Congressman Heath Shuler continued to make local and national headlines last week in the wake of his losing bid against Nancy Pelosi to lead House Democrats.
The loss was a self-fulfilling prophecy for the three-term Western North Carolina representative, who, in the days before the race, admitted that he had little chance of winning.
“I can add and subtract pretty well. I don’t have the numbers to be able to win but I think it’s a proven point for moderates and the Democrat party that we have to be a big tent,” he said in a interview that was reported by the Huffington Post and other outlets across the country. “We have to be all-inclusive. We have to invite everyone into the party. And I don’t like the direction in which we are going.”
In a press conference outside the capital after the Nov. 17 leadership election, however, Shuler said he took heart in garnering 43 votes from his Democratic peers (Pelosi got 150).
“To be able to get that many votes, I mean that’s a lot better than we expected,” he said under the glaring national media spotlight of ABC News and others. “We only have 20 something Blue Dogs; to exceed that with 43, that’s pretty good.”
In a separate statement released after the vote, Shuler further explained that he saw his attempt to unseat Pelosi as a symbolic effort to represent the interests of moderates throughout the country.
“It was never about winning; it was about giving the moderates a voice in this caucus,” he said. “Today we proved that we will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the next Congress, and I am proud to be a leader in that effort.”
Republican leaders saw the effort differently, however, with the North Carolina GOP releasing a statement that asserted that Shuler’s run was “a sad sideshow with WNC as the punchline.”
It’s unclear how Shuler’s public challenge of his own party’s leadership will effect his position within the caucus and how the move will play out with voters two years from now. In “Heath Shuler Challenge to Nancy Pelosi Falls Short,” Western North Carolina University political scientist Gibbs Knotts told the Asheville Citizen-Times that he thinks it “could be bad for Shuler because Pelosi has a lot of power and controls a lot of resources, but my hope is the Democratic Party is a big enough tent that it encourages debate within the party.”
He also predicted that the run could help separate Shuler from the liberal wing of the party in the minds of more conservative 11th District voters.
“I think it probably is a gain for Shuler, because it got him a lot of attention and it further differentiated him from the national Democratic Party,” he explained. “The negatives are that if parties still make a difference and he’s alienated himself from party members, people might ask, ‘Is he the most effective member of Congress we can send from the 11th District?’”
Shuler first publicly brought up the idea of challenging Pelosi during an Aug. 26 luncheon sponsored by the Council of Independent Business Owners, and ended up being the only Democrat to take on the powerful leader after she was demoted from Speaker of the House. The congressman was also recently promoted to lead the Blue Dog coalition of moderate Democrats after the devastating Nov. 2 elections cut it from 54 to 26 members.
Soil and water recount
In other lingering election news, incumbent Elise Israel and newcomer Chase Hubbard survived a recount in their bids to serve as Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation district supervisors. The recount was requested by incumbent supervisor Jeff Turner, after initial counts showed him narrowly losing to Hubbard for one of the two open seats. Under state law, a runner-up may request a recount if the margin of victory is less than one percent of all votes cast. The final tallies after the recount were: Elise Israel 22,539; Chase Hubbard 21,697; and Jeff Turner 21,534.