“I think Larry will be here at some point,” North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman David Parker said. “I honestly think he will be here. I’d love to see him.”
Kissell never showed, and the reasons are not hard to fathom: He is in a fight for his political life, and he comes from a part of the country where being a Democrat has become a huge political liability.
Kissell, who has served two terms in the House, is part of a dying political breed — white Southern Democrats, many of whom are moderate “Blue Dogs” — that is being pushed out of Congress by Republican state legislatures redrawing House districts in favor of GOP candidates. Minority Democrats remain part of the landscape because more black and Latino voters are being redrawn into the same districts to move them out of GOP districts. As Republicans make their own districts more secure, in other words, they are improving the prospects of blacks and Latinos in predominantly Democratic districts.
“It’s possible there won’t be a single white Democratic member of Congress from Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and maybe just one or two from North Carolina, Tennessee, possibly for the next decade,” said David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “The only case under which a conservative Democrat could win in those states would be because of a scandal or a national Democratic wave.”
Once the dominant party of the South, Democrats saw their power decline with Lyndon B. Johnson’s embrace of civil rights reforms and the rise of evangelical Republicans. But even as Republicans began to win governorships and state legislatures in Southern states, voters continued electing moderate Democrats — commonly called Blue Dog Democrats — who maintained moderate fiscal and social voting records.
In Southern states other than Texas and Florida, just a handful of white Democratic House incumbents remain, and three face particularly close races this year: Kissell and Reps. Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and John Barrow (Ga.).
To appeal to their new GOP-leaning constituents, all three voted with Republicans to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt and to repeal the health-care reform law. All three skipped this year’s formal convention proceedings, and they ambiguously answer questions about supporting President Obama’s reelection.
“I’ve always been my own person and run my own campaign,” McIntyre told reporters Tuesday when they asked about Obama.
In North Carolina, Republicans won control of the state legislature in 2010 for the first time in more than a century and redrew the state’s 13 House districts based on results of the 2008 presidential election. That left three safe Democratic districts surrounding urban and minority neighborhoods and seven seats much easier for Republicans to hold or snatch from Democrats.