Local Politics

McIntyre faces tough re-election challenge

Posted October 25, 2010 2:49 p.m. EDT
Updated October 25, 2010 6:21 p.m. EDT

— For 14 years, the Seventh Congressional District has been a comfortable seat for Democrats, but Congressman Mike McIntyre now faces his tightest race in years, thanks to the national Republican surge.

The race between McIntyre and Republican challenger, former Marine Ilario Pantano, hinges largely on perspective – local versus national.

"My focus has always been on not whether it's a Democratic or Republican issue, but is it the right issue for our area," McIntyre said.

The Seventh District covers the southeastern part of North Carolina, from Fayetteville to Wilmington.

"There is a concerted effort, it seems to me, in Washington led by this liberal majority that has to be challenged," Pantano said.

Along with his free-market, conservative message, Pantano brings a controversial military career to the campaign.

In 2004, he shot and killed two unarmed men in Iraq. The military charged him with murder, but the charges were eventually dropped for lack of evidence.

"I was attacked. I killed men. I defended myself. I killed terrorists," Pantano said recently.

He wrote a book about his experience and won the backing of conservative commentators and the Tea Party as he emerged as the Seventh District Republican contender.

"Washington has become the most dangerous place in the world – not Kabul or Fallujah, and I've been to both places – Washington, D.C., where bad economic policy is threatening our economy," he said. "We've got to challenge that."

McIntyre fends off criticism that he walks in lockstep with Democrats. Backed by groups like the National Rifle Association and Right to Life, he opposed the national health care reform effort and said last week that he wouldn't vote for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi if she seeks another term in the post.

"The speaker has only voted 89 times. I have voted over 1,500 times," he said.

After seven terms serving southeast North Carolina in Congress, McIntyre paints Pantano as an outsider.

"We know the communities and the back roads. We know the chambers of commerce and the factories and the farmers and the businesses that we've worked with," he said. "My opponent, being fairly new to the area, has not had my background in that at all."

Pantano responds by criticizing McIntyre's time in Congress. "At some point, you stop being part of the solution and start becoming part of the problem," he said.

Watch a special edition of On the Record with David Crabtree at 7 p.m. Wednesday to hear from U.S. Senate candidates Richard Burr, Elaine Marshall and Michael Beitler.