Tags:This time two years ago, Democrat Heath Shuler was the upstart political neophyte hoping to unseat long-time incumbent Republican Charles Taylor for the 11th Congressional District seat. Swept into office on a wave of national support for Democrats, Shuler now is the one with a target squarely on his back.
Despite an occasional and marked conservative bent on issues such as immigration and gay/lesbian rights, Shuler is still painted as a stalwart liberal by his right-leaning detractors. Thanks to the power of incumbency and the ability to raise huge sums of cash in Washington and beyond, however, the smart money predicts a Shuler re-election, according to such noteworthy political analysts as Charlie Cook.
But don't tell that to his three Republican would-be challengers, who are set to square off in the May 6 primary to determine who faces Shuler in November.
"He's playing an elaborate game [to get reelected]," declares candidate John Armor, who completely dismisses Shuler's conservative stance on various issues and notes Shuler has voted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi more than 80 percent of the time -- a fact that could hurt Shuler in a district that leans conservative. "Shuler's not the sharpest crayon in the box," he adds. "But he's going to come into the election with at least a million dollars in cash and with several dozen able people whose job is [to make him] seem better than he is. ... But the people will decide who's best."
The April 30 Xpress election guide will pose specific questions to each of the three Republican challengers, as well as candidates in other local elections, to gauge their positions on key issues. In the meantime, here's a brief rundown of the GOP contenders and who they are.
Armor, a Maryland-bred lawyer who now lives on an old family homestead on Kettle Rock Mountain in Highlands in Macon County, is no stranger to politics and government. His most recent foray came in 2006 when he ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination against Taylor.
"I said at the time, and a lot of people got upset with me and walked out when I said this at the 11th District convention, that Charles Taylor's time had run out and that it would be a good idea for the Republicans to put up a better candidate rather than lose the seat," Armor recalls.
Aside from that initial run and his current one, Armor notes his experience at every level of government -- local, state and federal. "I also have experience in all three branches of the federal government -- executive, judicial and legislative," he says. "My primary areas of experience are 33 years practice in the U.S. Supreme Court, and 35 years experience working with and for thousands of state legislators from across the country. I add, however, that I was an actual employee of governments for only four years: two with the city of Baltimore in the mid-'60s and two with the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution in the mid-'80s.
"Concerning state legislators, I worked with and for the American Legislative Exchange Council for 35 years," Armor adds. "That is a voluntary organization of some 2,500 conservative state legislators. I have worked with them, done research for them and testified for them as an expert witness on the Constitution before committees of 24 state legislatures."
Despite counting the late U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, the '60s-era liberal and antiwar icon, as a former client and friend, Armor points out with some measure of pride that he is at least partly responsible for the election of George W. Bush in 2000. Acting on behalf of the conservative American Civil Rights Union and its board of high-profile heavyweights including Robert Bork and former Attorney General Edwin Meese, Armor filed the brief in Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board that formed the basis for the Supreme Court ruling that handed the presidency to Bush over Al Gore. "I had the one brief that had the answer right," he says.
"I've been on the fringes of politics for almost my entire career," he notes, adding that he also has taught, lectured and written politically themed books and articles. "But I've never done what Teddy Roosevelt referred to as being the man in the arena, covered in dust and blood, the man who actually fights the fight."
And what will Armor fight for? "Jobs, jobs, jobs and education," he asserts. He says he would use what leverage he has in Congress to buttress the region's tourism industry, a major supplier of jobs, along with the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In terms of education, Armor notes that education in WNC, in total, is above average compared to the rest of the state, but that lots more could be done.
"There are some schools that are really terrible," he says. "And I'm a firm believer in school choice, because I believe parents know best what is right for their children. In that, I'm a sworn enemy of the education unions, and unions are a primary support of Heath Shuler, which brings it around full circle. He needs to be replaced."
For more information, visit Armor's campaign Web site (www.armorforcongress.com).
While Armor has fought his battles in the courts, Hendersonville Republican Spence Campbell fought his literally on the battlefield and beyond, retiring in 1992 as an Army colonel who spent his initial career in military intelligence.
Now retired from a second career as an insurance-agency owner and a past stint as head of the Henderson County Republican Party, the Chattanooga, Tenn.-born Army brat is taking the fight to Shuler, whom he describes as "a wolf in sheep's clothing ... who follows the liberal values of Nancy Pelosi while undermining the very livelihood of the families he claims to represent."
Despite basic agreement on most issues with his GOP rivals, Campbell says his background is what sets him apart from them as well as from Shuler.
"I spent almost 26 years in the Army as an intelligence officer. I started in the Vietnam era out of college. I saw what America was all about through the eyes of other nationalities," he says.
"I realized we truly are a one-of-a-kind country and we're a country like no other that's ever been in the history of the world. And I think we have obligations inherited from the founders to promote freedom and democracy around the globe. ... To the extent that politicians have decided that their real job is to work for their party and not work for their people, or work for special interests and their lobbyists, I believe we need to put a stop to that and reconnect the political leadership with the people they represent."
And while a career as a globe-trotting intelligence officer helped breed a deeper understanding of the world and forge leadership skills, Campbell also points to his experience as a small businessman and his board work in the local nonprofit realm as additional qualifications.
Those experiences "taught me what life in Western North Carolina is all about and how hard people have to work to make a living, and how hard it is as a businessman to balance the books every month, especially in a small business," says Campbell, who closed his insurance business three years ago.
While Campbell shares the basic small-government, conservative values of his rivals, his broad military experience begs the question: What about Iraq?
While he considers the handling of the post-invasion occupation to have been botched thanks to poor planning and other avoidable mistakes, he says he favors the U.S. presence there. Even though the intelligence used to justify the invasion was wrong, he still believes it was the right thing to do in terms of national security.
"The [war against terror] is being fought in Iraq almost by happenstance, but it could be fought almost anywhere," he says. "The Muslim extremists that are using terrorism to promote their agenda are a serious threat to the Western world, and if they're not dealt with and neutralized, we could end up suffering horrendous consequences beyond 9/11."
For more information, visit Campbell's campaign Web site (www.spencecampbell2008.com).
Carl Mumpower is no stranger to folks in the Asheville area. A practicing psychologist, Vietnam veteran and the lone conservative on City Council, Mumpower has forged a reputation of being iconoclastic and tenacious on issues dear to his heart, most notably illegal drugs, immigration and government waste.
Billing himself as an "independent" Republican -- one that's truest to his party's roots -- he hasn't been afraid to buck the GOP, even as a majority of party stalwarts in various counties have recently and consistently voted for Mumpower over his rivals in informal straw polls.
In fact, these days, Mumpower is almost as disgusted with his own party as he is with the Democratic Party. The party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt has lost its way in many respects, he believes.
Republicans "had control for eight years and substituted the tax-and-spend policies of the Democrats for a borrow-and-spend approach," he says. "I think that's a betrayal of Republican principles. I intend to be as confrontational, if not more so, with my party's failures as the Democrats" have been.
Like his rivals, Mumpower is unimpressed with Shuler, though he considers him a genuinely likable fellow. Unlike his opponents, he's not averse to tossing bon mots to Democrats when he believes they are acting right, such as the case of Shuler's much publicized anti-illegal-immigration legislation that would put more heat on employers not to hire illegals. Mumpower also is in the Democratic camp on at least one other hot-button issue: He squarely opposes Republican-backed legislation that would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms whose systems are used by the government to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens as part of the war on terror.
Mumpower's opposition to the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), in line with a majority of Democrats, has brought a firestorm of criticism from Armor and Campbell, who say such opposition will hamstring intelligence operations and ultimately lead to dead Americans.
Mumpower says he's already hearing from some rank-and-file Republicans upset over his stance who now say they likely won't vote for him.
So be it, he says.
"The more liberties we grant government agencies, the less liberty we find in the hands of people," Mumpower says. "I am not in favor of the immunity found in recent FISA legislation for telecoms or anyone else and continue to believe that the pervasive bureaucratic dysfunction of America's intelligence agencies offers few incentives for more hidden powers. Terror threats are real, but there are many productive things we can do to protect America from those threats before we surrender the rule of law and personal freedoms."
However, despite the FISA kerfuffle, Mumpower believes that he is the clear front-runner for the nomination -- not only among Republicans, but with independents and even some Democrats as well. He notes that he has remained on Council by attracting a fair share of Democratic and independent voters who admire his moxie and steadfastness to his principles. And he's not worried that his sometimes antiparty stands will hurt fundraising, since he has declared he will only accept donations from individuals and not from the party or special-interest groups.
"I'm not always right, but I do genuinely care about people," he says. "I'm more interested in people than I am in special interests, and I think people can tell that."
For more information, visit Mumpower's campaign Web site (www.mumpower08.com).