Speaker Boehner

Speaker Boehner

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Heath Shuler and the Goblet of Fire

Clay County NC is a small rural county in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the North Carolina-Georgia border. It has a population of approximately 9,000. To say that Clay County is beautiful is to make a severe understatement. It's newspaper of record, the Clay County Progress, hardly a beacon of national news, reported the following yesterday:

"U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) said Monday he will challenge Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the House minority leadership position.

'At this point, no one has come forward, no one in leadership for a long time,' Shuler said. 'It will be very tough. It is probably a race we can’t win. But we need a moderate voice in the Democratic Party.”

After losing the majority in the House in the Nov. 2 election, the Republican Party takes over as the majority party. Pelosi said Friday she will try to retain her post as House Democratic leader. Leadership elections are set for Thursday, Nov. 18.

Congressman Shuler is unlikely to win the Minority Leader post. Indeed, he is very likely throwing his name into the Goblet of Fire to make good on a campaign promise. He's not going to win, you say, so why do I care? We care because the strange case of Congressman Heath Shuler fits nicely into our ongoing discussion about what the 2010 election means. Specifically, it follows very nicely behind today's earlier post, "Saturday Night Lights".

Heath Shuler is one of the remaining "Blue Dog" Democrats. He is a native of Western North Carolina. He was a football hero who played his college ball at the University of Tennesee, and who was drafted into the NFL by the Washington Redskins, where he signed a very lucrative contract. (ESPN rates Shuler as the third worst draft pick in the history of the NFL.) Heath Shuler is also a member of "The Family", a worldwide group of evangelical Christian political leaders, and former co-chairman of the National Day of Prayer.

In 2006, Rahm Emmanuel was scouring the nation for recruits to run for the House. Shuler was one of Emmanuel's pet projects. The 2006 Shuler campaign connected with voters through their faith and through Shuler's athletic past. That is, they used the Friday Night Lights approach. Shuler vanquished a sitting GOP congressman in 2006, and was handily re-elected in 2008.

In 2010, Shuler faced a formidable opponent in Hendersonville businessman Jeff Miller. Shuler, together with left-leaning independent groups, buried the district in advertising by radio, tv, mail, robocalls etc. His money advantage enabled him to fend off Jeff Miller, 54-46.

During the campaign, Shuler ran away from Nancy Pelosi. He did so, in part, by announcing during the campaign, and repeating many times his intention to run for Speaker of the House.

In the strange case of Heath Shuler, the Democrats took a page out of the GOP book and ran a proud evangelical Christian, who has been able to obscure his left-leaning tendencies by connecting with voters through faith. Shuler won't win the race for Minority Leader, and importantly, no one should be fooled. The fact that he will run and lose does not mean that there is a strong conservative or moderate wing of the Democratic Party.

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