“Endangered” NC Democrats running to right of challengers in US House races?

Quick.  In North Carolina’s Seventh Congressional District, can you guess which candidate won the endorsements of conservative establishment groups like the National Rifle Association,  Concerned Women for America, The National Federation of Independent Businesses, and  Americans for Legal Immigration?  If you guessed Republican nominee David Rouzer, you’d be wrong.

What about the Eighth District contest, where the National Rifle Association has made an endorsement? If you guessed they went with Republican Richard Hudson, you’d be wrong.

What’s going on here?  Why are these conservative-oriented groups lining up behind Democrats in supposedly competitive races –supposed easy GOP pickups?

Some might say they are playing it safe by sticking with incumbents.  But why do that when the conventional wisdom is that both Mike  McIntyre and Larry Kissell are in trouble?   Some might say they are protecting their nonprofit status by stepping across the aisle at endorsement time.  Why do that, and potentially risk betting wrong and starting off the next Congress being on the outs with the newly elected GOP congressman?

I think there is another angle to look at:  These groups have seen the writing on the wall, and are lining up with who they see as the eventual winner in November.

Now, before firing off the angry emails,  take a minute to follow me.  The GOP establishment has been making a big deal out of the DCCC’s recent decisions to cancel ad buys for Larry Kissell.  The suggestion has been made that the Democrats are conceding that race.

Really?  Well, how do explain this story where the NRCC chairman announces his group’s decision to pull ad buys from the 11th district.  Chairman Sessions explains that his group sees Republican Mark Meadows so far ahead — so in control of the race — that they are putting the money to other races that need more help.

So, if you buy the logic being put forth by the GOP on Kissell’s race, then the GOP must be conceding the 11th district too.  If you buy the GOP logic in the 11th, then Kissell is in much better control of the situation in the Eighth than the media is reporting.  (I tend to buy into the latter argument.)

I found an August 2012 memo Kissell’s pollsters issued about the race that had some interesting details:

Larry Kissell is maintaining a lead over Richard Hudson, despite significant Hudson spending and earned media exposure during the recent GOP primary and runoff. Kissell’s lead has endured even though he has not yet begun his paid communications plan in earnest. Kissell is not only currently ahead of Hudson, but he also shows a greater ability to expand his support than does Hudson. Given sufficient resources tointroduce himself to the 8th District’s new voters and defend against Republican attacks, Kissell certainly has a real path toward a successful re-election.

Larry Kissell currently leads his Republican opponent, and shows room for further expansion as voters in the new portion of the district learn about him.
Kissell currently leads Richard Hudson by four points (43% Kissell / 39% Hudson). Kissell has maintained a lead over Hudson the past several months even as roughly $1.3 million has been spent on Hudson’s behalf , while the Kissell campaign has spent virtually nothing on paid media in that period.
Kissell is currently taking roughly 70% of the vote among minorities– a solid showing given the new territory Kissell now represents and one that is identical to his 70% support among minority voters in August 2010 polling. Assuming minorities break for Kissell at a level of 90% (which is consistent with his previous races) an additional 5 points could be added to Kissell’s total-pushing his vote share to 48%.
Additionally, in the portions of the district that Kissell has previously represented, he is taking 50% of the vote (50% Kissell / 35% Hudson).
Beyond his initial lead, Kissell shows more potential to grow his vote than does Hudson.
Given that only a narrow majority of the current district (55%) was represented by Kissell under the previous lines, he has more expansion potential than most incumbents would in a traditional election year. In fact, when voters hear equal amounts of positive information about Kissell and Hudson (profiles below), the Kissell lead expands to 7 points (46% Kissell / 39% Hudson). Even in this dynamic, another 5 points are available to Kissell purely through solidification of minority voters -which would push him over 50% district wide. […]
Definitely some food for thought there.  A group called “Conservatives for Kissell” has popped up in the district.  Kissell is avoiding even mentioning Hudson’s name.
Also, I know a little more about the lay of the land in the Eighth.  On the eastern end, it includes nearly all of Robeson County, all of Scotland, Richmond, most of Hoke, most of Montgomery, and most all of Anson.  That is some hardcore yellow-dog Democrat country right there (with significant minority voter populations as well).  You typically see straight-ticket voting in those districts.  Obama has yet to dole out his “street money” — which should flow in abundance to those counties.  With Obama on the ticket, and the street money landing in the right hands in those counties, I don’t see how Hudson puts it together. 
While things may appear a little more comfortable in the  Eighth, it looks like anything BUT that in the Seventh.  Mike McIntyre has racked up some surprising endorsements from some surprising sources on the right.  Mike is a devout Christian with a long history of church involvement.  He’s campaigned hard among religious conservatives, and they’ve stuck with him.
(Bob Etheridge made a lot of headway by emphasizing his church roots.  He had a lot of success in some conservative parts of the state.  If he had not had his “Who are You?” moment, he’d likely STILL be sitting in the House.)
Rouzer is making a good point about comparing Mike’s DC record with what he says back home. Even some folks in the Democrat camp are having a little trouble with McIntyre’s ideological tap-dancing.  I got some interesting feedback not long ago from a long-time family friend who has been a major player in Seventh District Democrat circles for decades:
“Mike gets a 50 percent rating from the conservatives and a 50 percent rating from the liberals. Now how do you do that — end up right in the middle like that?  What that tells me is the fella doesn’t really believe in anything.  He doesn’t have many, if any, core principles he’ll fight for.”
Yep.  That assessment is from a guy with an autographed photo of himself and Bill Clinton hanging in his home office.
The Rouzer camp and the McIntyre camp have put out competing polls — Rouzer’s showing him slightly ahead, while McIntyre’s show him WAY AHEAD.   If you watch the TV ads airing in the district, Mike is not acting like a guy who is WAY AHEAD.  Every commercial break during prime time features back-to-back campaign ads from each campaign.  McIntyre even appears on screen — a first I can recall  — calling Rouzer out by name and criticizing him.
McIntyre’s home has been redistricted out of the Seventh.  (He can’t even vote for himself.)  The district also includes a lot of GOP-leaning new voters who are not so familiar with McIntyre.  But there are a lot of folks still left over from the old Seventh.  Rouzer has an advantage because the state Senate district he currently represents is now part of the Seventh.  But the Johnston Republican is not so well known in the populous coastal region that has been represented for years by McIntyre.
I have quite a bit of experience on the ground in this district.  I believe McIntyre is ahead, but it’s terrifyingly (for Mike) close.  His on-air behavior indicates that.  Right now, there are plenty of people there who will vote for Romney, McCrory AND McIntyre.  
If Rouzer stands a chance, he needs to really sell the point that — behind all of McIntyre’s bible-thumping — there is little more than a run-of-the-mill, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer supporting Democrat.