RALEIGH — U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre’s retirement decision Wednesday means a further dwindling in the number of conservative Southern Democrats in Congress. It also opens the door wide for North Carolina Republicans to finally pick up a valued seat they almost won in 2012.
McIntyre announced he won’t seek a 10th term in the 7th Congressional District, which covers portions of 12 southeastern counties from Wilmington and points north and west to the edge of the Triangle. He was first elected in 1996, succeeding retiring Democrat Charlie Rose.
“I am grateful to all of the Democrats, Republicans, and independents with whom we have successfully worked through nine elections over 18 years,” McIntyre, 57, said in his written announcement. He didn’t give a specific reason why he would leave at year’s end: “My family and I are ready for a new chapter and excited about new opportunities to continue helping North Carolina.”
Known for a voting record on fiscal and social issues that won him some Republican friends and grumbles from liberal Democrats, McIntyre kept winning even as Republicans narrowed his margins of victory in recent elections.
McIntyre, who also focused on military and agriculture issues — particularly tobacco — is the latest of the so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats to announce a departure from Congress.
“It’s disappointing to lose another moderate voice in the Congress,” said Andrew Whalen, who used to work with another conservative Democrat in then-Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina and was national political director of the Blue Dog Coalition. Whalen said people like McIntyre and Shuler “are willing to find compromise.”
Even when 2011 redistricting mapmakers drew his Lumberton home outside a more GOP-configured 7th District, McIntyre still survived, beating Republican David Rouzer by 654 votes.
Members of both parties praised his service, including Rouzer, who said he was particular appreciative of McIntyre’s “strong devotion to the Christian faith.” Rouzer announced last April he was running again for the seat.
His “service in Congress also reminds us that political discourse and debate are enriched by people who grapple with how our faith and religious traditions can help us live up to our ideals,” said U.S. Rep. David Price, another North Carolina Democrat. “He has prioritized issues over ideology, finding practical ways for democratic government to serve the common good.”
Rouzer is expected to face fellow Republican and New Hanover County commission Chairman Woody White in a primary, while fellow commissioner Jonathan Barfield announced months ago that he would seek the Democratic nomination. McIntyre’s announcement is likely to bring out other candidates.
Democrats are going to be at a disadvantage to hold on to the seat, said Craig Burnett, assistant professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. McIntyre kept winning through perfecting a campaign strategy and familiar ties, and all of that is likely lost with the next Democratic nominee, Burnett said.
When asked if a Democrat can win the 7th in 2014, Burnett responded: “Probably the only one who could just retired.”
Republicans now hold nine of the 13 seats in North Carolina’s congressional delegation after winning three more seats during the 2012 elections following redistricting.
McIntyre is the second North Carolina member to announce his departure from Congress at the end of 2014. Rep. Howard Coble, the longest-serving Republican House member in North Carolina history, said in November his 15th term would be his last.