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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Kissell Has Reason To Be Concerned

Word is out that the Black Leadership Caucus in North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District has decided to withhold its support for incumbent Democrat Larry Kissell. The group is citing his votes with the GOP to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, his intention to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, his plans to skip the DNC in Charlotte, and withholding his endorsement of President Obama.

Certainly Kissell has to consider himself one of the most vulnerable Democrats seeking re-election this fall.  Charlie Cook, a widely respected independent political analyst, has labeled the 8th Congressional District a “lean Republican” district, and one only needs to look at the 2010 and 2012 numbers to see why. 

In the 2010 election, Kissell was in a classic North Carolina swing district. But after Republicans took to their computers to redraw district lines, it became a much more Republican district:


8th Congressional District in 2010^

Redrawn 8th Congressional District in 2012*

% White Registered Voters



% Black Registered Voters



% Democratic Registered Voters



% Republican Registered Voters



% Unaffiliated Registered Voters



% Presidential vote winner in the district

52.5% for Obama

57.4% for McCain

^ from the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation’s Almanac of North Carolina Politics 2010 General Election Edition

* from the North Carolina General Assembly’s Redistricting Website

From just a “numbers” point of view, Kissell should be very concerned about his new district — and that means he needs to evaluate what his constituents want.

And the likelihood is that the constituents — especially the “new” constituents in the 8th  — would generally be more conservative, due to the significant loss of black voters (especially out of Charlotte and Fayetteville) and the increased presence of GOP voters from Rowan, Davidson, Randolph and Robeson counties.

One glaring statistic from those four counties: In the precincts added into the 8th from those counties, John McCain won 60 percent of the presidential vote.

For black voters left in Kissell’s new district, the reaction to the congressman’s recent moves is something that should have been expected.  From their point of view, why should they support a Democrat who appears more like a Republican?

While it shouldn’t be read that black voters in the 8th would vote for the eventual Republican running against Kissell, the pronouncement by black leaders in the district may convince some black voters to simply not work for his reelection. Or, worst yet, not show up at the polls for him.

And that can be the most devastating blowback against the incumbent Democrat. 

From Kissell’s point of view, getting re-elected may mean bucking the party line in order to appeal to the voters back in the district.

If Democrats expect to have any chance of regaining the majority in the U.S. House this fall, they not only have to win 25 seats currently held by Republicans, but keep districts like Kissell’s. 

One saving grace for Kissell may be the power of straight ticket voting, especially in early voting. One of the key strategies the 2008 Obama campaign took was to encourage black voters to cast their ballots early for the Democratic straight ticket. 

In 2008’s election, 1.2 million Democratic-registered voters across the state cast early ballots, and 46 percent of those Democratic ballots were from black voters.

In a twist of irony, Kissell could survive this fall if Obama’s grassroots organization can deliver the same early turnout as in 2008 and if black voters simply pull the “straight-ticket” lever.