Potential Kissell primary could muddle his support from DCCC

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) could soon be headed toward a familiar dilemma in North Carolina’s 8th district, where it has thrown support to a candidate who now faces a possible primary.

Democratic state Rep. Rick Glazier is mulling a primary bid against committee-supported Larry Kissell, who last November fell just 329 votes shy of knocking off Rep. Robin Hayes (R) in one of the most unexpected close calls of the election.

North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek said Glazier is “seriously thinking about” a bid.

“He will almost certainly not make a decision until toward the end of the legislative session, which will probably run another month or so,” Meek said. “He just has been focused on the legislature right now.”

The district is one of a number of the situations that the DCCC could be confronted with as it continues to reserve its right to get involved in primaries.

The committee has publicly provided heaping support — although not an official endorsement — to Kissell since he made it clear he would run again.

Thus far, he has been on the receiving end of lots of fundraising help. Former DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and current Recruitment Chairman Artur Davis (Ala.) have made in-person appearances, and current committee chief Chris Van
Hollen (Md.) has held a conference call. The committee is also giving Kissell institutional support to get his campaign up and running.

The committee reasoned that if someone else were interested in the race, he or she would have made it known by now, according to a committee source. Glazier’s name hasn’t gone public yet.

Regardless, the DCCC is sticking by Kissell. It is discounting Glazier’s potential candidacy because it doesn’t consider him a strong challenger, given Kissell’s showing and the dynamics of the district, according to another committee source. It also doesn’t see him gaining the support necessary with Kissell out front.

The committee has been down this road before, and in the same district, no less. In the 2006 cycle, the DCCC began supporting Tim Dunn, one of many Iraq war veterans running for Congress, only to see him drop out of the primary and make way for Kissell.

It was one of several races in which the DCCC threw support to candidates facing primaries who didn’t make it into the final election. In fact, several Democratic freshmen who were not the committee’s top choices as candidates in 2006 went on to win their seats anyway.

Two of them — Reps. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) and Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) — defeated officially endorsed candidates. Dunn was not endorsed but had campaign donations directed to him before backing out of the race.

Democrats now say they shouldn’t have given up on the race when Dunn backed out, and they have made it known they are trying to atone for it by supporting Kissell early and often.

While they have backed repeat candidates like Kissell and Democrat Charlie Brown in California’s 4th district, they have stayed out of races in which another Democrat is challenging their near-miss candidate from 2006.

Democrats Victoria Wulsin, who narrowly lost to Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), and Dan Seals, who held Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to less than 54 percent, both have primary opponents in their repeat bids — the reason cited by the committee for not supporting them yet despite strong showings in 2006.

But, as in the last cycle, the DCCC isn’t ruling out getting involved in primaries, including Wulsin’s and Seals’s.

For now, though, “there is no Democratic primary in North Carolina’s 8th district,” committee spokeswoman Kyra Jennings said. “The DCCC thinks Larry Kissell is an excellent candidate. Kissell came within 329 votes last year because he connects with North Carolina voters and has the energy, the compassion, and the support needed to win in 2008.”

In fact, the committee actually turned its back on one top repeat challenger in the last cycle. Even though Democrat Christine Cegelis held longtime Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) to a surprisingly low margin in 2004, the committee chose in 2006 to back Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth over Cegelis in an open-seat race.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, by contrast, has said it will not dabble in primaries.

Glazier weighed a bid last cycle but decided not to run in late 2005, before Kissell entered the race.

He is an employment and labor law attorney who teaches at Campbell University’s law school. He has also taught at North Carolina State University and served on a local school board.

Meek said that the state party would stay neutral but acknowledged a desire for a united Democratic front.

“The reality is that, for a lot of people, Larry Kissell is very much the sentimental favorite,” Meek said. “There is an appreciation for the fact that it would be a very difficult primary.”