August 16th, 2010
08:32 AM ET
4 years ago

Dem Shuler seeks third term in conservative N.C. district

 The CNN 100 takes a look at the top 100 House races, from now until Election Day.
The CNN 100 takes a look at the top 100 House races, from now until Election Day.

Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:

North Carolina 11th - Rep. Heath Shuler (D) is seeking a third term
Primary: May 4, 2010
Location: Western, North Carolina
Days until Election Day: 78

(CNN) - If Republicans want to have a shot at winning back the House this fall, the path to the majority has to run through districts like North Carolina's 11th.

The 11th district may be conservative terrain, but it hasn't been reliably Republican territory. The district is the only one in North Carolina that is composed entirely of Appalachian counties, and its remote position in the extreme western tip of the state means that it sometimes sits apart politically. More than half of its residents live in areas that the Census defines as rural, but that pattern is offset by the presence of Asheville, a mid-sized city that in some ways seems to be a small piece of Vermont transplanted south of the Mason-Dixon line. Asheville has turned surrounding Buncombe County into an island of Democratic strength in a sea of lightly-populated Republican counties - Buncombe went for Barack Obama with 56 percent in 2008, while 51 percent of the district as a whole voted for John McCain.

Blue Dog Heath Shuler - memorably recruited as a 2006 candidate by then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel - rode into office with the Democratic sweep that year. The former NFL quarterback then lucked out in 2008 with an offbeat Republican opponent, winning re-election with 62 percent. Now, amid some indications his support in the district may be softening heading into the home stretch, the two-term congressman's taking nothing for granted. "Last time it was kind of a pass, and this time it won't be a pass," Shuler told the Smoky Mountain News earlier this month.

Still, Democrats have had the edge all year, and Republican Jeff Miller enters the race's final months a clear underdog. The businessman, who beat five other candidates to claim the GOP congressional nomination in May, is still relatively unknown. He'll need to spend big to introduce himself to local voters – and that's one area where Shuler still dominates: The incumbent had about $1.4 million as of the beginning of July to Miller's $65,000, an advantage of greater than 20-to-1. Despite newly-promised help for Miller from the FreedomWorks PAC, and the possibility of help from the national party, that gap will be tough to overcome.

Shuler's relatively easy race last time around allowed him to save a significant chunk of his campaign war chest – an advantage that could make the difference this year, in a much tougher fundraising environment: the Democrat still outraised Miller over the past six months, but by a much smaller margin, pulling in around $304,000 to his GOP challenger's $246,000.

The biggest question mark for Shuler is the same unknown facing the national party: can he count on the base to turn out this year, in numbers high enough to counter motivated Republicans and sagging approval numbers? That mystery is magnified for Shuler, who holds one of the lowest party unity voting scores among congressional Democrats, ranking in the bottom 10, and voted against the health care bill earlier this year.

After years of courting independents and Republicans, the need to turn special attention to the base was driven home in May, when an unknown and underfunded primary challenger took more than a third of the vote.

The state party, like national Democrats, recognizes the risks for conservative members in this year's race, treading lightly around Shuler, Mike McIntyre and Larry Kissell, the three North Carolina congressmen who voted against the health care bill. A few weeks ago, state Democrats seriously weighed passing a resolution condemning the trio for their vote. But opponents of the measure argued that the three, all representing solidly conservative districts, needed to be able to vote the way their constituents, and the measure died.


Filed under: CNN 100
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Susan in NC

    Here's some advice for Rep. Shuler - drop the Blue Dogs and their ideals and values and you'll easily win. It would be nice, too, if you'd speak the same message throughout your District, instead of tailoring your message to 'suit' the County you're speaking in. It's time for you to make a decision and stand up for the Democratic ideals you like to 'talk' about. Talk is easy - truly standing up for your ideals and representing the folks who send you to Washington is not.

    Let's keep WNC blue and vote NO to the Party of NO in NOvember!

    August 16, 2010 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  2. Rick McDaniel

    No Dem is deserving of a third term, if they voted for ObamaCare.

    August 16, 2010 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  3. Louisiana Man

    God luck to you Rep Shuler and continued good common sense to the electorate of North Carolina.

    August 16, 2010 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  4. NC Resident

    Heath Shuler would find more support from his "base" if he would just stop the charade and admit that he is actually a Republican. At this point, I'm more inclined to vote for the republican just so I'll know what I'm getting this go around!

    August 16, 2010 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  5. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    That's the biggest problem with apportioning representation geographically–the people in the areas surrounding Asheville have been effectively disenfranchised by the demographic distortion of a city.

    August 16, 2010 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  6. hypocricnnation

    This Is The Same Congressman Heath Shuler D-North Carolina Who Supported Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama In The 2008 Presidential Campaign When Now President Obama Won The State (Facts That HypocriCNN! Fails To Tell The Reading Audience). The Same Congressman Heath Shuler Who Not Only Voted Against The Current Health Care Bill, But Was Behind (With Other Sell Out Democrats) The Demise Of The Public Option. Congressman Shuler Couldn't Cut It In The NFL, But Has Mastered The Art Of Being A Political Chameleon (Like Senators Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, And Mary Landrieu). If There's Any Democrat I Hope Gets Trouced In November, It's This Sore Loser!

    August 16, 2010 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  7. Haren

    America should think twice before adopting republican idea of privatizing social security.
    I would gamble my money in stock market if we have vital manufacturing industry, instead of financial sector where money are made and manipulated in derivatives.

    August 16, 2010 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  8. American Patriot

    TERM LIMITS!!!

    We only give our President 2 Terms.

    It is time to get the career Poloticians out of OUR Government.
    These people stay in office for years and live off tax payers.

    Do not re-elect this guy.
    Let him find out what the job market is like first hand.

    When are we going to stand together as a Nation and tell these people NO, you had your chance and you voted with Corporations over the best interest of the American people.

    YOUR FIRED.

    TERM LIMITS PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 16, 2010 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  9. Keith in Austin

    Start now in looking for another job Shuler! You'll be on the street in November!

    August 16, 2010 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  10. BlackUSAguy

    I am sick of Blue dog and RINO. Why don't these people be who they are. If these people are liberal or conservative, then so be it and stop pretending. This is why people hate politicians and accuse them of going back on their word.

    August 16, 2010 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  11. Rich-St Louis

    "If Republicans want to have a shot at winning back the House this fall, the path to the majority has to run through districts like North Carolina's 11th."

    Ms Sinderbrand may be the only "neutral" political analyst who thinks that is the case - NC11 would be a nice Republican pick-up but it is not one of the top 30 critical races in leading to a switch in the majorities. What is a more compelling question to me is why Shuler remains a Democrat – it's encouraging that he has a mind of his own on many of the issues; unfortunately, it is representatives like him and Kissell and McIntyre who in the end sustain the leftist leadership of their party.

    August 16, 2010 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  12. gt

    schuler was not much of a quarter back at washington , but he is what this country needs more off .. some one in the middle ,, not a left or right wind nut case...

    August 16, 2010 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  13. aliou in Jacksonville, FL

    Given the depth and the amplitude of the crisis USA is facing, I am surprised that anyone would want to vote for republicans again.
    8 years of bush has completely destroyed our country.

    In the 2008 presidential election, I wished McCain had won. I wished he had won to have him and Sara Palin deal with mess Bush created. I really didn't want dems and a smart president like Obama have to deal with the mess.

    If McCain had won and the country had fallen apart as clueless McCain and headless Palin took our country into hell, I would have been sad, but happy republicans have shown their limit. In fact that would have signaled the end of republicanism.

    Then the country would have been ready for a social democratic society, in fact the only option viable in the 21st century.

    In so far as it prevented a Democratic and social revolution, Dems and Barack Obama's victory was in fact not a real blessing in the context of a country as a whole: It came 4 years too soon.

    I wanted to give Americans 4 more years of the republicans brand of chaos and let so as to prepare them for a final social-democratic victory, one that would prepare the country for a more accepting, more compationate, and more social democratic country.

    August 16, 2010 10:55 am at 10:55 am |