After 18 years, U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton is retiring from Congress at the end of 2014, and the jockeying on both sides of the aisle to replace him has begun.
The move, which McIntyre announced Wednesday, ends speculation that the conservative Blue Dog Democrat would face another tough election this year and opens the door for Republicans to take another U.S. House seat in North Carolina. Already after McIntyre’s announcement on Wednesday, election prognosticators were moving the 7th Congressional District race into the Republican column. Republicans hold nine of the state’s 13 seats in Congress.
Meanwhile, Republican Woody White, a 44-year-old Wilmington attorney and chairman of the New Hanover County Commissioners, confirmed Wednesday he is running for the 7th Congressional District seat and will challenge former state Sen. David Rouzer of Johnston County in a GOP primary. That means Rouzer won’t have an easy road to the Republican nomination, despite almost defeating McIntyre in 2012.
White, who is also a former state senator, is lining up support from some prominent names in Republican circles, from the district’s 2010 GOP nominee Ilario Pantano to former state party chairman and former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer and state Rep. Rick Catlin of New Hanover County, among others. Their support shows party leaders aren’t fully behind Rouzer and portends a heated primary for the Republican nod.
White said he has raised $65,000, with commitments for $150,000 more, and plans seven fundraisers in the next five weeks.
“Clearly, the voters and citizens that have reached out to us recently are ready for a fresh, new face in Washington,” White said.
‘A tough call’
Rouzer, 41, who lost to McIntyre by 654 votes a little more than a year ago, said he had a list of endorsements that he would release soon and that he had about $300,000 in his campaign coffers as of Dec. 31.
“We’re going to be very well-funded,” he said.
State Sen. Bill Rabon, a Southport Republican, said he’s talked to both announced Republican hopefuls but hasn’t pledged either his support.
“It’s a tough call,” he said. “They’re both good people. They’ll both serve us well, and they’re both good friends. The question comes down to, how do we win that seat?”
On the Democratic side, New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, a real estate agent, is the only announced candidate, but McIntyre’s announcement could cause other Democrats to enter the fray.
The 7th District includes all or parts of 12 Southeastern North Carolina counties, stretching from Brunswick County in the south to Johnston in the north. The latest round of redistricting made the district even more conservative, as some Democratic areas in New Hanover and Robeson counties were removed and more Republican areas, including Johnston County, were added.
McIntyre’s new chapter
Barfield said Wednesday he thought he could win the seat despite the district changes and that McIntyre’s retirement would make it easier for him to raise money.
“I think that’s going to come now,” he said.
But Joe Stewart, executive director of the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation, said McIntyre’s retirement, the district’s makeup and the voters’ attitudes make it “very likely that the Republicans can pick up that seat in this election cycle.”
In announcing his retirement, McIntyre recycled words he uttered often during his 2012 race.
“For us, this has been where the priorities of policy over politics, issues over ideology, dialogue over dollars, and cooperation over campaigning have prevailed,” he said in a statement.
He listed some accomplishments, including increasing the number of veterans clinics in the area, passing the tobacco buyout, expanding military bases, building police and fire stations, and improving airports and the Port of Wilmington.
In a statement from the White House late Wednesday, President Barack Obama praised McIntyre for being “a strong advocate for our men and women in uniform and a key voice on issues that shape the lives of Americans in rural communities.
“He’s also been an active participant in the annual National Prayer Breakfast – a reflection of his deep faith. Michelle and I thank Congressman McIntyre for his service, and we wish him, his wife, Dee, and their two sons the very best in the future,” the statement said.
McIntyre said he and his family are “ready for a new chapter and excited about new opportunities to continue helping North Carolina.” He didn’t elaborate.