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Republicans Expect Better Chance In 8th; Five Compete In Primary

Republicans have had their eye on Larry Kissell's congressional seat since he took office in 2008. This year re-districting could make it easier for Republicans to re-capture the district. Five Republicans are competing in the primary. WFAE's Lisa Miller is in the studio with Morning Edition host Marshall Terry to talk about that race. TERRY: Lisa, this race is getting a lot of attention from the national Republican party. I mean, our newsroom has gotten so many emails from them over the last few years, calling out Kissell. MILLER: Yes, we have and not just leading up to election time. We started getting them pretty much the day after he got elected in 2008. The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent a good bit of money on this district, especially since the re-districting. Just last year, in an off-election year, the group says it spent $40,000 on anti-Kissell TV ads like this one: AD: Congressman like Larry Kissell waste billions. We can make them stop with a balanced budget amendment, prohibiting Congress from spending more than it takes in. MILLER: From the tone of that ad, you might be surprised that Kissell was actually a co-sponsor of a bill to add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. He voted with Republicans on that one and he's gone against his party on other votes like the Obama administration's health care plan. TERRY: So how exactly has the re-districting changed the make-up of the 8th district? MILLER: Well, Charlotte was a small part of the district and now it's an even smaller part. So the party breakdown now is 46 percent Democratic, 33 percent Republican and 21 percent unaffiliated. It had been 52 percent Democratic. TERRY: So it's still a Democratic-majority district, so why are Republicans so optimistic? MILLER: Yes, but it has traditionally been a conservative district. Robin Hayes, the current state Republican chairman, held the seat for 10 years. And actually, his top aide is running. That's Richard Hudson. He's also worked with Congresswoman Virginia Foxx and he says those years in Washington gave him insight into how government works. He says that means he could hit the ground running. TERRY: What kinds of things do you hear the candidates saying? MILLER: Their messages don't differ much. They all talk about cutting taxes, reducing spending, and rolling back regulations on industry. Of course, jobs are big factor. The 8th district has long had a lot of unemployment. They've had to deal with the closing of textile mills. Hudson and another candidate Fred Steen have talked up energy as a way to bring jobs back to the district. Steen says setting a national energy policy that includes fracking and off-shore drilling would help North Carolina. Here he is: STEEN: We have toured this district and we have found that in some of the cases where there are manufacturers, their bottom line now has been enhanced because of the local price of natural gas. We're at a ten-year low with natural gas. So I think that is something that we could look at in North Carolina, like they're doing in the Dakotas. MILLER: Steen's a state house representative. It's also interesting to note, he was a co-sponsor of the proposed constitutional amendment that's on the primary ballot. It defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. TERRY: Yeah, has that come up much in the race? MILLER: Well, all of the Republicans support it, Vernon Robinson strongly does. He was a city councilman in Winston-Salem for several years. He says his proudest achievement in that job was pressuring the United Way there not to defund the Boy Scouts back in 2000. The United Way had an anti-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation. And the boy scouts wouldn't sign it because the scouts didn't allow openly gay scout leaders, so United Way was going to drop funding. Also, about Robinson, he's a veteran. And he owns an internet marketing company whose clients he says have included Pat McCrory, Herman Cain and Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Arizona. TERRY: Well, we're now waiting on the Supreme Court to determine whether the president's health care plan is constitutional. Are they speaking out on that issue at all? MILLER: Yes, none of them like the health care plan. We have a neurosurgeon and a dentist in the race who talk about this a lot. John Whitley, the neurosurgeon, says that's why he got in the race. WHITLEY: Starting to see some of the changes in anticipation of this horrible piece of legislation caused me to say somebody like myself who has the expertise and knowledge in the health care world ought to be running in a race somewhere and I can run one in the 8th district because I live in the 8th district. MILLER: That last part is a knock at Scott Keadle. He lives barely outside the district in Mount Mourne. He calls himself the "Dentist with a Plan." He was an Iredell County Commissioner. And also was the regional chairman for the conservative action group Americans For Prosperity. The conservative Super PAC Club Growth for Action has contributed to his campaign with a TV ad. TERRY: But there is a democratic primary too in the eighth district, right? MILLER: Yes, Kissell does have a challenger. Marcus Williams is an attorney from Lumberton. He's actually run for Senate and U.S. House before. He wasn't happy with Kissel's vote against Obama's health care plan. TERRY: Well, thanks for the update, Lisa. MILLER: Thank you.