ASHEVILLE — Democrat Hayden Rogers thinks the best way for people in North Carolina’s 11th congressional district to help their country is to elect a native son who will protect their interests and work with anyone. Republican Mark Meadows thinks they can make this country better by electing a man with the right political ideas.
Both candidates are crossing the district daily, looking for votes across almost 200 mountainous miles in western North Carolina. They are running to replace Democrat Health Shuler, who decided not to run for re-election after four terms.
Meadows is a millionaire self-made businessman and real estate developer. He is a political novice who made his way through a bruising eight-candidate primary, deciding to run because he thinks he can make his state and country better places to live.
“Now is the opportunity,” Meadows said. “If we don’t make the right decisions now I think we will continue to go a direction that ultimately will keep us from being America as the best and bravest.”
Rogers was Shuler’s chief of staff before taking a leave of absence to campaign for his boss’s seat. He wants to continue Shuler’s work as a conservative Democrat who can bring people together in Washington.
“Sometimes that makes your own party mad at you; sometimes it makes the other party mad at you,” Rogers said. “But the people elected you to do what is right.”
The district is one of four that North Carolina Republicans think can be taken away from Democrats. During redistricting, GOP leaders shifted a large part of Democrat-leaning Asheville into the 10th district, but left the rich, conservative neighborhoods south of the city in the 11th district. The district now runs from areas north of Hickory west and south to the end of the state.
Meadows, 53, promises to work for a repeal of health care legislation championed by President Barack Obama. He also promises to protect Medicaid and Social Security, saying one of his biggest problems with federal government is the failure to make sure benefits for older people increase at the same pace as fuel and food prices.
But Rogers said Meadows’ real positions were evident in the primary, when he took a much harder, conservative line, even wondering if Obama was born in this county. Meadows has backed off those statements.
“Mark is a really rigid ideologue in a time it is essential we work together in a bipartisan way,” Rogers said.
Rogers, 42, is emphasizing his background. The Robbinsville native played football at Princeton University. He does nothing to hide his accent, and in one of his campaign commercials, he says “I hunt and fish. I don’t play tennis.”
Rogers points out whenever he can that Meadows lives in a neighborhood of million-dollar homes near Cashiers.
“Mark moved here from Florida. He’s a gated community guy,” Rogers said.
Meadows said the comments don’t bother him, but his face betrays his words. He moved to North Carolina in the mid-1980s to open a sandwich shop, taking a chance he might go broke. He got his real estate license and became successful by selling houses and running other businesses. But he hasn’t forgotten his modest beginnings as the son of a soldier and a nurse. He said his life personifies the American dream.
“I didn’t go to Princeton. I’m not an Ivy League Washington insider,” Meadows said.
It’s been an uphill fight for Rogers. In the old 11th district, 52 percent of voters chose Republican John McCain in the 2008 elections. But when the GOP redrew the district, they picked a mix of voters that includes 58 percent who cast ballots for McCain, the highest percentage in any of the state’s 13 districts. Meadows has spent more than $725,000 so far, nearly 34 percent more than Rogers has spent. Both men had just over $200,000 in the bank for the final five weeks of the election.
Both men are making four or five appearances a day in the sprawling district. Meadows estimates he had driven 90,000 miles this year. Rogers said he goes less than two weeks between oil changes in his pickup.
Meadows could have been talking for his opponent as well when asked how he was feeling as the election nears in the congressional district in North Carolina where perhaps the most personal campaigning has taken place.
“I want to meet all 750,000 people,” he said. “My frustration is when I don’t do that.”