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Rep. Mike McIntyre is turning out to be harder to dislodge than Republicans predicted when they redistricted the North Carolina Democrat into a GOP-leaning seat.
There is generally good news for Tarheel State Republicans as Nov. 6 approaches: They appear on track to pick up three Democratic-held seats in the House of Representatives this November - those of retiring Reps. Brad Miller and Heath Shuler and the seat of vulnerable Rep. Larry Kissell. The lone piece of bad news: Ousting the eight-term McIntyre is going to be more difficult than originally expected - if he is beaten at all.
"There's a lot of concern on the Republican side," a longtime, influential North Carolina GOP consultant said. "McIntyre is going to be hard to shake loose."
McIntyre, a conservative Democrat first elected in 1996, managed to survive a GOP wave election in 2010, winning with 54 percent of the vote. But during the decennial redistricting process, the Republican-controlled legislature adjusted his 7th district to be more Republican and without much of McIntyre's home base in Robeson County. The new district would have voted 42 percent for Barack Obama in 2008 and 62 percent for Sen. Richard Burr (R) in 2010.
Despite the good baseline numbers, Republicans in the state are privately expressing increasing worry about the race.
The crux of the concern is not the candidate - state Sen. David Rouzer is a credible, if not particularly dynamic challenger - or his campaign, which appears to be tightly run. It's that McIntyre has a surprisingly resilient support among independents and has painted almost none of the easy Democratic bull's-eyes on his back for Republicans to target.
The fact that McIntyre is an anti-abortion rights, NRA-endorsed Member who voted against Obama's Affordable Care Act makes him harder for the GOP to pigeonhole as a by-the-book Democrat, especially among the new voters in the district. Indeed, one of McIntyre's recent campaign ads calls the Congressman a "strong conservative and Christian who walks his faith every day," muddying the waters a bit because it never mentions his party affiliation.
The race is still most definitely a tossup, but it's one in which the GOP has a less-than-easy path to hew in knocking McIntyre down while building up Rouzer as an acceptable alternative. For North Carolina Democrats, the McIntyre race is a bright spot amidst a dismal Tar Heel landscape.
"Frankly, I think he's looking better and better," one top Democratic strategist in the state said. "It's the one race in North Carolina that is looking better and better."