(Note: Miss the congressional debate? Media accounts not enough to satisfy your need to know? Then you can replay the full debate and the listener call-in portion of the debate via podcast at WWNC’s Take a Stand! show Web site).
It likely will be the only debate between Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler and Republican challenger Carl Mumpower, but the showdown that took place Oct. 30 on WWNC 570 AM was a doozy, with Mumpower labeling Shuler a “socialist,” and Shuler calling Mumpower a “polarizing figure” ill-suited to be an effective congressman for the 11th District.
Staring likely defeat in the face Nov. 4 against his well-known and well-funded foe, Mumpower wasted no time in going after the incumbent Shuler. Though stating more than once that he liked Shuler personally, Mumpower went on the offensive early as both men sparred over Shuler’s voting record, guns, taxes, health care, education, jobs and the economy, veteran’s issues and more. The only issue where both men seemed to agree was on illegal immigration, which both said needed to be stopped, with employers assuming a greater share of the burden to ensure they do not hire illegals. Though currently stymied in Congress, Shuler has introduced a bill (the SAVE Act) that would do just that.
Sitting an uncomfortable three feet apart in the studio of host Matt Mittan’s Take a Stand! radio show, Mumpower said it was his intent “to take the Blue Dog mask off my opponent,” referring to the conservative-leaning Democratic caucus Shuler belongs to.
Shuler got an opportunity early on to tout his conservative bona fides on the issue of the Second Amendment, with Mittan noting that Shuler had been endorsed by the National Rifle Association. “It was an honor to get the NRA endorsement,” said Shuler, noting the importance of gun rights generally and especially in WNC. “I think I had a 100 percent voting record with the NRA.” Mumpower, who has the endorsement of the Gun Owners of America, noted that group gave him an ‘A’ and Shuler a ‘C,’ and said he would give no quarter to any individual or group that would seek to weaken the Second Amendment.
On the issue of tax policy, Mumpower said, “The more money we give government the more it grows. … Contrast that with my opponent, who talks about being conservative, but really isn’t. Look at his record on earmarks; he’s resisted earmark reform 100 percent of the time. … He’s in a party that’s dedicated to making hollow promises to people and spending other people’s money, and he votes with his leadership — Nancy Pelosi — 86 percent of the time. A major contrast between the two of us is that I’m very consistent in being careful with other people’s money.”
Shuler, in response, touted his support of PayGo, which basically prevents Congress from spending on new initiatives unless there is a funding source. “It’s an approach of not spending money we do not have,” he said, noting that he bucked the leadership by voting against the last two budgets, “because the budget proposals didn’t go far enough to cut the wasteful spending and be able to give greater tax cuts to the middle class.
“As politicians we’re defined not by the cute titles we give ourselves, we’re defined by our record,” Mumpower responded. “My opponent does not have a consistent record. Far from it. If you look at his record of overriding the president’s vetoes on excessive spending bills … he has a 100 percent record of doing that. It matches [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi.”
The specter of San Francisco Democrat Pelosi, a figure anathema to conservative Republicans, was brought forth often in the debate by Mumpower, as was Shuler’s voting record. Mumpower noted often that Shuler’s record matched that of the leadership slightly more than 86 percent of the time. However, according to Shuler campaign spokesman Andrew Whalen, who often visited the media room to hand out fact sheets to reporters, Shuler voted less often with liberal Democrats than any other freshman member of Congress. Shuler himself pointed out that such nonpartisan outfits as Congressional Quarterly ranked him among the most independent members of Congress, with other organizations ranking him the fourth most independent congressman regardless of party or tenure.
State Rep. Charles Thomas, in the caller portion of the show, took his fellow Republican Mumpower to task for misleading voters, noting that the majority of times Shuler voted with the liberal wing of the party, it was on issues that were noncontroversial, unimportant, or simply procedural or rules measures. On other issues where Shuler voted with liberals, it was on stances such as the on Iraq War and pro-union bills in which Shuler had indicated his leanings prior to being elected.
On issues such as stem-cell research, anti-abortion rights legislation and other highly charged bills, Shuler noted that he has voted against his party, as he said he would when he was elected two years ago.
Still, said Mumpower, “He votes one way in Washington, and talks another way at home.”
Shuler accused Mumpower of distorting the number of times he has voted to override Bush vetoes, and added that he was proud of the 10 times he was successful. For example, he said, “I’m very proud to stand strong for the SCHIP vote [where] I voted to override the veto of President Bush to be able to provide health insurance to our children, and give them the opportunity to get primary care help, so that they don’t have to spend time in the emergency room. They don’t have to wait until they become so sick that they end up in the hospital. I’m very proud of my votes. … My opponent sits here and reads off a list [of talking points] of very partisan [organizations]. I have a proven track record of being to work across party lines to get things done.
“Now, my opponent also has a proven track record — of not being able to work with anybody,” Shuler said.
Mumpower noted that Shuler declined to give his stance on issues for the nonpartisan Project Vote Smart, and added, “When you look at his real voting record, he’s an impostor. … Anything that I’ve gotten wrong, I’ll donate $100 to the charity of his choice.”
Mumpower also chided Shuler for failing to make much of a mark in two years, noting that the only legislation Shuler introduced and passed was a resolution to rename the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Oteen for a native Cherokee war hero.
Some of the most barbed comments in the debate were focused on veterans’ issues. Mumpower, a Vietnam veteran, accused Shuler of pandering to vets — a sentiment that also riled up more than a few callers after the debate.
Shuler voted for the Military Construction-VA Appropriations Bill. The $95 billion measure increased health care for veterans and addressed the problem of post-traumatic-stress disorder among veterans returning from Iraq.
“When it comes to providing our veterans an opportunity to be provided health care — my opponent calls that self serving that our veterans have health care,” Shuler said. “I am here to tell you I will do everything I possibly can and will continue to do everything I possibly can to make sure our veterans have adequate health care, and to be able to provide the funding for the health care of our veterans.”
Mumpower said he would not support any pork spending, even for veterans. He said he supported veterans but did not want them treated differently than anyone else.
“I am a veteran,” he said. “I don’t care who you are, what special interest you are — and we have a lot of them, some of them with conservative leanings, some of them with liberal leanings. If you come to me wanting a special deal, not a fair deal, unlike my opponent I am not going to jump on your bandwagon. I have had veterans groups come to me and say they wanted something special, and that is not what we fought for. We fought to preserve the American dream, not destroy it by indulging in special interests.”
Mumpower added that while he has taken no money from special interest groups, Shuler has done so from more than 300 groups.
Mumpower also later called Shuler a “socialist,” a pronouncement that drew an incredulous and angry look from Shuler — notable, since both men hardly looked at one another during the debate, or acknowledged the other during commercial breaks.
In response, Shuler said he voted against the $700 billion bailout bill. Further, voting to support veterans and working with other members of Congress is a positive attribute for a congressman, he added. “You cannot be a socialist when you provide benefits to the veterans,” Shuler said.
He added that Mumpower would not represent the district in a professional manner. “We don’t need somebody to go to Washington and embarrass our district based on just trying to gain an Emmy Award on C-SPAN,” Shuler said. “We need somebody who can bridge that gap and work together.”
“I’ll confront anybody I think is wrong,” Mumpower said.
Despite the forceful showing by Mumpower, Shuler’s campaign indicated it believed victory was imminent. Asked what the latest polls were showing, campaign spokesman Whalen said he knew of no outside or independent polling on the race, “because it was written off a long time ago.” Asked whether any internal polling has been done, Whalen said the campaign had done polling, but wouldn’t divulge the numbers.
Then asked if the numbers looked good, Whalen merely smiled slyly and said: “Yes.”
— Hal L. Millard, staff writer