Democrat Larry Kissell, the small-town school teacher who came within 330 votes of winning a seat in Congress two years ago, ousted five-term U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes Tuesday in a district beleaguered by the loss of manufacturing jobs.
Kissell, a former textile worker from Biscoe, had 55 percent of the vote with 98 percent of precincts reporting, and Hayes, a Republican from Concord, had 45 percent.
"I'm so excited", Kissell told about 75 supporters at his victory party at a Biscoe restaurant. The crowd erupted in cheers when a check mark indicating victory appeared next to his name on TV.
"My top priority is helping the people of this district and keeping alive that American dream."
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Hayes said he was overwhelmed by a Democratic tidal wave. But he isn't ruling out another rematch: "I don't think I'm over the hill yet. I've certainly contributed to the district."
But Hayes' campaign spun downward after he told a crowd Oct. 18 at a rally for John McCain that "Liberals hate real Americans." The Hayes campaign initially said the congressman denied making the remark, but after being confronted with tapes, the campaign released a statement acknowledging the remark.
U.S. News and World Report later cited an internal House GOP document saying Hayes re-election bid was among those considered "likely gone."
Other Charlotte-area U.S. House members sailed to re-election.
In unofficial returns, Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican from Cherryville, withstood a test from Hickory attorney Daniel Johnson.
Rep. Mel Watt, a Democrat from Charlotte, had no trouble against Republican Ty Cobb Jr. of Salisbury.
And Charlotte Republican Rep. Sue Myrick beat Democrat Harry Taylor, a Charlotte real estate broker.
The Hayes-Kissell rematch was one of the most watched contests in the nation — with Democrats hoping to expand their majority in Congress.
For a decade, Hayes, 63, has represented the 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of Mecklenburg, Union and Cabarrus counties.
There's no way a Republican can win the seat without support from some registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters, who collectively make up 70 percent of the district.
In 2006, Hayes barely escaped with his job when Kissell, 57, nearly beat him with a grass-roots campaign that surprised outside political observers. This time, Kissell had the full support of national Democrats who ran attack ads against Hayes.
Kissell made his campaign about jobs and other kitchen-table issues, and accused Hayes of supporting trade policies that sent jobs overseas.
Hayes touted his record of bringing federal dollars home and recruiting businesses to the district.
But some voters were looking for change.
Mark Belk, 35, an east Charlotte truck driver, said he chose Kissell, even though he voted for other Republicans, including John McCain for president.
"I feel like since Hayes has been up there, with the way things are going for Republicans ... he's had his chance," Belk said. "I'm not saying he did anything wrong, but I felt it was time for something different."