“This is fun, isn’t it?”
“This is incredible, man!”
“What a night for the Democrats. Whoo!”
Such were the ecstatic utterances of Democratic voters on what was, indeed, a huge election night for Democrats at the local, state and national levels. Hundreds of party faithful filled a large conference room at the Crowne Plaza Resort to watch—and revel in—the trouncing of the opposition in key races up and down the ticket.
And after the polls had closed and the results came in, there were few people happier than Rep. Heath Shuler, the incumbent, who easily bested his scrappy Republican rival, Carl Mumpower, and Libertarian Keith Smith for the 11th District Congressional seat.
According to the final unofficial results, Shuler, who won each of the district’s 15 counties, collected 210,304 (62 percent), versus 121,524 (36 percent) for Mumpower. Smith, meanwhile, trailed far behind, garnering just 7,475 votes (2 percent).
The carnage came early for Mumpower, an Asheville City Council member and practicing psychologist. Despite a maverick, guerilla-style campaign that saw him fighting both Shuler and his own party on several key issues, Mumpower seemed resigned to defeat even early in the evening. But he voiced no regrets about his unconventional campaign, in which he forsook party money and took not only Shuler but his own party to task for what he saw as years of Republican misrule and his party’s abandonment of its core conservative values.
“We said we were going to do it with a volunteer staff—no lobby money, no party money, put principles first and not wear a mask—and we were true to all of that. So I’m proud of it,” said Mumpower. “Nobody is going to see any tears of disappointment on my face. We did what we were in charge of and the rest of it is up to a higher authority, so I’m OK. I’m fine; I would not change a thing. … If I ever run again, I’d run the same way. … I’m not going to play politics as usual, ever.”
In a way, the candidate added, the Republican losses are well-deserved. “The Republican Party has betrayed its promises and its principles. And when you don’t stand for something, I don’t think you earn the right to lead. I think that’s what the American people have told us [tonight].
“But I also believe they have made a severe mistake. It’s my own belief that the Democrat Party, which has been overtaken by special interests and socialistic influences, will take us to a dark place. Real conservatives—and I’m a real conservative—are careful with people’s money, with their values, with their liberty and their lives. I think that’s the movement we need in America.”
And whereas some 40 people packed Mumpower’s campaign headquarters to glumly watch the returns, Shuler found a roaring crowd of often-rowdy partisans when he took the microphone at the Crowne Plaza shortly after 10 p.m.
“What an exciting day this is,” he told the frenzied crowd. “I have to thank our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for all the many blessings bestowed upon us,” he said, as his wife, Nikol, and their two young children, Navy and Island, stood by his side.
“And I’m so excited that I have a partner in the U.S. Senate in Kay Hagan,” added Shuler, referring to her upset win over incumbent Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole. “I can’t thank you enough. And remember: This is only a beginning of a long trek. Let’s continue to work every day. … Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“Heath Shuler has done a great job in office,” gushed supporter Creighton Cornett, hoisting a Bud Light and surveying the scene. “Carl Mumpower does a good job on City Council, but at a higher level I don’t think he would do very well. So I’m happy that Heath won.” Cornett added that he hopes a new Democratic president and a Democratic-controlled Congress can get down to work to change the nation’s course.
“The next two to four years, hopefully our economy will get straightened out. We’ll have good jobs, and hopefully our country will get back on track where it’s supposed to be,” said Cornett.
Randy Flack, Shuler’s local field representative, said: “Energy will be a major focus in [Shuler’s] second term. And he’s on the Small Business Committee, and he wants to expand small business however he can.”
Shuler credited his re-election success to his ability to reach out to both sides of the aisle, noting that people who voted against him two years ago had repeatedly told him he had their vote this time around. Speaking to Xpress after his brief remarks to the crowd, Shuler said the focus in the next Congress needs to be crafting a bipartisan approach to fixing the economy.
“Obviously, we have to put our fiscal house back in order,” he said. “We’ve seen a $3.5 trillion increase in our debt in the last eight years. We’ve seen what the wasteful spending of this administration has done to our country. We have to get the fiscal house in order, and in doing that, it will … help put the economy back on track. The [lack of] transparency and oversight in our financial institutions, that certainly has put the economy in the tank.”
Asked whether the Blue Dog Coalition, the conservative Democratic caucus to which he belongs, could work with President-elect Barack Obama, Shuler said: “He’s going to have to work with the Blue Dogs. It’s going to have to be a team effort. It can’t be one-sided, and he’s said he’s wanting to talk and start from day one. And not just with the Blue Dogs, but in a bipartisan way. I think that’s crucial. We have to recognize that with winning the House, the Senate and the White House comes a big responsibility for us now. We have to listen to the American people and put the American people first.”
As for Mumpower, who planned to go fishing with his wife in Florida the day after the election, the future is wide open, but he declined to speculate on his political future.
“The fight for America is not over,” he told Xpress. “I will do what I’m supposed to do when the time comes. Doors open, and if you’re supposed to walk through them, you should. I was supposed to walk through this door, and I did. I was supposed to do it in my heart, I believe, and I was supposed to do it the way I did. If it were left up to me, I would never run for public office again the rest of my life. I’d rather spend time with my family, take care of my patients, and love my wife. But I’ll do what I’m supposed to do when the time comes.”