Democrats have represented the 7th District of North Carolina since the 19th Century. Since 1996, Democrat Mike McIntyre has held onto this Cook R+5 District that stretches from the edges of Fort Bragg to the Atlantic Ocean. The district is relatively conservative, but also has a black population of around 23 percent and has around 50,000 non-federally recognized Lumbee Indians that tend to vote democratic. Despite the Democratic hold, John McCain carried the District by 5 points in the Presidential election in a year when North Carolina went to Obama. Republicans are banking on voter's being turned off by the Obama-Pelosi agenda this fall.
McIntyre is a Blue Dog, who voted against the healthcare bill and cap-and-trade, but voted for the stimulus bill in 2009.
On May 4th, Will Breazeale and Ilario Pantano will go up against one another in the Republican Primary. AirTran Airways pilot Breazeale received nearly 100,000 votes in the 2008 general election against McIntyre, but was beaten solidly. Breazeale argues that his name recognition from running last time provides him with a head start in this year's run. "In the South, it's all about name recognition. They don't care if you're the candidate with the best ideas on Earth. If they don't know you, they're not voting for you. People know me all over this district because I've been non-stop campaigning for the past two and a half years," Breazeale argued.
Pantano contends that he is the better candidate in part because of his fundraising abilities. "We raised more money in sixty days than the Breazeale campaign has raised in the last three years," Pantano told TAS. Pantano was in DC this week to attend a fundraiser with NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions at the home of Mary Matalin. He is also enrolled in the NRCC's "Young Guns" program for aspiring Congressmen. The Federal Elections Commission does not yet have first quarter fundraising statistics.
Pantano, originally a native of Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, considers himself a "born again Southerner." When speaking of the town he grew up in, Pantano said "now it's fancy and filled with soy lattes, but I grew up in what could be called the mean streets." Pantano had previously worked at Goldman Sachs as an energy trader prior to re-enlisting in the Marines after 9/11. Pantano is now researching a book while attending graduate school, and serving as an inactive Sheriff's Deputy. While Pantano is likely to have more resources leading up to the May 4th primary, he will need to introduce himself to voters in the district and convince them that he is fit to represent them. Pantano moved to the district in 2006, and still speaks with a bit of a New York accent. "I am a born-again Southern Baptist. I'm raising my children in the South so that they're God-fearing. I will always choose to live there," Pantano told TAS.
Both candidates are Iraq War veterans. Breazeale, a Bronze Star Medal recipient, told TAS he had recently been selected Lt. Colonel. Pantano served as 2nd. Lt., but not without controversy -- Pantano was tried and acquitted on murder charges for shooting two unarmed Iraqis on April 15, 2004, where he briefly left a sign on a car above their corpses that read: "No better friend, no worse enemy." When asked if there was anything he regretted doing that day, Pantano said, "I don't regret bringing home 40 marines ... The fact is that you've got to do what is required." When questioned specifically about the sign, he conceded "that wasn't my best judgment." In 2006, Pantano wrote an autobiography and gained some fame after his acquittal, but Breazeale points out, "I have an unblemished record, and I've achieved something. I've never been brought up on charges for anything."
On the issues, both candidates support repealing the healthcare bill, lower taxes, and supporting the Afghanistan surge. Both candidates attacked McIntyre for voting for Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the House.
Breazeale is also heavily emphasizing the Fair Tax and the issue of term limits. While supporting the Fair Tax, Breazeale is also pledging to retire from Congress after six years of service. In addition to making the promise, he is pledging a $250,000 donation to Cape Fear Volunteer Center-Kids Voting if he runs for a 4th term. The idea, Breazeale explained, was that non-professional politicians would have more courage to act in longer-term interests because they would not be accustomed to political pandering or lobbyists. Breazeale's site reads, "my first order of duty will be to take a bill to the floor mandating that a member of each governing body (House and Senate) serve no more than three full terms." When asked by TAS why he would allow a Senator 18 years but a House member only 6 years, Breazeale told TAS his site was incorrect and that his wish was that members of both chambers serve only six years.
Pantano agrees in principle with Breazeale on the Fair Tax and the term limits issue -- he has pledged to serve no more than 12 years. "When I first heard of his [Breazeale's] pledge, I thought it was a gimmick." But after hearing more about the pledge, Pantano said he realized, "it's the one promise that a politician can keep," -- meaning that he would not need anyone else's support in the chamber to keep his word. Pantano did, however, criticize Breazeale for making the Fair Tax and term limits his top priorities, "In the scheme of issues this country faces, those are boutique issues that he has laid his entire campaign strategy around... I've tried to be a little bit more expansive," Pantano contended.
Both candidates are fighting hard for the nomination, and at times it has gotten testy between the two. When TAS asked Breazeale if he would support Pantano against McIntyre, Breazeale said he was not sure. When pressed if he would consider supporting Democrat McIntyre instead, he responded, "I would consider it. There are some very disturbing things about Pantano's record." Giving a different response, Pantano said he would support Breazeale if he were defeated in the primary. "My vanity is not as important as Nancy Pelosi being out of a job," said Pantano -- alluding to the possibility that a Republican winning this district could be a deciding vote for what party controls the Congress.
Despite the contested primary, Breazeale may have summed up the consequences of the fight. "It's made both candidates a lot better. We're doing 9 debates in 9 out of 10 counties. It makes the winner of our primary even more powerful." He said the primaries have helped in getting the message out to voters, but joked about the bickering, "they'll probably have to fly in Dr. Phil to get our campaigns together." With a 14-year-incumbent in office who voted against Obamacare, the Republicans probably will need such counseling to be effective if they are going to win this Democrat-leaning conservative district.