From left, Congressman Mike McIntyre with his assistant Andrew Simpson and his campaign manager Lachlan McIntosh.
Mike McIntyre, the eight-term congressman from Robeson County, suddenly finds himself in one of the most heated U.S. House races in the country.
The Democrat, first elected to the House in 1996, is running against Republican state Sen. David Rouzer in a newly-drawn district that includes Johnston County.
Many observers expect McIntyre, a moderate “blue dog” Democrat, to pull off the victory. If he does, it will be a hard-fought win.
McIntyre and Rouzer have traded barbs throughout the campaign, through television ads and heated exchanges in public debates. McIntyre describes Rouzer as a former lobbyist who is a political climber. Rouzer characterizes McIntyre as a liberal posing as a conservative.
McIntyre came to Smithfield last week riding a wave of momentum. He had just received endorsements from four Johnston County mayors, including Daniel Evans in Smithfield and Jody McLeod in Clayton.
“These mayors know it’s a question of effectiveness,” the congressman said in an interview.
Rouzer has painted McIntyre as ineffective, noting that he has never been the chief sponsor of a bill that has passed the House. McIntyre counters that he has been effective; in the interview, he pointed to the veterans’ medical clinics that he has secured for Eastern North Carolina.
McIntyre is a high-ranking member of the House Armed Forces and Agricultural committees, and he said power would be lost if voters chose the rookie Rouzer in November.
“We’ll either be number two or dead last on the Agricultural Committee,” he said. “We’ll either be number three or dead last on the Armed Services Committee. We will go to the back of the line on both of those committees.”
Turning to the issue on the minds of most voters, McIntyre says he has a multi-step plan to help speed the recovery. Atop his list is ending onerous regulations on small businesses and the banks that lend to them.
“I’ve dealt with several community banks in our district, (and) the regulators have come with such a heavy hand … that those local bank officials don’t feel like they have the liberty to work with the people they know here on Market Street,” he said.
McIntyre said he’d also invest in worker re-training, making use of community colleges to help jobless North Carolinians return to the workforce. He would also aid the biofuels industry, which he sees as becoming a key industry in the future, and give tax incentives to businesses to keep jobs in the United States. He also wants to simplify the tax code, which he believes hurts small business.
“It’s far too onerous,” he said.
McIntyre frames himself as independent, and he does differ from the Democratic establishment on a variety of issues. The National Rifle Association, for example, gives him an “A” rating, and he opposed the Affordable Health Care Act, although he has spoken in favor of certain provisions, like barring insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.
According to the website OpenCongress.org, McIntyre votes with his party about 68 percent of the time. But he has broken with his party on many issues, including embryonic stem cell research and repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
McIntyre also said he supports a constitutional amendment that would require Congress to pass a balanced budget.
“We need to rein in spending,” he said. “That means that every agency has to be accountable; every agency should be subject to potentially being sunset if it can’t prove its own merit.”
McIntyre sees himself as a moderate capable of reaching out to both parties. But that is not, he said, what drives his decision-making.
“My first and last question always, when I look at legislation, is ‘How does this affect the people of Eastern North Carolina?” he said.