Rep. Bob Inglis distributed a small pamphlet to voters last year shaped like a street sign that said “Keep Right” on one side, “No Shoulder” on the other and encouraged center-right “collaboration” over divisive partisanship on the inside.
But for voters in his coastal South Carolina district, the Republican has apparently crossed into the median too many times and, as a result, he could find himself kicked to the curb.
Spartanburg County Solicitor Trey Gowdy received 39 percent of the vote last week in the five-way Republican primary in the 4th district. Inglis finished behind Gowdy with 27 percent and will face him in a runoff on June 22.
Gowdy and his other primary opponents have accused Inglis of straying from conservative values and becoming too moderate during his time in Washington, D.C.
But Republicans familiar with the race said Inglis simply lost his base.
One Republican insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, pointed to an exchange last summer between Inglis and a roomful of constituents during a town hall meeting.
The lawmaker was shouted down after telling attendees to “turn that television off” because Fox News host Glenn Beck was “preying on fear.”
The Republican insider said Inglis also received flak from conservatives when he called for fellow South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson (R) to apologize after Wilson screamed, “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during a presidential address to joint session of Congress last year.
To call Inglis a “moderate” Republican is a bit of a stretch: He voted with the House GOP 95 percent of the time in 2009 and 93 percent of the time in 2008, according to CQ Vote Studies.
But his occasional tendency to exert his independence, such as his votes for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008 and against the Iraq troop surge in 2007, has put him at odds with some people in his extremely conservative district.
Former Rep. Tom Davis, a leading Republican moderate when he represented Northern Virginia in Congress, described Inglis as a “brilliant, very conservative, ring-wing Member,” but he added that in the current environment, it doesn’t take much for people to begin to view Inglis’ record in a different light.
“He has shown some degree of independent judgment,” Davis said. “In this environment, that is unappreciated by Republican primary voters.”
Davis added, “You put in a strong candidate with a lot of funding, it’d be a choice environment to take out an incumbent.”
Inglis argued that his base isn’t gone — but said some voters are just confused.
The lawmaker said his opponents have made it a point to bring up divisive interparty quarrels, such as the libertarian-held view that the Federal Reserve should be eliminated, to distract voters so that they don’t have to consider tougher issues.
“We really need real principled opposition [to the Democrats] who are offering solutions,” Inglis said. “But when you add complexity to solutions, it is a golden opportunity for these would-be opportunists.”
Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), who went through an contentious primary last cycle because of his opposition the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Inglis’ vote on the TARP bill could be his Achilles’ heel, but added that voters should try to understand his vote on the wars.
“To me, when you are talking about war issues, you better say to that Congressman, whether you agree with him or disagree with him, Please vote your conscience because kids are dying.’ To me, that’s a different issue than bailouts,” Jones said. “Bob is a very, very thoughtful Member of Congress.”
Inglis said the hyper-partisan political environment needed consensus builders like him, especially if Republicans take back the House in 2010.
“We need a few solutions people and [fewer] scapegoating slogan hunters,” he said, adding that Republicans and GOP pundits who blame Obama for the state of the economy “lose creditability” with the public.
“A leader says, Let’s talk about this and come together. Let’s not further the acrimony,'” Inglis said.
“I want to love the country more than I hate the Democrats,” he said. “I want to be [Ronald] Reagan rather than [Pat] Buchanan.”