WASHINGTON Republicans have worked hard to paint Democratic U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell as an incompetent congressman who is best friends with a left-wing president and responsible for lost jobs in North Carolinas 8th congressional district.
The reality of Kissells work in Congress is more complicated.
Kissell, of Biscoe, has one of the most conservative records among House Democrats. He has bucked his party enough that some Democrats feel he should hop over the aisle to the GOP.
The former social studies teacher has never had it easy running in the South, where white conservative Democrats are an endangered species. His challenge is even tougher as he runs for reelection in a newly redrawn district that includes 28,000 more Republican voters, most of them from small towns and rural areas. They know little of his right-of-center credentials including an endorsement from the National Rifle Association.
The districts new makeup drawn by the GOP-dominated state legislature, which moved urban voters from Charlotte and Fayetteville spells opportunity for Republican challenger, Richard Hudson of Concord.
A former chief of staff for several GOP members of Congress, Hudson is working with the well-heeled National Republican Congressional Committee in TV ads to depict Kissells record in as liberal and supportive of President Barack Obama.
About 40 minutes into the candidates hourlong debate at Wingate University in September, Hudson accused Kissell of lying about his position on Obamas signature health care legislation.
The congressman says he voted against the Affordable Care Act every time, but the fact of the matter is, Congressman, you voted 23 times to support it or to oppose partially defunding Obamacare, Hudson charged.
Kissell voted against the health care bill, but he didnt support early attempts to repeal it. He did vote this year to repeal the measure when it was clear that he would have to run in a more conservative district.
Hudsons list of 23 votes includes those against repeal of the entire law, as well as other votes on an array of amendments and budget resolutions that also included parts of the health care law.
Kissells office calls the accusations a distortion.
Setting the record straight on Obamacare: There have been three votes on passage of Obamacare in the House, all during the 111th Congress, said Christopher Schuler, Kissells spokesman. Larry Kissell voted no every single time.
Key votes with GOP
Kissell voted with Democrats about 72 percent of the time over the past two years, but on key votes he often lines up with Republicans.
He was one of just 17 Democrats who voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress. He voted with Republicans to audit the Federal Reserve and to extend provisions of the Patriot Act.
He also this year declined to endorse Obama and skipped his partys political convention in Charlotte, held 15 miles from his new districts borders.
Kissell had a less conservative voting record in his first term. He supported Obamas positions 89 percent of the time in 2009 and 81 percent in 2010, according to Congressional Quarterly. He voted with Democrats on the stimulus bill and opposed an amendment that would prohibit federal money for health plans that include abortion coverage. He supported the repeal of Dont Ask, Dont Tell, the provision that kept gays in the military silent about their orientation.
No help from Democrats
It doesnt help Kissell that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises money for House candidates, has pulled $1.1 million of planned TV ads targeting Hudson. The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, has spent $900,000 in the Charlotte TV market on tough ads linking Kissell to Obama.
Hudsons campaign charged Kissell with trying to distort his record. The bottom line is that Kissell has a 17 percent conservative voting record and a 100 percent abortion rights rating, said Hudson communications director Anna Haberlein, citing Heritage Action and NARAL Pro Choice.
He is cherry-picking certain votes votes he made after learning his district would be more conservative. But his overall record has been consistently aligned with the Obama agenda, Haberlein said.
Kissell did vote with Republicans in his first term. In 2009, Kissell voted against the cap-and-trade bill designed to reduce global warming. His votes against the Affordable Care Act led one health care group to run ads charging him with betrayal.
Hes got Democrats angry at him for not being enough of a team player, said Ferrel Guillory, a political analyst at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And now hes got Republicans hitting him for the support that he did give Obama ... Theyre doing the political equivalent of guilt by association.