Democrat Larry Kissell, the small-town school teacher who came within 330 votes of winning a seat in Congress two years ago, ousted five-term U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes Tuesday in a district beleaguered by the loss of manufacturing jobs.
Kissell, a former textile worker from Biscoe, had 55 percent of the vote with 98 percent of precincts reporting, and Hayes, a Republican from Concord, had 45 percent.
“I'm so excited…,” Kissell told about 75 supporters at his victory party at a Biscoe restaurant. The crowd erupted in cheers when a check mark indicating victory appeared next to his name on TV.
“My top priority is helping the people of this district and keeping alive that American dream.”
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Hayes said he was overwhelmed by a Democratic tidal wave. But he isn't ruling out another rematch: “I don't think I'm over the hill yet. I've certainly contributed to the district.”
Other Charlotte-area U.S. House members sailed to re-election.
In unofficial returns, Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican from Cherryville, withstood a test from Hickory attorney Daniel Johnson.
Rep. Mel Watt, a Democrat from Charlotte, had no trouble against Republican Ty Cobb Jr. of Salisbury.
And Charlotte Republican Rep. Sue Myrick beat Democrat Harry Taylor, a Charlotte real estate broker.
The Hayes-Kissell rematch was one of the most watched contests in the nation – with Democrats hoping to expand their majority in Congress.
For a decade, Hayes, 63, has represented the 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of Mecklenburg, Union and Cabarrus counties.
There's no way a Republican can win the seat without support from some registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters, who collectively make up 70 percent of the district.
In 2006, Hayes barely escaped with his job when Kissell, 57, nearly beat him with a grass-roots campaign that surprised outside political observers. This time, Kissell had the full support of national Democrats who ran attack ads against Hayes.
Kissell made his campaign about jobs and other kitchen-table issues, and accused Hayes of supporting trade policies that sent jobs overseas.
Hayes touted his record of bringing federal dollars home and recruiting businesses to the district.
But some voters were looking for change.
Mark Belk, 35, an east Charlotte truck driver, said he chose Kissell, even though he voted for other Republicans, including John McCain for president.
“I feel like since Hayes has been up there, with the way things are going for Republicans ... he's had his chance,” Belk said. “I'm not saying he did anything wrong, but I felt it was time for something different.”
McHenry wins 3rd term
McHenry's win over Johnson gives him a third term in Congress. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, he had 58 percent to Johnson's 42 percent.
“(Johnson) ran a great campaign, and in a horrible election year for Republicans nationally and statewide, it's humbling to get this level of support,” said McHenry.
Johnson, 32, outraised McHenry and aired television ads without much financial support from the national party. Though he'd never run for office before, Johnson had some recognition in the community from a 1999 Navy accident in which he lost his legs while saving the life of another sailor. Though the candidates differed on most issues, the campaign centered largely on McHenry's style. The role he has played in his two terms in the U.S. House is that of attack dog against Democrats and their priorities. And, he's made a few gaffes, most recently when he referred to a security officer in Baghdad as a “two-bit security guard.”
The district's demographics were stacked in favor of McHenry, 32, a conservative who says the votes he casts consistently mirror his constituents' values in the 10th Congressional District, which includes Catawba, Cleveland, Lincoln and parts of Gaston counties.
Myrick wins easily
With all precincts reporting, Myrick won 62 percent of the vote to Taylor's 36 percent. Libertarian Andy Grum had 2 percent.
“I'm very grateful to the people for giving me another term,” Myrick said Tuesday.
A former Charlotte mayor, Myrick was seeking an eighth term representing the largely Republican 9th Congressional District, which includes parts of Mecklenburg, Gaston and Union counties.
Taylor, 63, is best known for something he said in 2006. In a comment repeatedly shown on national TV, Taylor told President Bush, who was speaking at Central Piedmont Community College, that he hoped Bush had “the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself.”
Taylor said Myrick spent too much energy on her pet issues – illegal immigration and national security – and not enough time on issues important in people's everyday lives. He also criticized her flip-flop on the Wall Street bailout bill, saying Congress' delay hurt local banks.
In her campaign ad airing on local TV, Myrick, 67, told viewers she wouldn't make them “hollow promises” about being able to solve the economic mess, but assured them she had their families' best interests at heart when she made decisions.
Watt wins 9th term
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Watt won 72 percent of the vote to Cobb's 28 percent.
Watt has represented the 12th Congressional District, which contains parts of Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston Salem, for eight terms.
With more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans in the district, he had little chance of losing to Cobb, a retired military officer and engineer. Cobb, 68, tried to pin the Wall Street crisis on Watt, who is a financial services subcommittee chairman in Congress, but he didn't get much traction. “I'm delighted, looking forward to serving in a new change environment,” said Watt, 63.
Other U.S. House Races
All other N.C. incumbents won Tuesday, including Rep. Heath Shuler, a Democrat from Waynesville; Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from Banner Elk; and Rep. Howard Coble, a Republican from Greensboro, was re-elected.