He was speaking to the Richmond County Senior Democrats about 20 of whom had turned out to hear him. It was a small group, but Kissell was running a campaign on the proverbial shoestring and was willing to speak to anyone who would listen. He told us he was angry about the number of American jobs that had gone overseas and about the neglect of the unemployed Americans left behind. He was also concerned about our dependence on foreign oil and a national debt that had the U.S. in hock to China, among other things. He wasn’t a polished political speaker (he seemed a little embarrassed asking people to vote for him), but he was obviously intelligent and seemed quite sincere.
He was also a hard-worker. After he got the nomination, he traveled around the district, still speaking to any group that would listen. He even dropped in on the Coffee Club at Birmingham’s Drug Store in Hamlet,
I caught up with Kissell a few times that summer, including the visit to Birmingham’s. He had become a more comfortable speaker, and his unpretentious “down home” manner seemed to sit well with voters.
His message was also coming across. A poll showed that he was gaining support in his race against Hayes. He was, however, short of cash. At one point, Kissell’s website reported that there was only $89 in the campaign treasury. That wasn’t quite enough. He lost by 300 votes out of over 100.000 cast.
He began his 2008 campaign the next day. This time things were different. After his strong showing in 2006, He got financial support. He also got a financial collapse and recession that created a strong Democratic tide. He defeated Hayes and won election to the House.
He’s been in office for a year now, so it’s time to take a look at how this Biscoe schoolteacher, who has never held public office before, is doing in the very political environment of the U.S. House of Representatives.
For one thing, he hasn’t lost touch with his district. Though conscientious about his duties in the House, he comes home every chance he gets. He says he has spoken to more that 80 groups in the 8th District during the last year, though he hasn’t been back to Birmingham’s. He also brought the district to the attention of the Obama Administration, bringing the U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture and Education to a town hall meeting at Richmond Community College.
His efforts have pleased 8th District voters according to a poll recently released by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh.
The poll shows that 45 percent of 8th District voters approve of his job performance and only 30 percent disapprove. He gets a 40 percent approval rating from independents and a surprising 28 percent from Republicans. He leads his prospective Republican opponents by 14 percent or more.
As a legislator, Kissell has attached some amendments to bills, largely aimed a helping seniors and servicemen, and generally supported President Obama’s legislation, although he has occasionally split with the administration and House leadership, most notably by voting against the final House version of Healthcare Reform legislation.
That vote has angered many members of local Democratic organizations, including Antonio Blue, chairman of the Richmond County Democratic Party,
At a meeting of 8th District County officers in Fayetteville Saturday, Kissell explained his vote by saying that the reform bill made cuts in Medicare that he opposed. “I’ve talked with the leadership, but I’m not someone who gets along by going along. I promised to protect seniors and not vote to cut Medicare, and I’m going to keep that promise.”
Several speakers urged, some heatedly, that he change his vote to “yes” when the final healthcare bill comes out of the conference committee, but he showed no signs of changing his position.
The PPP poll showed that 52 percent of 8th District voters opposed the Healthcare Reform bill, so Kissell’s opposition shouldn’t hurt him in the general election.
But it could inspire a primary opponent with strong local organization support.
All in all, it seems that Kissell’s first year has gone pretty well, but the sailing may not be so smooth between now and November.
Glenn Sumpter is a former editor of the Richmond County Daily Journal.