employees Association of NC and Workers United air

Labor unions were a key force in Democrat Larry Kissell's successful ouster of Republican incumbent Robin Hayes in North Carolina's 8th Congressional District two years ago. But union members say their support of Kissell now depends entirely on how he votes when the health care overhaul bill comes up this weekend. In 2008, 8th district resident Jasper Smith went door-to-door for the Kissell campaign, along with thousands of other members of the State Employees Association of North Carolina and Workers United. Union members say Congressman Kissell promised them he'd support health care reform. Today, Smith and about 25 others stormed Kissell's office in Concord demanding to know why their congressman voted against the bill in November and plans to do so again this weekend. "We will bring him home," Smith yells, as union members jammed the small lobby of Kissell's office. "We got him in. We will get him out!" "Sir, I will say, Congressman Kissell fully believes in health care reform," says Kissell spokeswoman Haven Kerchner, trying to speak above the angry shouts. "He does believe this, this particular bill he feels cuts Medicare and while it does address fraud and abuse, he has looked at the numbers and he feels that he can't cut Medicare because it will hurt seniors." As the shouting continues, Kissell's constituent phone lines ring incessantly. The same is happening in the offices of Congressman Mike McIntyre, another North Carolina Democrat who plans to vote against the health care bill. Congressman Heath Shuler is also leaning "no." But Kissell is the only one of the three from a district President Obama carried in 2008. That's what really angers Jasper Smith. "For him to run on that campaign for change and to get elected on that campaign and then to vote against one of the major bills that's coming up? That's morally wrong to me," says Smith. Losing the support of labor unions could be a serious blow to Kissell, since they're some of his top donors and represent a quarter of his campaign fundraising.