Friday, April 13, 2012


Published: Friday, April 13, 2012 at 5:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 13, 2012 at 5:28 p.m.
It’s always amusing watching candidates in the primaries trying to convince the faithful that they are more of a Democrat or Republican than their challengers. In the bare-knuckled 7th Congressional District race between Republicans Ilario Pantano and David Rouzer, sometimes it’s easy to forget that they are vying for a common goal – unseating incumbent Democrat Mike McIntyre.
Republicans and independents who choose to vote in the May 8 primary will see a stark contrast between polished, slick Pantano of Wilmington, a former Marine who covets the national stage and has latched on to illegal immigration as his wedge issue, and Rouzer, a state senator from Johnston County who has less flash but more experience in actual governance. The third candidate, Randy Crow of Bladen County, is merely a distraction.
Who is more “conservative”? Who better aligns with Republican Party ideals? And who has the better chance of beating McIntyre in November? Those three points are what voters will consider as they head to the polls.
The StarNews Editorial Board will make no recommendation in this or any other primary race (although we will do so in the general election and on the ballot issue on same-sex unions), but we will comment on the horse races and the issues.

The truth is, neither can be labeled liberal, although Pantano likes to paint Rouzer as a political insider who wants to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants and doesn’t deserve to call himself a conservative.

According to the Civitas Institute, a Raleigh think tank funded almost exclusively by discount-retail mogul Art Pope, Rouzer voted “conservatively” on 95 percent of the bills on which the institute ranked legislators in 2011, giving him a grade of A. He received poor marks in the two previous sessions. However, in 2010 only one state senator received a grade higher than a C, and Rouzer (D-) was listed as the eighth most conservative senator on the Civitas scale.

Since conservative kingmakers like candidates who sign pledges to vote only one way, it is worth noting that Rouzer signed a pledge to secure the borders.

As a lobbyist representing North Carolina tobacco interests and other clients, he did push for a bill that would offer temporary residence and a possible path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who met certain work requirements. 

At one of the debates with Pantano, Rouzer noted that a similar bill was supported in the 1990s by prominent Republicans, including former Sens. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Trent Lott of Mississippi.

Pantano’s track record is based on his previous campaign for office and his Marine Corps career, which ended after he was accused of murdering two unarmed Iraqis (using 40 to 60 rounds of ammunition), charges that were dismissed in an Article 32 hearing. He’s been running for the 7th District seat nearly full time since he lost to McIntyre in the 2010 general election.

But the national Republican Party noticed him, and he was a hit at GOP fundraisers outside North Carolina. 

His delivery and the initial impression he makes on people cannot be underestimated. The question is whether he is more interested in representing his constituents inside the state or in making a national name for himself.

McIntyre has spent his congressional career focusing on the 7th District. He has a penchant for passing out oversize checks to veterans groups and other causes that are difficult to argue with. He has carved out a reputation as a Blue Dog Democrat, one who leans conservative especially on social issues and spending that doesn’t specifically involved his district.

But his district has changed. Republican state lawmakers strategically placed him in a different congressional district as they redrew election maps. By law he can still run in the 7th District, and that scenario is not unprecedented.

Even so, McIntyre will face a tough challenge because many voters in his new district don’t know him. This election will be a difficult test of his ability to woo voters.

It will test his electability like never before to win over both conservatives and traditional Democrats, whose votes he will need to beat whichever Republican becomes his eventual challenger.
But first, we have to get through the primary.