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Is former NFL-quarterback-turned-Congressman Heath Shuler kneeling the ball and thinking about leaving the field?
WVLZ, a Knoxville, Tenn., radio station is reporting that the North Carolina Democrat is talking with the University of Tennessee at Knoxville about becoming the school’s athletic director. Though the report notes he has not been offered a job, it says, “Shuler is in play.”
Andrew Whalen, Shuler’s senior adviser for policy and communications, sent this statement to Roll Call that did not deny the Congressman had been in talks with his alma mater.
“Congressman Shuler is focused on the very serious challenges facing our nation, including job creation and balancing our budget," Whalen said. "He is currently and actively preparing for his next re-election campaign in 2012 and looks forward to continuing to fight for the working families of Western North Carolina in the years ahead.”
Follow-up calls and an email to Whalen asking whether the specifics of the report were correct were not returned Wednesday morning.
The North Carolina Legislature, controlled by Republicans, will likely finish its decennial Congressional redistricting process at the end of next month. Shuler’s Asheville-anchored district, already Republican-leaning, is likely to become substantially more difficult for the three-term Congressman to retain. Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue does not have veto power over the new lines.
Republicans in the state say they will release a draft map of North Carolina’s new Congressional districts Friday.
National Republicans were nearly gleeful at the report of Shuler eyeing another job. Paul Lindsay, communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, sent out a blast email Wednesday with the subject: “Heath Shuler has updated his LinkedIn Profile.”
“Heath Shuler can see the writing on the wall, Blue Dogs don’t have a home in [Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi’s party and voters are fed up with his fake moderate breed,” NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in a statement.
Shuler was re-elected with 54 percent of the vote in 2010 against Republican Jeff Miller. Republicans in the state say Miller may run again. Other potential GOP contenders for the seat include Dan Eichenbaum, a ophthalmologist who lost to Miller in the 2010 GOP primary by 6 points, and Hendersonville District Attorney Jeff Hunt. Republican operatives see Hunt as the strongest potential candidate at this point.
Shuler faces a primary challenge from Cecil Bothwell, who is not viewed as a political threat to the Congressman.