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Blue America: Time To Send A NC Civics Teacher To Congress

kissellnc.jpg[FDL is pleased to welcome back Larry Kissell to Blue America. As always, be polite and stay on topic — any off topic discussions should be held in the prior thread. Thanks, and help us give Larry a great welcome! — CHS]

The Republican Party is heading towards a fate they have worked very, very hard to achieve for themselves — that of a ghettoized regional party with dominance in the rump of the Old Confederacy. I hope you’ve had a chance to read Thomas Schaller’s brilliant analysis, Whistling Past Dixie — How the Democrats Can Win Without the South because the exception we’re seeing in NC-08 is even more startling in that light.

Larry Kissell has joined us here before and 667 of us responded with contributions to his 2006 campaign with nearly $11,000. He came closer to beating an incumbent Republican than any other Democrat in the country who didn’t win. After a recount, only 329 votes separated Larry from rubber stamp Republican Robin Hayes.

“That’s darn close,” Larry told me on the phone a few days ago… “to have come from nowhere. I give the people of this district all the credit. I just stood up; I gave them something and they chose to listen.”

Last Saturday they were still listening — only more so — when Larry and a mutual friend, Ambassador Joe Wilson, spoke at an Elect Kissell rally in Charlotte. John over at Crooks & Liars has a note Joe sent Blue America after the rally:

“I had the privilege and honor to address North Carolina democrats supporting Larry Kissell for Congress in Charlotte, NC, last Saturday night. It was an easy sell. Larry, a teacher and former textile worker, is passionate for change and has a detailed command of the issues… It should be a piece of cake, but we all know that every election is hard fought and that the Republicans will do everything they can to hold on to power. Even as I was flying into Charlotte, the NRCC was again peddling the lies about me, and I’m not even running. Does anybody still believe that the President was not misleading the country about the justification for the invasion of Iraq? The Republican propaganda machine is still pushing the big lie even though it is so last year. They take the American people to be fools, and will continue to do so until we defeat them decisively. Larry is our man to do that in this race in North Carolina.

This morning is a much-welcomed return visit from an old friend and you might want to take a look at our last session with Larry. He joked with me on the phone that “to say that I was unknown is an injustice to the word ‘unknown.'” You can’t say that about him any longer and insider prognosticators rate Larry’s race the #1 best shot for a Democrat to beat an incumbent anywhere in the country.

In 2006 Rahm Emanuel didn’t believe in anti-war, grassroots candidates and Larry’s race was, tragically, ignored by the DCCC. “We never did get any financial help from the D Triple C. We had some very good friends up there who were saying, ‘Give this campaign $100,000 and let them answer that one last set of ads and you’ll be guaranteed a victory. But they had their numbers and they were looking at certain things– which they tell us now, were wrong… They did send out an e-mail for us after we won their National Volunteer Day poll.”

“Eventually, when we were down to $31 in the bank they put us on their Red to Blue website… At one time, at the end of the 3rd quarter before the election and we were down to $88 dollars in the bank and my opponent put out a press release saying we weren’t serious. How could we be taken seriously with no money, they asserted. We responded that our bank account looks a lot more like the bank accounts of the people of this district than theirs. And the money started rolling in. People started sending $88 checks and $8.88 checks. Someone sent an $888 check. It was amazing how people responded… Over 10,000 individual people donated and many of those were contributing to a political campaign for the first time.”

In the end Larry spent $779,341. The Hayes campaign, claiming he wasn’t a “serious” candidate, spent $2,475,169 or $40.62 per vote, as opposed to Larry’s $12.86 per vote. Imagine if Chris Van Hollen, who is heavily behind Larry’s campaign this year, had been DCCC chair in 2006 instead of Emanuel! But Emanuel heard Larry Kissell yelling “Bring the troops home” in February of 2006 and he went south… (and west, to back quasi-Democrat Heath Shuler who won and has been voting more like a Republican than like a progressive).

Thinking back on those early days, Larry holds no grudges against any Democrats. That’s not the kind of guy he is. Instead he’s recalling how he and others were asking for the war to end then.

“I thought we should start phasing the troops out then and now we’re in the fall of 2007 and still fighting the same battle. My opponent went on CNN and claimed he had ‘proof’ that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11… He never questioned the administration’s tactics; he never questioned the strategy; he was just 100% behind the war. You know we support the troops and we support the veterans and he will wave the flag but then lets our fighting men and women come home to horrible conditions in situations like Walter Reed. To me, if you’re going to support the troops, you ask the tough questions. You don’t just support your political party. You support the troops. He’s just echoed whatever little theme they’ve come up with, like ‘Defeatocrats.’ He’s just gone along; he’s never scrutinized a thing; it’s all just been ‘rah! rah! rah!’ We need someone in the game, not someone who’s just on the sidelines cheering and not looking at what’s going on.”

“‘Support the troops’ means a lot more than just supporting blindly what a president says to do. I fully intend to support the troops in all regards; they’re putting their lives on the line for us. And the best thing for our nation and the best thing for the troops is for them not to be involved with that war, which is clearly a civil war. As I said in February 2006, it’s time to start phasing our troops out. We have a threat. Let’s fight that threat in intelligent ways. We have to reassess our relationships around the world. Like a recent National Intelligence Estimate said, we’re creating enemies around the world and we’re creating more terrorists. There’s a way to stop that and a way to start working more intelligently towards our goals.

“I feel that if I had been in Washington, and if more people like myself had been elected… the House leadership would have been offered a stronger dialogue and that they wouldn’t have offered the wrong bills on Iraq. The key is cutting out the sanction for the war in a straight up or down vote and de-authorize the war… whatever we need to do to start bringing the troops home [in a safe and orderly fashion]. There should be a straight up or down vote on continuing or ending this war and then let everyone in Congress go home and face their constituents at election time. I would vote to bring the troops home. I’ve been saying that for 2 years now and that hasn’t changed whatsoever. The Democratic leadership put the wrong bill on the floor; they need to fashion a bill– straight up/straight down– that is a congressional referendum on the war. We need to have the moral courage to get them out of there, not leave them there in harm’s way.”

That’s someone speaking who is running for Congress from a North Carolina district which includes Fort Bragg and includes thousands of military families. And he’s very proud that so many military families are supporting his campaign. They’re his people. He takes the plight of his friends and neighbors very seriously. That too, if you remember from last time he visited with us, is the kind of guy Larry Kissell is.

“After the campaign when I went back to teaching, some of my fellow social studies teachers asked me what was my one lasting impression of what I’d been through and I said that North Carolina has some really good congressmen trying to do the right things for the right reasons, supporting Democratic values as I have learned them through my life.”

Larry and I talked about Brad Miller, Mel Watt, David Price and G.K. Butterfield. “That’s the type of congressman I want to be… with Democrats who support the working person.” No one mentioned the reactionary North Carolina members from both sides of the aisle who are plumb loco, not just Hayes, but other out and out extremist kooks like Republicans Virginia Foxx and Patrick McHenry as well as 3 of the worst Democrats in the country, Bob Etheridge, Mike McIntyre and Rahm’s boy Shuler. One thing I can tell you about Larry; he’ll be his own man– one grounded in strongly-held progressive and democratic values who will make up his own mind for his constituents.

2008 is shaping up to be a good Democratic year in North Carolina. Local races will help bring out lots of Democratic voters in the highest performing district for Democrats in the South without a congressman representing them. Let’s help change that. This is our last Blue America session of this quarter. It’s no coincidence that I asked Larry to join us here today to field questions from the community. If you like what you hear, Larry’s Blue America box is open.

Here’s a little 30 second cable TV spot that we can help Larry put up all over NC-08. It costs $44 per run. If $44 is steep, remember $5.00 and $10.00 donations are every bit as valued. The strength of Blue America is our action as a community that puts all those $44 donations and $5 donations together and helps grassroots candidates stand up to the well-financed insiders.

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Howie Klein

Howie Klein

Howie Klein spent much of his life wandering around the world living in places like Afghanistan, Nepal, Holland and Morocco. He moved backed to America when Richard Nixon resigned and promptly helped start the first punk rock radio show in the country and then a DIY punk rock record label. His adventures in the music business ended a couple of years ago when he retired as president of Reprise Records. He began blogging almost immediately, starting Down With Tyranny. Jane taught him html while he held one of her dogs at a party. He is a raw foodist, lives in L.A., swims and hikes every day, thinks Howard Dean could be a president as great as FDR and will never be completely happy until Bush and Cheney are behind bars.

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