Hayes, Kissell in Another Tight Congressional Race
The 8th congressional district stretches from Fayetteville to East Charlotte. In 2006, the district had one of the closest races in the country. Incumbent Republican Congressman Robin Hayes defeated Democrat Larry Kissell by just a few hundred votes. Two years later, Hayes and Kissell are in another tight race. Both campaigned last month at the Best of Badin Festival in Stanly County. There were kiddie rides, food, shopping, lumberjack shows and politicians. Republican Congressman Robin Hayes was voted into office 10 years ago. He sees a lot of familiar faces at the festival, like a woman he refers to as his "hay lady." Hayes says she cuts his hay at a farm he owns in Palmerville. "This is my hay lady. We got a farm in Palmerville she comes over and cuts my hay," Hayes says. He speaks casually with voters and supporters. At one point he's surrounded by about 5 or 6 people talking about oil. "The other thing she asked me about, why aren't we drilling on land we haveIf there's oil there, we'd be drilling there. We need to drill where the oil is. That's why I was so disappointed in the bill that passed the other day. "It's just to cover up Nancy Pelosi's inactivity on doing something that really makes a difference on energy." The men and women, most of them seniors. all listen intently. On this day in mid-September, Congress has yet to start debating a banking industry bailout. Hayes says energy concerns are at the top of voters minds. "The big things are energy, energy, and energy. Specifically the price of gas that is absolutely causing tremendous pain for people not only at the pump and t he damage to their budget but it's affecting them at the grocery store, farmers fertilizer , everything related to energy," he says. That afternoon, it was Larry Kissell's turn to meet folks. The Democratic challenger says he hears voters are concerned about jobs. He is fond of saying unemployment in the district has doubled since Hayes came to office, a number the state Employment Commission verifies as generally true, but hard to compare due to seasonal job patterns and population increases. "The unemployment rate has more than doubled since my opponent came to Congress. It was 3.1 percent when he went to Congress. It's around 6.3 percent for the district," Kissell says. "Every county has higher unemployment it all goes back to the idea of restoring confidence in the American dream." You could say that Larry Kissell is living the American dream. He's a social studies teacher at East Montgomery High School in Biscoe. Two years ago, he came within 329 votes of defeating Hayes. He's no longer an unknown. This time, the campaign has more support from third party groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "I think the miracle of '06 is that people did listen they listened to a school teacher, an ex-textile worker - they stood up in the voting booths in the tens of thousands. This time people know we can win, the message that we can go to Washington and the excitement that generates in the district is tremendous," Kissell says. Kissell has never held elected office, but he works the crowd like an experienced politician, asking voters where they're from. At this festival, both candidates are successful at working the crowd. "Our strategy is to work on grassroots, lots of phone calls neighborhood walks knocking on doors , energizing folks," Hayes says. Well it's not his complete strategy. Hayes doesn't mention his aggressive, negative ads against Kissell - a tactic that Kissell is employing as well. But at this festival, voters say they're more infuenced by their relationship with Hayes that his ad strategy. Jack and Sheri McRae of Badin say Hayes is easy to approach. Their main concerns are jobs, security and education and say they' ll be voting for Hayes. "He's easy to talk to. He's always responded everytime I've written a question. I've always gotten an answer, so I like that about him," Jack McRae says. "He's just an all round great guy, easy to talk to and I like the way he does things," Sheri McRae adds. Voters Ile and Henry Furr from Stanfield are still weighing their options, looking at the candidates with a critical eye. They think it might be time for a change. "I vote for the lesser of two evils. At the time I voted for Robin Hayes, I voted for the lesser of two evils. So if this guy (Kissell) shows me he's better, that he'll work for us more than Robin Hayes, you bet your sweet bippy I'll vote for him," Henry Furr says. "I think we need to get the people that's been sitting in the Congress all their lives - I think we need to get 'em out and get some fresh clean starts out there. That's going to make my decision," Ile Furr adds. This district is nearly evenly split between registered Democrats and Republicans. Independent polls suggest that the race may come down to a few hundred votes.