Even though you’re reading a political blog, you might not know the answer to this question. I’m going to give you a little background about the 8th District, how we got to where we are, and where we might be heading.
For a while now, the 8th has stretched from Charlotte to Fayetteville with old textile mill country in between. There are different media markets on both ends (Charlotte having its own and Fayetteville using a combination of Raleigh/Wilmington networks) so getting out a consistent message is difficult for any candidate.
A Republican has held the 8th since 2000, with the exception of Larry Kissell, a Democrat who kept the seat for two terms (2008-2012) after riding Obama’s coattails to his first victory. The lines were gerrymandered in 2011, and Kissell got creamed in the next election by Republican heir Richard Hudson.
Hudson has held the seat since 2012, and I call him an “heir” because he was literally groomed for the position. Just out of college, Hudson served as the political director for the sitting congressman in the 8th District, Robin Hayes (now the state party chair). Hudson’s been a Chief of Staff for three other congressmen (from other states) and at one time was the communications director the N.C. Republican Party. For his age, he’s a Reupblican boy wonder. To top it off, he married inside the beltway: his wife is the Chief of staff for Kellyanne Conway.
In short, Hudson’s never done much besides politics. He took some heat for his lack of private experience when he first ran for Congress, especially from the rising (at the time) Tea Party leaders in the Republican party. Here’s an old article from the conservative “Daily Haymaker” calling his touted business experience a “sham” and claiming he was “parachuted” into the seat by the GOP establishment.
With establishment experience comes political skill, and Hudson uses his position to attempt to bolster his credibility as a champion for business and the military. Hudson constantly makes robo-calls (often at dinner time) to his constituents to inform you he’s working hard for you. He sends mailers out on a routine basis complete with the stock images of Hudson on a factory floor.
When Mark Zuckerberg was testifying about Facebook’s data issues before Congress, Hudson couldn’t pass up the chance for a photo-op and asked some seeminly strange questions on national TV, but made sure to brag about them in a press release.
Despite all this seemingly hard work on his part, I don’t think many people know who Hudson is or can tell you one thing he’s done for the 8th District. I’m obviously not a fan of Hudson, and this may be true for many members of Congress. Still, it seems a bit wrong that an old-school, blue-collar district like the 8th is represented by a life-long political insider who probably feels more at home in a D.C. lobby than Miller’s Restaurant in Vass.
2018 Challenge for Hudson??
Frank McNeil, the former Mayor of Aberdeen, is running as a Democrat in the 8th District and is the perfect foil for Hudson. He’s a local businessman with deep community roots and a drawl to match his hometown:
McNeill has already attacked Hudson’s insider status. From the N&O:
McNeil said Hudson, who worked for four members of Congress including former Rep. Robin Hayes before running for office, is “part of the Washington establishment.”
“Our current representative has lived in Washington all his adult life,” McNeill said. “I’ve lived my entire adult life in Moore County in the 8th Congressional District. I work with folks in our district every day, live with them, go to church with them. Washington seems to be dictated by big money special interests and that’s not to the benefit of the 8th Congressional District. We’re not big money special interests.”
McNeill’s candidacy is significant because it represents an attempt to grab a handful of rural North Carolina back from the Republican Party. Assuming McNeill can get through the primary, he is banking on riding a blue wave this November to carry him across the line in a tough district for a Democrat. This isn’t an easy job, but it may be possible in this political moment.
We’ve seen the playbook before (Sanford, Hunt, Easley, Cooper, even Edwards in his prime). It begins with moderation and is rooted in a display of genuine care for your community.
McNeill reminds me of some of his fore-bearers in this regard. You tend to believe him as he’s talking about his love for his wife and three daughters, his North Carolina roots, and his faith. In short, he’s genuine, Hudson isn’t, and that’s why McNeill might have a chance.