The fine line between a Southern conservative Democrat and a Republican continues to fade — fast.
That certainly appears to be the case in North Carolina, where two of the remaining House Democrats have adopted the tactic that in order to win re-election, they must steer clear of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
In recent weeks, North Carolina Democratic Reps. Mike McIntyre and Larry Kissell have announced they will not endorse Obama and, furthermore, plan to vote to repeal his signature healthcare plan.
In North Carolina, some former supporters say it’s time for Kissell and McIntyre to change parties.
John McNeill, Democratic chairman of McIntyre’s home, Robeson County, is more understanding. He says Obama’s lack of popularity in the state’s Seventh Congressional District won’t help McIntyre at the polls, but he also encourages caution.
“Obviously from a pure political viewpoint, McIntyre has to separate himself from the president by a large degree, but by the same token I don’t think he needs to endorse the Republican economic issues,” McNeill said.
Others are less sympathetic. The former Democratic chairman in Montgomery County, Ralph Bostic, said Kissell should jump the aisle. And on Thursday, African-American political leaders who had supported Kissell announced they will not be endorsing him.
McIntyre and Kissell, of Biscoe, N.C., are seen as two of the most vulnerable Democrats nationally up for re-election. They survived the 2010 Republican onslaught by carefully tending to the temperament of the conservative voters back home. More than 50 Democratic colleagues from across the country didn’t make it, such as longtime incumbent Bob Etheridge of Lillington, N.C., who has said his vote for the healthcare bill cost him his re-election.
With the backing of such conservative groups as the National Rifle Association, the two Democrats take pride in their independent streak. They also have said they’re unsure whether they’ll join Obama for his nomination ceremony at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. McIntyre said he’ll be there for the first day of the convention, but maybe not when the balloons drop.
Fourteen other Democratic congressional candidates have said they plan to stay home and campaign rather than attend their party’s convention, including Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia told reporters in April that he was unsure if he will vote for Obama or GOP nominee Mitt Romney in November. The widening gap between some Democrats and the president raises the question: What does it take to call yourself a true Democrat? McIntyre and Kissell have voted with the party about 70 percent of the time in the current congressional term, according to opencongress.org, but they have repeatedly broken with their party on high-profile votes, such as those related to healthcare and the cap-and-trade climate bill, which are seen as a litmus test. “Both parties are saying, ‘Oh no, you can’t do that.’ You can’t reach out and work with the other side because that means you’re not being a purist and you’re not being true to your ideological roots,” McIntyre said. “I’m not saying to compromise core principals, but at some point you have to be able to work together and find compromise if you’re going to legislate.”