A long line of North Carolina Republicans is beginning form to take on freshman Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.). But with local GOP insiders agreeing it’s ex-Rep. Charles Taylor’s (R-N.C.) nomination to lose, some claim he’s playing hard-to-get and are urging: Decide already.
“All of the candidates are waiting for Taylor to make his decision,” said one North Carolina Republican source. “The longer [Taylor] waits, the harder it becomes for GOP candidates to raise the money they need.”
Shuler, one of 41 Democratic freshmen who rode the wave of voter discontent in the fall and beat the eight-term lawmaker by a sizable 17,000 votes, likely will face another bloody November challenge next year from Taylor or one of five other Republicans said to be mulling a run.
The GOP plans to dissect Shuler’s meticulously crafted voting record and his mere affiliation with Democratic leadership, especially Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose liberal San Francisco-area district local Republicans hope will play well to the moral soft spots of 11th district swing voters.
“When he was running, Shuler kept doing a dance about whether he would vote for Speaker Pelosi,” said Nathan Ramsey (R), the chairman of the Buncombe County Commission. “Well … he voted for someone with a lot of different views than he espouses. I think that’s going to be a challenge for him.”
In the 110th Congress, Shuler has voted with Democrats 88 percent of the time, according to a database maintained by Washingtonpost.com. Shuler last month voted with Republicans on a supplemental $100 billion war funding bill that did not include a fixed timetable for withdrawal; with Democrats in April on a $124 billion Iraq War spending plan that included benchmarks and a withdrawal timetable; and with Democrats on a symbolic vote denouncing President Bush’s proposed troop increase in Iraq.
Shuler also was one of the first House Members to call for Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) resignation following his indictment last week.
To Ramsey and many other prominent local Republicans, Taylor represents the best chance Republicans have to retake the seat for two reasons: After 16 years in office, he has near universal name recognition in the district; and with more than $50 million in personal wealth, he could bankroll a race that also may draw national spending.
Although Taylor’s ability to self-finance is a natural selling point, some observers suggest it also could prove a hindrance. While Taylor’s wealth allows him to delay jumping out of the starting gate, other potential candidates — who are delaying possible bids until his decision — will have to make up for lost time.
“The problem any candidate is going to have — unless they declare pretty darn soon … or self-finance — is that it takes time to [raise money],” Ramsey said. “Congressman Taylor is going to have to come out and tell some folks that he’s not running.”
Along with Taylor, state Sen. Tom Apodaca, state Rep. Charles Thomas, Asheville City Councilman Carl Mumpower and Henderson District Attorney Jeff Hunt are considering challenging Shuler.
Taylor and Hunt did not return Roll Call phone calls Monday to discuss possible challenges, but Thomas, Mumpower and Apodaca all suggested they were waiting for Taylor to make a final decision before ruling it out. And the earlier, many stressed, the better.
“Whoever runs against Congressman Shuler, the sooner it’s clearer Congressman Taylor is not going to run again, the better for everyone,” Mumpower said. “A Congressman who was in office so long, in many Republicans’ eyes, he’s [still] the Congressional representative.”
Thomas said it is “extremely unlikely” he will run next year, but he claimed Shuler’s voting record and the timing of Taylor’s decision will be less of a factor in western North Carolina than whoever ultimately becomes the Democratic 2008 presidential nominee.
“If Sen. John Edwards [D-N.C.] wins the nomination, the turnout in North Carolina will be less polarized, given that Edwards is from North Carolina,” Thomas said. “If the Democrat nominee is Sen. Hillary Clinton [N.Y.] or Sen. Barack Obama [Ill.], Republicans stand to do very, very well because the turnout will likely be more polarized … the top of the ticket will play a very important role for this district.”
Apodaca agreed that the likelihood of a Republican takedown in the district lies with factors well outside the control of Shuler or the Republican nominee, saying “if we have a controversial Democratic candidate at the top of the ticket, i.e., Hillary Clinton, I think it could be a very good year for Republicans in western North Carolina.”
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), whose district borders Shuler’s to the east, said it’s appropriate for potential Republican challengers to step aside until Taylor makes his decision. And besides, McHenry said, there is plenty of time for Taylor to weigh his options — and for the other candidates to raise money, should Taylor decide not to run.
“There’s a proper mind-set that he has to make a decision first,” McHenry said. “Everyone wants to give Congressman Taylor the time to think through a rematch.”
“Having a full year to campaign is plenty,” McHenry added, claiming Republicans should wait until the end of the year to begin fretting. “We’re months away from that.”
Regardless of the challenger, former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr (R), who also was rumored to be considering a run, said a combination of factors make Shuler “difficult to beat.” After all, the primary factors behind Taylor’s 16-year tenure may now play to Shuler’s advantage.
“The seat is truly an unsafe seat,” Orr said. “But if you’re an incumbent and you’re attentive to the district’s needs, you should be able to stay for years.”