The smilin' ex-quarterback himself
Rep. Heath Shuler has gotten plenty of fire from Democrats fed up with his vote against health care reform on Sunday night, in my latest Mountain Xpress blog, I analyze the chances of a progressive backlash downing him:
Xpress’ reporting on the topic, including the explanation Shuler issued Monday, has set off a torrent of comments, many calling Shuler a DINO (Democrat in Name Only) or other epithets and many asserting that he just lost their vote. Shuler, who received more contributions from health insurance companies than any other member of Democratic delegation, is being painted by many as a corporate shill.
Given Asheville’s left-learning political culture, that’s understandable: Outside the Tea Party and other conservative activists, many of the Ashevillean criticisms one heard in the months leading up to Sunday’s vote was that the bill didn’t go nearly far enough.
Now the question, however, is if anger at Shuler will hurt his chances for re-election, especially in the upcoming Democratic primary. Probably not.
If the 11th Congressional District was limited to Asheville or even Buncombe, I wouldn’t give Shuler very good odds of going back to Washington next year. It doesn’t, however — but rather, it stretches all the way to the Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina state lines. In the 2008 Presidential election, Barack Obama swept Buncombe, getting 56 percent of the vote. Not so in the overall district, which John McCain won, 52-47. The Cook Partisan Voting Index, which rates how much a district tends toward one party or another, puts the 11th at Republican +6.
Of course, stats don’t predict everything. Before Republican Rep. Charles Taylor’s long reign (which Shuler ended), the 11th was alternatively held by the very conservative Bill Hendon and the very liberal James Clarke. Determined candidates with well-organized operations and a rapport with the voters can buck trends.
Aixa Wilson, who’s challenging Shuler in the Democratic primary, has become a frequent topic of conversation as the progressive backlash increased and, likely now, as Shuler’s “nay” vote helps Wilson. But there’s no evidence yet of Wilson running the sort of aggressive campaign necessary to unseat an incumbent like Shuler. His Web site is vague about his platform, mostly consisting of promises to read legislation and stay away from moneyed interests (I’m waiting for the day when a politician publicly promises to pass legislation sight unseen and love lobbyists with all their heart). There’s no announcement, for example, of a sharply defined position on health care that might rally disaffected Dems to Wilson’s banner. Instead there’s an announcement, dated March 12, that he’ll listen to his constituents. It has three comments.
Also, despite Asheville’s seeming love of all things political — and status as the largest population center in the District — there’s no tightly-organized progressive turnout operation that might throw its support to Wilson in an effort to punish Shuler.