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Rep. Larry Kissell has the demeanor of a politician whose previous battle scars give him the confidence that he'll survive in a substantially more Republican district in 2012.
But privately, even some of his fellow North Carolina Democrats note the understated former textile mill supervisor and teacher has only a narrow path to victory.
"Giving a fair look at the district, it's an uphill slog," a well-regarded North Carolina Democratic strategist said.
After a GOP-led redistricting, Barack Obama's 2008 vote percentage shrunk from 52.4 percent to just 41.7 percent in Kissell's 8th district, according to numbers crunched by the state Legislature. Kissell's best hope for victory this cycle might be a nasty GOP primary fight to take him on.
Kissell said he's going to just keep doing the same things he's always done and the political aspect will unfold as it will.
"You know, inside the Beltway is a different world from North Carolina's 8th district, and I'm from the 8th district," Kissell explained in an interview in his Longworth Building office last week. "So it's about the people, and we do a good job, and the rest of it will take care of itself."
But the people of the newly drawn 8th district are a lot more Republican, which is one of the reasons there are six GOP candidates — most of them serious contenders — in the race.
Richard Hudson, a former Congressional staffer who was Texas GOP Rep. Mike Conaway's chief of staff until the beginning of October, is the early frontrunner. He told Roll Call he raised $260,000 in the fourth quarter of 2011 and had $239,000 in the bank at the end of the year.
But Hudson has been dogged by a familiar name to many North Carolinians. Former Winston-Salem City Councilman Vernon Robinson, a perennial candidate who was the Republican nominee in the 13th district against Rep. Brad Miller (D) in 2006 and a candidate for an open seat in the 5th district in 2004, painted Hudson as coming from the D.C. set.
"It's shaping up to be a classic Washington-insider-versus-grass-roots-conservative-leader race between Mr. Hudson and I, which is good," Robinson said. He portrayed himself as the true conservative in the race and said he raised $153,000 in the fourth quarter, not including loans.
Hudson, who worked for years in the 8th district for former Rep. Robin Hayes (R), brushed off the criticism.