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Kissell: Fewer Gimmicks; More DCCC

For North Carolina House candidate Larry Kissell (D), a lot can happen in one campaign cycle.

After narrowly losing last year to Rep. Robin Hayes (R), he’s no longer sharing the campaign spotlight with a goat, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee answers all of his phone calls, and he’s not touting the price of gasoline in 1998, the year Hayes was elected.

Kissell, a high school teacher, was defeated by textile mill owner Hayes in November by 329 votes. And while largely ignored by the DCCC in the waning days of the 2006 cycle, Kissell is fast becoming becoming its darling.

“They sent us a cheesecake on election night,” Kissell recently recalled of his 11th hour pleas for DCCC cash that he believed would have put them over the edge. “We honestly thought we were going to get some help. What I’ve heard since is that [the DCCC] did a couple of polls in the last couple of weeks and the demographics were wrong.”

“They missed it,” he added.

Now doted over like a child whose parents just forgot his birthday, Kissell is in Washington, D.C., this week meeting with committee officials and fundraising among major Democratic donors.

The candidate, who in the previous cycle campaigned with a goat named CAFTA and sold cheap gas to show voters that Hayes is tone-deaf to the district’s issues, took in about 20 percent of his total fundraising in 2006 from unions and other reliably Democratic groups.

This time around, Kissell and the DCCC are confident they have the correct formula.

And while campaign gimmicks like a barnyard sidekick likely will be shelved, the antics aren’t entirely gone. Last week, Kissell’s campaign sent out a cryptic press release titled “Hayes’ Chinese Delivery Menu: Midnight Concessions for Midnight Capitulations.”

“Larry Kissell wouldn’t have it any other way,” said one Democratic source.

While not letting go completely of his idiosyncratic tendencies, Kissell also is making quick work of new options.

So far this cycle, Kissell has raised roughly 40 percent, or $63,000, from labor unions and other political committees.

Republicans say Kissell and the DCCC had their chance last year and blew it.

“That was the perfect storm for a Democratic candidate and Hayes weathered the storm,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Julie Shutley said. “He beat Kissell once and he can do it again.”

Kissell also appears to be poising himself to be out in front on issues other than trade. Immigration is a controversial issue in the district, and Kissell told Roll Call this week he would oppose any legislation that could be construed as amnesty; those who have broken the law should be punished.

“He has moved beyond ‘[Hayes] lied to his constituents when he fast-tracked CAFTA,’” said Betsy Muse, a Democratic political blogger in North Carolina. “He’s moved beyond that to ‘How do we fix the problems [Hayes’ vote] has caused?’”

“That’s the maturing into a mainstream, frontline candidate,” she said.

But Kissell’s coming of age, according to some Democratic bloggers in the state, may put him at odds with some of the more liberal national net roots, the prominent liberal Web sites he actively courted in 2006.

Although he favors a phase-out, Kissell said he would never consider defunding the troops and dismisses plans to censure President Bush.

“That’s just Washington talk,” he said.

Greg Flynn, another Democratic blogger in the state, agrees that Kissell’s DCCC debut may isolate him from some national online liberal activists, but with a catch: Some distance from the crowd actually may help him in a mostly unwired — and liberal-activist-averse — district.

“It’s kind of like a ratchet: He may not gain any more progressive support … but I think he’s going to gain more in the district,” Flynn said.

For now, Democratic blogger Muse said the national blogosphere is reacting well to Larry Kissell 2.0. For example, she said, a recent post drew few criticisms of the DCCC’s help.

James Protzman, another Democratic blogger in the state, said Kissell likely will be mindful of his new DCCC stripes — a sensitivity a party official confirmed by noting that the committee will tread lightly in Kissell’s home territory.

“They’re helping him dig out of a hole they helped create,” he said. “The fact that they backed down in the last election … they figured he was a schoolteacher and what’s he going to get done? But he’s tapped into a sentiment in the state that’s real.”

Protzman also suggested that what’s right for Connecticut or Pennsylvania doesn’t always fly in the Piedmont. And liberal activists should recognize that reality.

“If you pay attention to DailyKos as a national barometer, then that’s not a very good barometer,” he said. “Most of us out here are realists, we want a guy with D after his name and Larry’s got the best shot of doing that.”

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