Races of the Week September 1

North Carolina’s 10th District: McHenry vs. Johnson

In a year when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has an eyebrow raising seven-to-one fund-raising advantage over its Republican counterpart, the Democrats have the luxury of targeting a number of Republican House members who have repeatedly been proverbial thorns in the side of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

That, in a nutshell, is why Rep. Patrick McHenry finds himself the target of DCCC-funded attack commercials. McHenry, the youngest (32) member of Congress, has been an outspoken critic of Pelosi. C-SPAN aficionados frequently see McHenry on the House floor railing against what he perceives as the liberal agenda of congressional Democrats. North Carolina’s 10th District, which has been in Republican hands without interruption since 1960, is the site of an unusually spirited contest between two-termer McHenry and Democrat Daniel Johnson, a veteran and a former prosecutor. Could an upset be in the making like Johnson’s fellow Democrat Heath Schuler in the Tar Heel State’s 11th District two years ago? Unlikely. The 10th District is one of the most Republican districts in the country. But at a time when they have money to burn, the Democrats don’t mind spending a few bucks getting back at McHenry.

McHenry, a former state legislator and U.S. Labor Department official, makes no bones about being a conservative and, in fact, regrets that he wasn’t in Congress before 2004 so he could have voted against both the “No Child Left Behind” federal education program and the Medicare-prescription drug bill of 2003.

Johnson is no Heath Schuler, a centrist who has been a bipartisan leader on the battle to push enforcement first in the debate over illegal immigration. As McHenry says about his opponent, “how could people call him a ‘centrist’ when he’s for card-check, which would end the secret ballot in union elections, is pro-abortion, against school vouchers and gets $7,000 from [Democratic House Ways and Means Committee Chairman] Charles Rangel [N.Y.]?” The conservative lawmaker also mentions without hesitation that he has signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge against any new taxes — “always have, always will.”

McHenry, who holds frequent town meetings, says that “energy is dominating the talk at those meetings. And I make it clear that Republicans have the answer to lower gas prices — more oil exploration and alternative sources of energy.”

Normally, the GOP candidate in the 10th can coast to re-election. But this year, Republicans dare not risk the future of a promising young conservative like Patrick McHenry.